Ottawa County Buddhists Again Seek a Special-Use Permit for Temple

April 13, 2009

Author: Myron Kukla

Source: The Buddhist Channel/The Grand Rapids Press,8009,0,0,1,0

Christopher Liravongsa said he and fellow Aram Buddhist Temple members just want a place to worship.

Since selling its Park Township site in 2002 to make way for the Macatawa Legends Golf & Country Club, the 20-family Holland area Buddhist congregation has not been able to find a permanent temple location.

Congregation members have met in meeting halls, homes and -- for a time -- a West Ottawa school the past few years but have struggled to secure a building.

Part of it might be because some neighbors "don't understand our culture," said Liravongsa, a 54-year-old from Laos who makes his home in Hamilton.

"Buddhists in Laos go into the streets and make a lot of noise," he said. "That's how we celebrate."

But after four years of starts and stops to get a temple built in Olive Township, his Buddhist community is again seeking a special-use permit. It wants to build a 2,587-square-foot temple on 20 acres in an agricultural zone.

Ray Atsaphanthong, Wat Lao Prasetavan, Kykeo Silabouth and Liravongsa are asking for the rezoning for a proposed temple at 12528 Port Sheldon St. The request goes before the township's Planning Commission in a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Township Hall, 6480 136th Ave.

Structures for social and religious activities are permitted in agricultural zones if they have are on at least 5 acres, said township Planning and Zoning Administrator Greg Ransford.

"What we had planned before was too big and cost too much money," Liravongsa said of the $168,000 project. "So, we have changed the plans for a smaller building that is now more affordable."

This is the Buddhist community's fourth try for an Olive Township temple. Members received special-use permits from the Township Board in 2005 and 2006, but those lapsed. The Township Board denied a special-use request in fall 2007 based on site plan changes and because of a congregation citation for using a pole barn on the property as a gathering spot without approval.