Buddhist pagoda given retreat center status

November 24, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

The Carroll County Board of Zoning Appeals yesterday granted retreat center status to International Meditation Center, U.S.A., owners of a Buddhist pagoda on Bankard Road near Deep Run.

The center, where members practice silent meditation according the tradition of Theravada Buddhism, will be allowed to conduct two 10-day retreats each month for up to 15 people. Larger retreats for up to 50 people will be allowed twice a year.

In August 1992, the center received permission to operate two retreats each year.

"I feel like they're trying to be good neighbors at the meditation center," said board Chairman Claude R. Rash.

A few local residents opposed the change in the center's status, saying Bankard Road cannot handle additional traffic and that the center's growth would lower property values in the area.

Craig Storti, secretary of International Meditation Center, U.S.A., said, "This is the nature of our religious observance -- to have 10-day retreats."

He said the group merely was asking for permission to practice its religion -- permission he said is accorded to other religious groups in Carroll County without restraint.

"Under the zoning ordinance, you could have a carnival there for 10 days, or a circus," said James Willard Davis, attorney for the center.

Richard Ford, a neighbor who opposed the request, said the center originally had requested permission to hold two or three retreats a year, and now they were asking for 24 retreats. He asked Mr. Storti what the center would be asking for in coming years.

"We have no other plans to ask for anything else from the county," Mr. Storti said. "This is all we want to do."

any church that gets started, you don't know all your plans five years from now," said Mr. Davis.

Sharon Krumrine, a neighbor who operates a hog farm, said she is worried that the area is becoming a residential neighborhood instead of an agricultural area. "We are now being closed in on all sides," she said.

She asked the board, "Are the farmers being pushed out by the residents?"

Mr. Rash said agriculture still is the preferred use for land zoned agricultural. He said neighboring farmers should not feel threatened by the center.

Mrs. Krumrine also said the center would bring strangers to the relatively remote area.

"We have no idea where they come from, who they are," she said.

Mr. Davis countered, "What kind of people sign up for a 10-day silent retreat? I hardly think they're hoodlums off the street."

The board also approved the center's request for a variance that reduces the setback requirement from its property boundary to two planned dormitories. The variance will allow the meditation center to reduce the setback from 100 feet to as little as 60 feet. Mr. Storti said the dorms each would house up to 24 people.

Because the land slopes, he said, unless the dorms are built closer to the property line they might require extensive grading work or the construction of full basements. That could increase their cost by as much as one-third, he said.

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