The public comment period on the re-circulated draft environmental Mitigated Negative Declaration for the proposed Buddhist temple in Bonsall closed Feb. 11, and the county’s Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU) received 151 comment letters and one petition.
DPLU received 45 public comment letters critical of the project, 106 letters supportive of the project, and a supportive petition with 804 signatures. DPLU staff will review and respond to all comments, although the response to any comments not related to California Environmental Quality Act issues will be that the comments are outside the purview of the environmental statement.
DPLU staff does not currently have an estimate when the potential Major Use Permit would go to the county’s Planning Commission for a decision. Although the Planning Commission has the authority to issue or deny a Major Use Permit, the decision can be appealed by either side to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
The Major Use Permit would legalize the existing religious assembly and group residential uses on the 8.94-acre site with A70 (limited agriculture) agricultural zoning while also approving the future addition of 22,796 square feet of building area to bring the total amount of building area to approximately 33,475 square feet. The conditions of the Major Use Permit would restrict hours of operation, the number of large events, and the maximum number of visitors.
The property in the 6300 block of Camino Del Rey was purchased by the Vietnamese Buddhist Meditation Congregation in 2001. Previous uses on the property included horse keeping and horticulture, and the native vegetation has been removed due to the past residential and agricultural activity. Eucalyptus is grown on-site for sale to plant and flower businesses.
An existing one-story house with 2,840 square feet of living space and a three-car garage is currently being used as a rectory, and the proposed Major Use Permit plans to convert that building into a library and study rooms. A converted horse stable measuring approximately 5,151 square feet is approximately 50 feet north of the house and would be converted to a storage facility.
A feed and equipment storage building totaling 2,164 square feet is approximately 30 feet from the converted stables but would be removed to provide parking on the site. A 573 square foot two-bedroom trailer which was once used as a caretaker’s residence is planned to remain in that use. A groundwater well at the southwest corner of the property is used for irrigation of the plants grown on the property, and the conditions of the Major Use Permit include the destruction of that well.
The site’s current uses include quiet meditation during the weekdays and religious assembly on the weekends during which between 100 and 300 people visit the facility. There are no formal parking facilities other than those which were provided for the existing single-family residence, and access to the site is provided by an existing driveway off of Camino Del Rey.
The 22,796 square feet of new building facilities would consist of a 6,196 square foot main worship hall, a 7,664 square foot meditation hall, and an 8,936 square foot monk residence hall. The two-story residence hall would include 12 double-occupancy bedrooms, a communal bathroom on each story, a laundry room, a locker room, three multi-purpose rooms totaling approximately 900 square feet, an isolation bedroom with a private bathroom, a library, a 325 square foot kitchen connected to a 1,055 square foot dining room, and a 450 square foot office and reception area.
The accommodations would provide for approximately 30 monks at any time. The residence hall would have a maximum height of 33 feet, 2 inches.
The meditation hall would be a partial two-story building with architectural features creating a height of up to 29 feet. A large main room would have an altar at the east end for congregational assembly and meditation, and approximately 1,725 square feet would be used for a multi-purpose room which would also serve as a weekend food warming kitchen and weekend dining hall. The second floor would include a conference room measuring approximately 2,430 square feet. Both stories would have restrooms.
The main worship hall building would be 35 feet in height, and a steeple over the altar area would extend the height to 40 feet. In addition to a large room for congregational assemblies, the main worship hall would include daily administrative use office space and restrooms on both stories, and the second story would have approximately 1,440 square feet of study and private meditation area.
The grading of 14,400 cubic yards of cut and 13,400 cubic yards of fill would create an export of 1,000 cubic yards, and the relocation of the driveway to meet County of San Diego sight distance requirements would involve movement of 3,400 cubic yards of cut and 4,900 cubic yards of fill.
A 24-foot-wide paved driveway from Camino del Rey would serve as the main access while emergency access would be provided from Wrightwood Way at the site’s northern boundary. The 81 parking spaces would include six handicapped spaces, and a permanent overflow parking area would have a capacity of an additional 41 parking spaces.
The monks do not drive cars, and no visitors would be allowed after 5 p.m. The center would operate between 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends and Buddhist holidays; normal weekend meditation activity would occur approximately 45 times a year and would attract up to 300 people. Four special religious events each year, based on Buddhist holidays, are expected to attract between 300 and 600 people, and three annual events associated with Buddhist holidays or a visit from the Headmaster would attract up to 1,000 people.
Amplified sound would be used in the interior of the buildings, but not in any exterior areas, during special events. In order to monitor and control the number of visitors and parking spaces, the Dai Dang Meditation Center would set up a Website and require that all who attend the special events pre-register on-line.
The Website would not only register the total number of people for each event but would also assign parking spaces to the visitors. All guests would be required to print out a parking pass or permit prior to arriving at the site, and no visitors would be allowed to enter the site by automobile without such a pass or permit.
If the number of guests is projected to exceed 300 people, privately-contracted passenger busses would be utilized and staged at the parking lot of the Bonsall Union School District, which is approximately 1.75 miles west of the site. The facility would not have a gift shop or other retail sales.
The existing on-site septic system would be upgraded to 7,000 gallons to support 100 guests, 30 full-time residents, and four volunteers. The Major Use Permit would require portable toilets for any event attended by more than 100 people. The new construction would also include two stormwater detention basins.
The original application for the Dai Dang Meditation Center was submitted on April 2, 2004. Three drafts of initial studies preceded the first draft environmental Negative Declaration, which was advertised for public review in October 2007. The response to public comments on that draft Negative Declaration was completed in May 2008, and the public review was followed by submittal of a visual study and submittal of the first draft of extended initial studies following the public review. The first draft of initial studies following the public review was submitted in November 2009, and subsequent draft initial studies led to the recirculation of the draft Mitigated Negative Declaration.