A proposal to build a Buddhist temple on Grimes Avenue west of Modesto lost a split decision at the Stanislaus County Planning Commission on Thursday night.
Commissioners voted to deny the use permit application on a 5-2 vote, with commissioners Arsenio Mataka and Ray Souza casting the dissenting votes. Commissioner John Shores was not at the meeting.
The proposal called for 10 structures on the 12-acre parcel: a church, two meeting halls, two school buildings, two modular homes, two storage buildings and a Cambodian home exhibit. An unlighted soccer field and a Buddhist garden also were proposed.
The modular homes were to house monks and nuns. The church would not have formal worship times or days, but members of the congregation would come and go at various times, according to the use permit application.
The WAT Cambodian Buddhist Society now meets in a church on Paradise Road in Modesto, but the congregation has outgrown the building, according to the use permit application.
The project was recommended for approval by the planning staff, who found that it would not have a significant impact on the surrounding neighborhood.
Many of the neighbors of the proposed temple site filed objections to the project, citing traffic problems, potential noise, aesthetics and interference with farm operations.
Joan Ringer told the commission she farms 38 acres of almonds just north of the proposed temple.
"To say there will be no impact on traffic is just ludicrous," she said. "I don't see how you think this isn't going to make more traffic and accidents."
Evelyn Young said she has lived on Grimes for 15 years, and the area already is "a drag racing area." Grimes floods in the winter, and cars push water onto her property as they pass, she said.
Young and others voiced concerns about fireworks during Buddhist festivals and loud wedding parties.
Ry Kea, president of the Buddhist society, said fireworks are not a part of the festivals, and parties do not take place at temples because alcohol is not allowed.
Ron West, a planning consultant for the proposal, said the Buddhist society had worked hard to contact neighbors and resolve concerns. A 93-foot tower on one proposed building was reduced to 78 feet, he said. West said he went to the city of Modesto to try to get lower speed limits and a stop sign to address the current traffic problems, but failed.
Commissioners voiced concern about interfering with farming in the area, despite the fact that it is in Modesto's sphere of influence and slated for growth.
"It's not the right place, and it's not the right time," said Commissioner Allen Layman.
Commissioner Annabel Gammon agreed. "I feel sad about my decision. But I have a hard time finding that the project would not be detrimental to the neighborhood."
Commissioner Mataka argued that urban transition areas within city growth boundaries are where churches should be built, rather than out in agricultural areas far from city services. "Where do we put these places of worship?" he asked the commission.
Not on a small country road, on a street prone to flooding, said Commission Chairwoman Marie Assali. "I'm supportive of the project, but it's in the wrong location," she said.
Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2349.