P.E.I. community delays decision on Buddhist monastery expansion

Three Rivers council has put its vote on plans to expand a monastery for Buddhist nuns on hold until Sept. 14 to allow residents to get more information on the project.

Three Rivers Mayor Ed MacAulay says some area residents expressed 'uncertainty and negativity'

Mayor Ed MacAulay of Three Rivers said council has put its vote on plans to expand a monastery for Buddhist nuns on hold to allow residents to get more information on the project. (Shane Ross/CBC)

Plans to expand a monastery for Buddhist nuns in eastern P.E.I. have been put on hold after some residents expressed dismay with the religious school's impact on the small community.

Mayor Ed MacAulay said the town of Three Rivers council held off on a vote to approve the building permit Monday due to lingering questions from the public.

MacAulay estimated up to 30 members of the public attended the committee meeting on Monday. Although it is not clear how many attendees were drawn in by the topic, he said most of them left after the item was off the table.

"There was a lot of uncertainty and negativity being expressed from residents about the future of Brudenell and the purchase of land and the [Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute] and what is their larger plan," he said.

MacAulay said the loss of land and effects on the housing market if families come to reside could "empty pockets" of residents, adding the divide between rural and urban has been an ongoing issue in the amalgamated municipality.

The expansion project had already received approval from the planning committee and had been recommended to council.

About two years ago, the Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute released its plans to build a vast complex with the capacity to hold up to 1,400 people on 300 acres of land the group owns in Brudenell.

The school provides a place for nuns to study and practise the teachings of Buddha, according to its website.

"I've asked for residents or concerned citizens to put in their questions, if they have any questions that need clarification or you know to alleviate some of their fears," MacAulay said on Friday.

What the future holds

At a meeting on Aug. 24, a member of council had flagged concerns about whether the proposal met certain specifications, and the taxation breakdown with the province, the mayor said.

Those questions were answered at the meeting Monday, MacAulay said, but some new ones came up.

The plans for the 200,000-square-foot project include lecture halls, worship areas, dormitories and recreation spaces. P.E.I.'s Environment Minister Richard Brown signed off on the project, which is subject to seven conditions, including that any construction plans must be approved prior to proceeding.

A look inside the monastery. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Members of the public will have until Sept. 7 to submit queries on the addition, MacAulay said.

Ready to go

At a public meeting held in 2018 as part of the environmental impact process, neighbours of the proposed religious campus expressed overall support for it.

A technical review by consultants responded to questions that had been previously raised in relation to heating, location of any wells and wastewater treatment and local commercial and residential impact.

In an email statement, Venerable Angeline of the Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute said the development plan was submitted to the municipality in 2018.

"The development plans of GWBI have been known and made available to the relevant local authorities and residents of the area for quite some time," reads the statement.

The group put in an application for a new dormitory and kitchen in April, according to the statement, and they are ready to begin construction on the fourth building.

"We have been and remain willing to work with the Town of Three Rivers and its residents," she said.

A message on the institute's website indicates the centre is closed to visitors until further notice.

The mayor said the vote is expected to take place at the next town meeting scheduled for Sept. 14.

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With files from Jessica Doria-Brown