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Neighbors wary of proposed new meditation center

The Bonsall [California] Community Sponsor Group delayed its recommendation on the Dai Dang Monastery‘s expansion plans after hearing more than two hours of testimony Tuesday night.

The group serves as an advisory body to the county Board of Supervisors, which will have the final say on the Buddhist monastery’s proposal for a two-story meditation center. The Bonsall advisory group has unanimously opposed expansion plans for the monastery in the past.

Several residents spoke against the planned expansion. Wrightwood Road residents to the north of the monastery expressed concerns, for example, that their street would be used as a new entrance to the center.

The monastery opened at 6326 Camino del Rey in Bonsall in 2001 and has been planning to build a meditation center since 2006.

The center would feature three new, two-story buildings, a paved 81-space parking lot and an unpaved 41-space lot on about 9 acres. The center now has two buildings it uses for a meditation center and a residence for 10 monks.

While some residents said they are concerned the new 7,664-square-foot meditation hall and 6,196-square-foot worship hall would open the door for large events at the site, monk Joe Roissier said the buildings are designed for quiet activities.

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“It seems like a lot of square footage,and I think people are concerned about that,” he said. “But we’re only there two times a day, and we’re sitting quietly, meditating.”

Monastery leaders said the expanded project would provide living quarters for about 20 more monks and that visitors on Sunday would increase from about 120 to 300.

Frank Hoang, spokesman for the monastery, said the center each year also may hold up to four events that attract 1,000 people.

The county requires a major use permit to build the project. As part of the process, the monastery also must acquire a mitigated negative declaration, a document that describes why it would not have a significant environmental impact in the area.

Public comments about the mitigated negative declaration will be accepted by the county until Feb. 11. The sponsor group held its meeting Tuesday to hear from the community before submitting its commits about the document. It will take up the issue again at its regular meeting 7 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Bonsall Community Center, 31505 Old River Road.

Chairwoman Margarette Morgan said she found many faults with the document, including a reference to the Borrego Springs Fire Department rather than the local fire department.

“There are so many errors, it’s unbelievable,” she said. “I am most displeased with the county.”

Morgan grilled Alex Jewell of project designer RBF Consulting about several aspects of the plan, including a proposed unlocked gate at Wrightwood Road, a concern to residents on that street. Jewell said fire officials said the gate should be unlocked for safety reasons. Morgan said that was unusual because emergency crews have keys to gated streets.

Other board members faulted the plan for having an unpaved parking lot, which they said could contaminate the ground, and questioned how a septic system could handle 300 guests on Sundays and up to 1,000 during special events.

Tan Nguyen, who said he is a consultant to the monastery monks, told the board that the congregation has operated peacefully throughout its 10-year history in the community.

“This project is for all of the Bonsall community, not just for us,” he said. “You are welcome to come here. We are here to share. We are here not to make any noise or any problems. You haven’t seen any traffic accidents or complaints. We don’t understand why you are opposing this thing, This is for everybody.”

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