San Jose residents are speaking out against plans for a Buddhist temple in the Evergreen area over concerns it will cause the neighborhood to be overrun with traffic and noise. The 13,900-square-foot Wat Khmer Kampuchea Krom Temple is planned for a 1.86-acre vacant corner lot at the intersection of Ruby and Norwood avenues, which previously included a home and dilapidated barn.
While neighbors say they are not opposed to the Khmer community having a place to worship, they don’t want the temple near their homes. Murali Pabbisetty’s home backs up to the proposed temple site.
He worries the project is too big for the site and will decrease pedestrian safety and bring too many cars to the area that could block the entrance to the cul-de-sac where he lives.
“A lot of people walk here, a lot of people run, a lot of people bike,” Pabbisetty told San Jose Spotlight. “(Drivers) are going to run into people.” He also said accidents already happen in the area “regularly.”
Another homeowner along Ruby Avenue, whose property sits in the middle of where the temple is proposed, refuses to sell. As a result, the project will wrap around the home on three sides. Other neighbors are concerned about the temple’s hours, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. during regular services, with cleanup until midnight, city reports show.
Events could also have amplified sound under city rules. The San Jose Planning Commission approved the project in February, and the City Council is set to weigh giving final approval to the project–which would include rezoning the property for public use–on March 28.
Lyna Lam, head of the A Khmer Buddhist Foundation that is backing the project, said the local Khmer community is a small population that settled in San Jose after spending years in refugee camps while fleeing wars and genocide in Vietnam and Cambodia.
“A temple is really the center of the community for Cambodians. It’s not just a religion for us, we go there to support each other,” Lam told San Jose Spotlight.
She said the new temple is needed because the existing one in a nearby converted home doesn’t adequately serve the needs of the local Khmer community. Lam is married to Bay Area tech billionaire Chris Larsen, and the couple is funding the foundation.
Temple Touted as Community Benefit
Eight monks will live on the property full time, and the temple will be allowed to have a maximum of 300 visitors at any one time, plus event staff, custodians and security. Erik Schoennauer, a lobbyist working for the project, said special events or holidays will draw the maximum number of people allowed like other faith centers.
But worship services during the week will have about 20 people attending, while weekends might see about 50 people, he said. The developer will add new sidewalks, curbs and gutters, and will build a traffic calming circle at the intersection on behalf of the city, footing a portion of that bill.
The site will have 67 parking spaces, and backers said they are planning to work with other temples and schools nearby to accommodate overflow valet parking when needed. The developer downsized the project by 25% and eliminated plans for a 40,000-square-foot underground parking garage in response to resident concerns, Schoennauer said.
Lam said the temple should be in this neighborhood because it is close to where the local Khmer population lives. She told San Jose Spotlight there are some neighbors who likely will never support the project.
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“I do believe that once it’s done, they’ll find it absolutely beautiful and it will actually make the neighborhood better,” Larsen said.
Michael Gabler, president of the Norwood Neighborhood Association, said he opposes the project.
“This is the right project in the wrong location. It really is a square peg in a round hole,” he said. But not all neighbors have an issue with the temple.
Andre Robitaille, 33, who lives across the street from the proposed temple, supports it. With a temple so close to home, he said he’d be more likely to visit and learn about another culture.
“There’s a lot of other faiths around here that have temples, why would it be out of the ordinary to have a Buddhist temple?” he told San Jose Spotlight.
Mike Hang, a Cambodian resident, said he’s excited to have a temple that reflects his culture and beliefs.
“I believe this temple will provide a great resource as an education center for my three children who are attending nearby schools and other Khmer people around the area,” he said.
Planning Commissioner Chuck Cantrell said the question before the city is about land use, not religion. He said neighbors in the area should try to invite the temple into their community with their hearts, just before he cast a vote to approve the project.
“Not only is the land use appropriate, it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
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