A building permit application for a residence at the Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute (GWBI) was turned down by a vote of 7-3 by Three Rivers Councillors Monday night.
More than 90 people attended the meeting at the Cavendish Farms Wellness Centre. Most were there to hear a decision regarding the building permit. A maximum of 50 people were accommodated in the Hambly meeting room on the second floor and overflow seating was arranged in the lobby where a video and audio live-stream was set up.
Councillors Cindy MacLean, John MacFarlane, Ronnie Nicholson, Gerard Holland, Alan Munro, Cody Jenkins and Deputy-Mayor Debbie Johnston voted against the application.
Councillors Jane King, Cameron MacLean and David MacGrath voted in favour of the town approving the permit. Councillors Jane King and Cameron MacLean also sit on the Three Rivers Planning Board.
Despite having the permit denied Venerable Angeline of GWBI remains optimistic.
“We are still hopeful,” Venerable Angeline said.
She and four other nuns from GWBI attended the meeting and spoke to council and the public.
Venerable Yvonne spoke on behalf of GWBI, addressing questions that were brought to them through the Town of Three Rivers after a previous meeting involving the matter on August 31. Questions were accepted by Three Rivers up to September 7 for GWBI to respond to at Monday’s meeting.
“We can see how much you care about the future generations of the Island, whether or not they can afford to have their own land and home,” Venerable Yvonne said.
Regarding taxation of which multiple questions were fielded, Venerable Yvonne said GWBI does pay taxes with the exemption of the prayer halls in Brudenell and Uigg which are exempt as places of worship.
In addressing concerns about the local economy, Venerable Yvonne told council the last project completed at the monastery used 100 local workers and 96 per cent of the materials for the project were locally sourced.
Another concern Venerable Yvonne addressed was that of housing. GWBI has purchased additional properties in Brudenell which are used to house guests of the institute as well as for meetings. She also acknowledged family members of some nuns purchased homes near the monastery to be closer to their family members. The houses are also used to house nuns until a residence can be constructed at the monastery.
Upon completion of its master plan GWBI would house a maximum of 1,400 nuns. The plan has a projected timeline of 10 to 15 years.
After the list of special speakers, a number of residents voiced their opinions along with support or opposition to the development permit.
Sherry Spriet-Martin, a former Brudenell councillor spoke in favour of approving the permit. She asked if the application still meets the Brudenell Zoning Bylaw which is in effect until Three Rivers adopts its own development and zoning bylaw.
“I have a question as to what the discussion is all about here. It’s my understanding the permit meets all the criteria you’re governed by,” she said.
The presence of GWBI and the Great Enlightentment Buddhist Institute Society, a non-profit organization, worries David Weale.
“Immigration can be a very wonderful thing or it can be a mess. On Prince Edward Island we’ve made a mess of it because we have not had a public discussion about it. So, what we’ve done, knowing GEBIS, in my mind is not immigration ... I think what we have, seriously, is colonization,” he said.
Councillor Cody Jenkins questioned why the permit was before council. It is actually a second application that was made. According to Silva Stojak, of Nine Yards Studios architecture firm in Charlottetown, both applications are for the same building to be constructed on the same parcel of land, the only difference was the PID (property identification) which changed as the parcel of land in question was consolidated with other parcels, creating a new PID.
In Coun Jenkins eyes, the application should not have gone to council for approval just yet as the Three Rivers planning board reviews permit applications for the town. The board has reviewed the first application with the incorrect PID but not the second application.
However, the second application has received recommendation from Town Development Officer Gary Smith.
The next steps for GWBI are not known at this point but Venerable Yvonne is keeping an open mind.
“There’s always hope,” she said, in regards to communication between GWBI and its Three Rivers neighbours.