Buddhist temple project may begin in spring

by Chad Klimack, Newark Advocate, Dec 16, 2010

Pataskala, OH (USA) -- A plan to build a Thai Buddhist temple in the city is far from dead. In fact, construction on the temple could begin in the spring.

Representatives of the Columbus Buddhism Center have submitted paperwork to the city requesting a lot split for property on Blacks Road.

They also have submitted new paperwork outlining possible plans for the temple.

John Tai, a representative from the Columbus Buddhism Center, could not be reached for comment on the temple project because he is out of the country, but Pataskala Planning Director Diane Harris said she has spoken to Tai and the project is moving forward.

"They have the money for the temple site, as I understand it," Harris said.

Harris added that representatives of the group want to break ground "early in the spring."

Tai requested the lot split on Dec. 6. He is seeking to split 7.8 acres off an 83-acre tract of land on Blacks Road.

Harris currently is reviewing the paperwork, and she said approval is a formality because the lot split meets the city's zoning requirements.

Once Harris signs off on the lot split, the group, which has received non-profit status, next would need to submit a development plan for the temple. The city would need to sign off on the plan, as would the county planning department.

Once the entities approve the development plan, the group could break ground, said Harris, adding she has yet to receive a formal plan.

The informal outline Tai's group submitted to the city earlier this month points out the temple development will proceed in steps, with the construction of a rectory building, social hall, temple, meditation cottage, chapel and library-museum.

All told, the project is slated to cost $10.3 million, according to the paperwork.

Harris, who has spoken to the group's architects, said representatives of the The Columbus Buddhism Center have discussed using marble imported from Thailand on the exterior of the temple.

The informal outline provides some insight into the group's plans for the temple and the ground around it.

"Ground area surrounding the buildings will be carefully landscaped to create pleasant scenarios with protective shade that double as a recreational park at the center of this development," the outline reads.

The outline also illustrates the possible impact the temple could have on tourism in the city. Pataskala currently has no real regional tourist attractions, save for the annual multi-day Pataskala Street Fair and Antique Power Show.

"At this beautiful and peaceful locale is the site of a Buddhism temple that will become a destined attraction for many pilgrims from near and far," the outline reads. "The temple is expecting to become a center for meditation teaching as well as a place to conduct religious rites for Buddhists of many nationalities residing in the region. Other Oriental cultural aspects and festivities associated with the temple can also attract tourism activities."

Tai first announced plans for the temple in 2009.

In June of that year, Buddhist monks blessed the site, located on the south side of Blacks Road, between Watkins Road and Township Road.

The site currently is farmed, but it is zoned for residential uses.

A rezoning -- at least for the temple -- is not needed because religious institutions receive federal protections.

Tai in 2009 also discussed building a floating market, restaurant, spa and hotel on the ground in the future.

The outline he submitted to the city still contains those uses, in addition to a training center for yoga practice and fitness equipment, an Oriental market featuring imported groceries and products and beauty shops, among a host of other uses.

Pataskala Mayor Steve Butcher said this week the property will need to be rezoned to permit those non-religious uses because they do not carry the same federal protections.

Butcher added he is not surprised the project is moving forward, considering developer Burkeley Showe and his family donated the property in order for the non-profit to build the temple.

The mayor added he hopes the community embraces the temple, considering the United States Constitution protects religious freedom.

Butcher, himself, has researched Buddhism, and he said other residents who may have misgivings about the religion should do the same.

"I hope (people) respect someone else's point of view," he said.

Soon after the blessing ceremony in 2009, a group of residents, including two area pastors, expressed reservations about the project in front of the mayor and the City Council.

Tai attended the meeting, and he pointed out the community has nothing to fear from the project -- or Buddhism.

"(Buddhism) teaches you to be a better person," said Tai at the time, pointing out he is Catholic.

Tai, at the same meeting, said the development would employ 300 to 500 people, and 90 percent of the employees would be locals.