New space for yoga, worship divides San Jose residents
A vacant building on Delmas Avenue was bought by Bodhi Light International last year and will be used as a place of worship and meditation. Photo from Google Maps.

    A vacant building on 796 Delmas Avenue will soon become a place for yoga, meditation and religious worship, but residents are pushing back, saying the proposal does not fit the community’s needs.

    “I’m a little disappointed that further dialogue didn’t happen,” Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco said after joining the rest of the City Council Oct. 6 to greenlight the project.

    The Gardner Neighborhood Association wrote a letter on behalf of 1,544 residents, urging the city to reconsider the development from Bodhi Light International, the building’s new owner.

    “While we understand that the city may think this is a good use of this space, we respectfully disagree and are opposed, based on the negative impact the additional traffic and parking will have on our community,” the letter stated. “Further, in the midst of a housing crisis, and in the middle of a residential neighborhood, it feels wrong to change this land designation to allow for a business rather than housing to better serve the community.”

    One of the association’s members, Kevin Christman, called the plan rushed and reiterated traffic concerns.

    “We don’t want to have weddings, memorials and gatherings that will overwhelm the neighborhood,” Christman said. He said he is not opposed to having a yoga studio move into the neighborhood but would like to see it go into the Gardner Community Center to leave the space open for housing.

    While the city granted Bodhi Light International a special use permit for “religious/church assembly,” the 300-square-feet of assembly space is meant for yoga and meditation, according to the staff report. The plan does not explicitly state the group intends to use the space for weddings and funerals.

    Bodhi Light International did not respond to immediate request for comment.

    City staff assured residents neighborhood congestion will not be a problem because yoga and meditation sessions will allow a maximum of 15 people per session. The allotted amount of parking spaces is also in compliance with San Jose guidelines.

    Before Bodhi Light International bought it in 2019, the property was a store called Dawn Market. The property has been vacant for more than six months and no housing developers have sought to purchase it, according to city staff. The project would only add an additional 300 square feet to the existing building to create accessible restrooms.

    According to Councilmember Raul Peralez, the site has become a hotspot for graffiti and dumping.

    Some residents, including Veronica Douat, welcome the change, saying the neighborhood association’s letter did not reflect their values.

    “If this facility will be used as a public or private yoga studio, religious center, temple, it would still be a better use than the eye sore that has been there for well over a decade during a time when we had a housing shortage but no one purchased this property and converted it to a residential property use,” Douat said.

    Douat said she felt as if the plan were set in stone by the time she wrote to the city and that the pushback may be related to Bodhi Light International’s connections to Buddhism.

    So why weren’t community concerns — or blessings— heard prior to the proposal coming to the council in its final stages?

    According to Rosalynn Hughey, director of planning building and code enforcement, a notice was sent out to residents in August asking for thoughts on the development. They received six response emails but the notice was only sent to homes and businesses within a 500 foot radius of the development.

    “A 500 foot radius in terms of outreach is hardly any outreach at all,” Carrasco said. She said especially given the neighborhood is being quickly gentrified, residents deserve to know about incoming businesses that have the potential to alter the neighborhood’s character.

    “It would be of great benefit to have the community weigh in on how they want their community to look,” she said.

    For conforming rezonings — a category this development falls under — the city is not required to host community forums. A conforming project is one that aligns with the city’s general plan goals. Not having an extended community outreach plan allows the business to open faster and avoid having to pay rent while residents and lawmakers deliberate.

    “Obviously we don’t want to create a lot of hurdles for regular business and community activity,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “We know it gets very costly and challenging.”

    But some residents are still convinced this site already poses a challenge. According to Peralez, Bodhi Light International wants to be a good neighbor.

    “Already as this new property owner has come in they’ve responded to cleaning up the area to graffiti,” Peralez said at a Sept. 29 council meeting. “I recognize there are still some concerns but this is someone that is coming in with an application that meets our guidelines.”

    Any violations of the agreement could put Bodhi Light at risk of losing its permit.

    “I know that all of the members of the community are not satisfied with this outcome,” Liccardo said. “But we do expect fully that if the use in some way or another raises concerns as being in violation of the conditions that have been publicly expressed, we expect you’ll tell us and you should expect that we are going to respond.”

    Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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