by Joni Astrup
Thai Buddhist Center of Minnesota plans to expand a garage in Elk River and turn it into a meditation center.
The Elk River City Council has approved a conditional use permit for the project, located in a residential area at 10863 208th Ave.
An existing detached two-and-a-half-stall garage will be expanded. The 30-by-30-foot addition will house a kitchen area and rest rooms. The open garage area will be converted into a meditation room, according to Elk River Planning Manager Jeremy Barnhart.
According to a project narrative from Thai Buddhist Center of Minnesota, hours of operation will be 10 a.m.–1 p.m. Monday–Friday and 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
There will be an average of five to 10 members attending service at any given time and two or three employees also in attendance.
No one spoke against the project at the July 18 Elk River City Council meeting. However, some concerns were raised at an Elk River Planning Commission meeting in June.
According to Barnhart, the concerns included:
•The number of people during events
•Concern with “hundreds of cars”
•Frequency of events
•Impact to property values
•Septic system damage due to cars
•Tree removal as part of parking lot expansion will change the neighborhood
“We feel that the plan and the controls that we have as a city can mitigate those concerns that we’ve heard,” Barnhart told the council.
The entire septic system, for instance, will be replaced.
A letter from two neighbors had urged the city in June to deny the conditional use permit, saying the impact on the neighborhood is extreme.
“On weekends when the ‘Center’ has whatever functions they have, the property hosts what appears to be hundreds of people. Along with the hundreds of people are literally a hundred or more cars. This is no exaggeration. There are speeches being made, they have gongs, and spend a good portion of the day on the property,” according to the letter.
The people atending the functions are “polite and well behaved,” according to the letter.
Thai Buddhist Center of Minnesota has owned the home for a number of years, and has had periodic events in the home and on the grounds, according to Barnhart.
Chris Freeman of Chanhassan told the City Council that his wife is a Thai Buddhist and they go to the Buddhist Center. He said he’s been to all major events and never seen hundreds of cars or heard any gongs. “It’s a very quiet gathering,” he said.
The biggest event of the year might draw 80–85 people, he said. “It’s more like a church potluck — everybody brings food,” Freeman said.
Mayor John Dietz said he has visited the site. It’s in a very heavily wooded area and he doesn’t see how the meditation center will affect the adjacent neighbors, especially when the trees are leafed out.
The permit for the meditation center was approved unanimously by the City Council.
Religious institutions are a relatively common use in residential districts, according to Barnhart. With the exception of the Elk River Lutheran Church, which is located in a commercial area, all of the churches in Elk River are in residential areas, he said.
by Joni Astrup