A packed house of over 50 people came to the San Leandro Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) on July 9, and over 30 public speakers told the board not to approve a 25-member religious center.
In the end, the BZA approved a conditional use permit which would allow the Mang Ding Center to occupy a currently empty building on Laura Avenue.
But the Davis West Neighborhood Association filed an appeal on the BZA’s decision. That means the matter will now go before the City Council in September. The council is in recess in August.
Dozens of residents of the Davis West neighborhood spoke out at the BZA meeting, saying the new religious center would snarl traffic and bring too many new people into an already crowed area.
The Ming Dang Center was given tentative permission to move in to a .38-acre parcel of land at 2015 Laura Ave. that has previously been home to a market and beauty shop. The BZA changed the zoning there from residential to assembly use.
A City of San Leandro traffic study found that there was sufficient parking on the property so that worshipers wouldn’t take up street parking and that the traffic impact would be minimal, according to city planner Anjana Mepani.
The center, currently operating out of a member’s home, practices a branch of Buddhism and says they only will have about 25 members for weekend services and no more than 45 on the three holidays they celebrate each year.
They will offer classes, meditation, and lectures and the owners also plan on remodeling the building.
But some 30 public speakers told the BZA to turn down the permit, most emphasizing that they have nothing against the religion, just that it would be a burden on the neighborhood.
Davis West only has one road in and out of the neighborhood and there are several large shopping centers including Costco and Walmart nearby and residents say they are overwhelmed with traffic.
“I chose to live here because I felt this was a safe area,” said Wei Xhong through an interpreter. “I don’t object to Buddhism, but I object to building a temple in the small area I live in because I don’t feel safe with regard to my children and traffic.”
Maria Herrera agreed. “I’m not against any religion... I am against this project,” said Herrera. “Traffic is a problem already and it will bring more strangers into the neighborhood.”
BZA member Rick Solis ran the meeting because board chair Janet Palma recused herself because she lives in the Davis West area.
Solis said that he heard the complaints from the crowd, but since traffic and other concerns had been vetted by planning staff and the fire department, there was no reason for them to deny the permit.
“It’s a good feeling to see so much public participation,” said Solis. “I do feel the staff has evaluated this application and has listened to your concerns, as have I.”
Solis added that virtually any use, even those that wouldn’t require BZA approval, would bring in some new people to the area.