Buddhists hope to build in county

Residents in Granite have few objections to prayer house plan

October 01, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

A group of Buddhists from the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, formerly Burma, is looking to become the latest religious organization to build a worship center in the rural Baltimore County community of Granite -- and is getting a warmer reception than a megachurch proposed for the area.

The Myanmar Buddhist Meditation Society, which meets in a house at 9711 Old Court Road next to the site of a proposed Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church sanctuary, is asking county approval to construct a prayer building and parking lot on its 7-acre parcel.

But neighbors, who are fighting Bethel's plan to build a 3,000-seat sanctuary near Old Court and Dogwood roads, say they have no problem with the Buddhists' smaller-scale proposal.

A neighborhood group has said repeatedly it opposed Bethel's plan out of concern that such a large project would lead to traffic problems and put stress on wells in the area. Bethel has submitted preliminary drawings for its church and has a year to submit a development plan to the county.

"It kind of puts us to the test," said Bob Hocutt, president of the Greater Patapsco Community Association. "Are we opposed to churches or the size?"

The Buddhist group, which was formed in Columbia, moved to the Old Court site in 1997. Two monks live in the house and hold weekly services for a small number of families, said the society's lawyer, Michael Tanczyn. Three major holidays a year attract up to 200 people from throughout the East Coast. Most weeks, the facility attracts no more than 50 people, he said.

Most of those involved in the group are from Myanmar, but the center is open to other nationalities as well, Tanczyn said.

A hearing to ask the county's permission to build the prayer house is scheduled for Nov. 1.

Although members of the society did not return phone calls, the organization's Web page describes the property as a place where both Buddhist and non-Buddhist can learn meditation techniques and attend lectures on Buddhism.

The group's proposal includes an addition to the existing house and a new one-story prayer building. The society plans to offer free medical services for people from Myanmar lacking health insurance, facilities for the elderly attending prolonged courses and ceremonies for children to become novice monks.

"I don't see any active negative reaction to this," said Roz Roddy, spokeswoman for the Greater Patapsco Community Association. "It's going to be a lovely building."

She said the Buddhist group has caused few problems since it moved into the community two years ago, although she said she is perplexed why rural Granite has recently drawn several new religious groups.

"It's kind of baffling," said Roddy, who has lived in the community 20 years.

Pub Date: 10/01/99

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