Patty McCormac, San Diego Union-Tribune: About 200 residents have signed petitions against a Buddhist monastery and meditation center proposed for a hillside above the San Luis Rey Downs Country Club.
Opponents say the Asian-style temple would be architecturally inappropriate for the rural atmosphere embraced by Bonsall residents and would attract more traffic and put a strain on infrastructure.
“It will stick out like a sore thumb,” said Richard Blakley, a neighbor of the existing monastery on the site, a single-family home in the 6300 block of Camino Del Rey that houses several monks.
“I’ve heard it will eventually be 20,000 square feet, and they want it to be the largest Vietnamese Temple in Southern California,” Blakley said.
Blakley said he fears a tourist attraction that would draw thousands of people. Monastery representatives, he said, gave few details about their plans when they floated the idea to neighbors at a Jan. 17 party at the site.
“They said it would draw a larger crowd when the master visited once or twice a year, but now there are upward of 100 people there every week,” said Blakley, 65, a machine shop owner.
“We don’t want any church there or any business,” said Jim Jamieson, 57, a certified public accountant. “I don’t want a cathedral there, and I’m Catholic.”
On March 2, a group of residents appeared before the Bonsall Community Sponsor Group with complaints they wanted investigated, said Margarette Morgan, chairman of the panel, which advises the county on land-use issues.
“They (the monks) had invited some of the neighbors over and were using an area formerly used as a stable to serve food. The neighbors also observed that there were several monks living in the single-family home,” Morgan said.
She said the complaints included that the property has become a meeting place for a large number of religious practitioners; that many vehicles are regularly parked on the property; that they regularly serve food; and the number of people on the site must be overtaxing the septic system of the home.
The plans for the monastery have yet to be submitted to the county, Morgan said, but the property owners have told county officials they plan an 11,000-square-foot building, which would require a major-use permit, Morgan said.
“We haven’t submitted anything to the county, so what the neighbors think is just that. They haven’t seen a conceptual plan,” said Chris Brown, a consultant hired by the monastery to help them navigate the county planning process.
“We are planning to submit a major-use permit, which is required, within the next month. At that time, we will go out into the community and we will show them and discuss our plans with them. I will seek their input on the project.”
He said the site eventually would have three buildings, which would include a place for about 30 monks to live, a meditation hall and support buildings for bathrooms and a kitchen.
“The last thing these people want to do is build a monstrosity with parking lots,” Brown said. “The whole idea behind this is ‘quiet.’ ”
A rendering of the proposed project has circulated among residents of the area. The Dai Dang Monastery was founded in Bonsall in 2001 by the Vietnamese Buddhist Meditation Congregation, followers of the Mayahana school of Zen Buddhism practiced in Vietnam.
Myhanh Phan, a co-founder of the monastery, said a temple is not part of its plans.
“We want to do the meditation center, not a temple, just a meditation center so people can come during the weekend for meditation,” she said. “We still have to apply and get permission.”
As for traffic, she said, since visitors to the monastery come only on weekends, the traffic generated would be much less than commuter traffic.
Upon hearing that some neighbors were not enthusiastic about the construction plans, she was philosophical.
“This is American country, and everyone has the freedom to speak as they do,” she said. “They can think anything they want; everyone has different thinking. If they mind, I don’t know how to prevent them.
“I think Bonsall is a nice place for meditation. It is quiet and peaceful.”
But Blakley, Jamieson and other neighbors contend that if the construction is approved, their rural lifestyle will be threatened. As it is, state Route 76 and Camino Del Rey are crowded with trucks and automobile traffic all week, they said.
Those who travel Camino Del Rey said the monastery’s driveway is on a blind curve and several residents have already had close calls with vehicles exiting and entering the property, Blakley said.
A spokesman from the office of County Supervisor Bill Horn, said it would be premature for Horn to comment because he has yet to see any formal plans for the monastery. Until he sees something concrete, he must remain impartial, the spokesman said.
Patty McCormac is a free-lance writer who lives in Vista.