Seattle man irritated by chanting, drumming, leaf-blowing monks loses appeal


Seattle, WA (USA) -- A South Seattle man irritated by the chanting, drumming, gonging, prostrating, leaf-blowing activities of the Buddhist monks next door to him has lost his appeal against the monastery's plan to expand.

In 2008, the Duoc Su Monastery, a Vietnamese temple in Rainier Valley, requested permission to expand its 31,000-square-foot lot. The monastery, which houses up to eight monks in a single-family zone, wanted to roughly double in size. It wanted to tear down four houses, put up a three-story building, and add 28 new parking spaces.

But neighbors complained.

"Concerns were raised about noise, including: 'lost peace of mind,' loss of sleep, failing grades, shaken nerves and ringing in the ears," the Department of Planning and Development wrote in its approval of the project last year.

The monks mostly pray, meditate and tend to a large, neat garden of vegetables and plum and apple trees. But they also made a lot of noise, often in an outdoor courtyard. Residents said they chanted, drummed, used a gong, and often wielded a loud leaf blower.

Plus, they hosted three big events a year, to celebrate Buddha's birthday and honor ancestors. Each time, about 250 people crowded the neighborhood, filling it with traffic and more noise.

The department imposed some conditions on its permit approval. It told the monks to use the blower only in the afternoons and to install some sound-muffling plywood on the temple's fences. It also wanted the monks to tell neighbors in advance of any courtyard services.

But that wasn't enough for Juanito Ucol, who lives east of the temple, in the 6900 block of 42nd Avenue South. Ucol filed an appeal with the city in January.

Noise had become 'unbearable'

The noise had become "unbearable" for Ucol and his housemates, according to a decision issued by Seattle hearing examiner Anne Watanabe last week. Ucol had complained about barking dogs at the temple, even though the dogs belonged to other neighbors, she said. And he was bothered by the smell of burning incense and sight of "monks prostrating in the courtyard area.

"(Ucol) resides immediately next to the site, so it is understandable that his tolerance for noise from the monastery is low, and that every noise is unwelcome," Watanabe wrote.

But the city had found the monastery's noise within acceptable limits, and similar to noise generated by other allowed uses, such as a daycare. Watanabe affirmed the city's permit approval.

But Ucol did score one small victory. The monks were ordered to stop using gas-powered leaf blowers in favor of quieter electric ones, and only for 15 minutes a day.