A proposed Buddhist temple in San Jose’s Evergreen neighborhood sparked a contentious, nearly two-hour meeting at the Village Square Branch Library Thursday night.
Around 150 residents gathered at a monthly District 8 Community Roundtable meeting to hear presentations and ask questions about the Wat Khmer Kampuchea Krom temple, planned to be developed on 1.86 acres at 2740 Ruby Ave. Dozens from the community took turns heatedly voicing their concerns.
The traditional Cambodian Buddhist Temple would serve its Khmer Krom members, a population from the ethnic Cambodian region of Southern Vietnam, many of whom fled and sought asylum in the U.S. after the Vietnam War and Cambodian Genocide. They currently worship in a small home not far from the Ruby Avenue location.
Lyna Lam, Wat Khmer Kampuchea Krom founder and executive director, envisions the temple to be a peaceful and reflective place with lots of open space and gardens. She said plans were designed to fit within the surrounding community.
“I think we’ve struck a balance to create a beautiful temple that the neighborhood can be proud of,” Lam said. “We want to be proud of the neighborhood as well; we want to coexist with the neighbors.”
But opponents say the scale of the project is too large for the suburban community, increased traffic will impede on the neighborhood’s quality of life and elements such as the project’s underground parking garage are incompatible with the surrounding area.
While still in the early stages of planning, its construction currently features a sanctuary for worship, community hall, food preparation kitchen and a residence for eight monks who will live on the property, according to documents submitted to the city of San Jose earlier this week. The development’s entire planning application can be found online.
Lam said the temple site is centrally located to many of its roughly 300 families, including many elderly members who do not drive.
Some adjustments have been made to the plan due to feedback from previous community meetings, officials said, including reducing the kitchen size and number of parking stalls to 83. While an underground parking garage was part of the initial proposal submitted in 2018, city planning documents show it had 121 stalls originally.
Representatives of the project – Jennifer Johnson from Canyon Snow Consulting, Susi Marzuola from Siegel & Strain Architects and Andrew Mann of Andrew Mann Architecture – explained that while the surrounding area is primarily zoned for single-family housing, San Jose allows religious institutions to be built in these areas. Additionally, the application is consistent with the Envision San José 2040 General Plan which calls for supporting community pillars, such as religious institutions.
The five one-story buildings will only reach a height of 35 feet, while the temple’s spire will extend to 66 feet. Although 22 trees will be removed, an open, expansive garden is planned to assist in Theravada Buddhism’s guided meditation.
The site currently has an abandoned single-family home and a barn on the property.
After the half-hour presentation, members of the Ruby Norwood Core Group – a neighborhood group opposed to the project – voiced opposition to the plan.
Tom Paramo and Janet Holt said their biggest concern is the size and intensity of the temple’s use.
Despite the project’s plans, they believe the building’s overall size, underground parking lot and height of the buildings will not fit in the suburban neighborhood.
Ron Kubacki, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1983, is worried that each room of the complex will reach its allowed maximum capacity of 300, which he said is too many people. This was despite the library’s meeting room hosting 40 people over its maximum capacity of 107 during the presentations of the project.
The plans estimate no more than 30 people will use the temple’s 17,749 sq. ft. during weekdays, with increased traffic possible during services and special events, similar to churches, synagogues and mosques.
For comparison, the nearby Evergreen Islamic Center at 2486 Ruby Ave. occupies 27,900 square-feet on 94,873 square-feet of land, while the Light of the World Church is a 15,000 sq. ft. building at 3777 Quimby Rd., a 217,800 square-foot lot, according to data provided by Canyon Snow.
“Once you open that door, you can’t put the cow back in the barn,” said Kubacki, mentioning he doesn’t want this kind of increased traffic – especially for weddings and funerals – to be the precedent of future construction in Evergreen. “Sometimes the trend carries over.”
However, Lam said Khmer Krom weddings and funerals are traditionally performed at members’ homes, not a temple. Kubacki also inquired about the noise impact of the temple’s bells, but the proposed temple won’t have any.
Jerry Jeska, a resident of the community for more than 30 years, expressed concerns that this temple is coming into a neighborhood that’s so vocally against the project.
“The temple wants to move in and be welcomed. It’s a religious institution – which is better than a bar – however, a religious institution would be concerned about the people who live in the area,” Jeska said. “What kind of a religious institution would do that to other human beings?”
Only one temple member spoke in favor of the plan.
Lam said her group appreciates the feedback, but they are working to convey accurate information about their culture, religion and life.
“From the beginning, they are afraid of what they don’t know. They think we celebrate with fireworks and things like that,” Lam said. “At the end of the day, the neighbors will probably fight until the end, but I feel like we have done a good amount of work trying to get out our plans and agenda.”
Now that the application has been submitted, the San Jose Planning Commission will review the project for compliancy and recommend next steps.
Editor’s Note: The project’s proposed underground parking garage was part of the temple’s original plans though the number of stalls were reduced. A previous version of this story reported the garage was later moved underground. We regret the error.