Temple cuts plan to build dorms

By Ivy Dai , Whittier Daily News Staff Writer, June 20, 2005

ROWLAND HEIGHTS, Calif. (USA) -- In a strange twist of events, members of a Buddhist temple coming to town this year have appealed their own approved project. Last year, the 7.5-acre proposed facility at Pathfinder and Fullerton roads spawned vehement protests by the Rowland Heights Community Coordinating Council and other groups.

Temple officials recently appealed to remove dormitories from the $6 million to $8 million project in hopes of appeasing resident concerns and strengthening community relations. The temple would have provided permanent housing for 26 nuns and rooms for 28 visitors for quarterly retreats each year.

"We want to be friends with our neighbors,' longtime temple member Johnny Yeh said. "The major conflict is kind of over this is just a compensation.'

Making a compromise also will save the temple from more headaches in the long run.

"The coordinating council said they could appeal the whole project, but if we made some changes, they'd be willing to not appeal,' said Mike Lewis, community relations consultant for the temple. "We're doing this as a good- faith move.'

The appeal will come before the county Board of Supervisors on July 26.

The board also will consider a request to add a second driveway across from Pathfinder Park on Pathfinder Road. Residents hope the driveway, a $30,000 to $50,000 project, will spur construction of a traffic light at that intersection.

County planning assistant Hsiaochang Chen says the appeal may give disgruntled residents an opportunity to overturn the project, but Lewis insists the temple and local residents have agreed to stick by certain terms.

The coordinating council said it appreciates the temple's effort to reach out.

"While we're disappointed in the county continuing to allow churches to be built in our agricultural zones, it's nice this particular applicant did listen to our concerns,' said Mike Popovec, coordinating council president.

The temple will relocate from its current location bordering Montebello.

The Montebello facility on Olympic Boulevard has become too small to accommodate the temple's nearly 700 members. A Rowland Heights location makes sense because half of the members live in the city.

The temple opened in 1991 after a visit from Taiwanese Grand Master Tien Chi, who wanted to provide a resource for struggling immigrant families.

The grand master noticed the lack of resources for young people struggling to balance their Taiwanese and American backgrounds, Lewis said.

Kids were being sent to study alone in America while their parents remained in Taiwan or China. The temple would provide a haven for these "parachute kids.'

The temple initially applied to relocate six years ago, but it faced opposition from residents. The second proposal last year launched shoving matches between protesters, but the controversy ended April 14 after the project's approval.

The temple hopes to break ground and begin construction next year. The worship site will be completed sometime between 2007 and 2009, according to temple member Chao Liang.

Lewis said the temple wanted to earn community support from the beginning. After the project was approved, more reasonable folks in the community showed a desire to make things work, he said.

"It shows good faith on their part, and it shows good faith on our part,' Lewis said. "Too bad it didn't happen earlier in the process.'