City staff say no to 10-storey Richmond temple

An artist
An artist's rendering of a proposed expansion of Lingyen Mountain Temple, whose existing building, at right in the image, faces No. 5 Road.
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City staff will make a rare recommendation Wednesday to deny a development application that's causing a stir on Richmond's Highway to Heaven.

Lingyen Mountain Temple, a striking building on No. 5 Road, has sought to expand on neighbouring land for the past decade. After a few previous attempts, temple officials are making another push—but this one too might not make it to the Promised Land.

"Development must improve a neighborhood, not denigrate it. Development must show respect for those other places of worship that have willingly and respectfully complied with zoning requirements," said Carol Day in her latest submission to council.

Day, a resident of the Shellmont neighbourhood, formed a citizens' group to fight the proposal. She insists the temple's latest bid, as others before it, doesn't comply with zoning rules.

James K.M. Cheng Architects has applied on behalf of the temple to rezone 10060 No. 5 Road, a vacant 3.8-hectare (9.4-acre) site, from its roadside stand designation to allow a temple expansion of 198,738 square feet.

Council's planning committee will hear the application today at a 4 p.m. meeting. Opponents promise a presence at the meeting, and staff are suggesting the new bid be rejected.

"Although the proposal will expand active agriculture use and protection of land with demonstrable agriculture value, and the Lingyen Mountain Temple's contributions to the community are acknowledged, the impacts associated with the proposed building height and massing are significant," noted planner Barry Konkin. "The scale of the proposal's departure from established norms…are significant and staff do not support the proposed (temple) expansion as proposed."

Proposed are eight buildings connected by a covered walkway, arranged around a central courtyard, according to the report. The main temple would rise 30 metres, or 10 storeys—two-and-a-half times higher than the 12 metres (39 feet) allowed under zoning rules. Four other buildings would also break building height rules.

Variances for other places of worship have been granted in the past, but none as high as this. Some are as high as 21.3 metres, but most are for architectural features such as domes or spires, according to staff.

"The visual and physical impact of the proposed building heights is of concern to staff, as the taller roof profiles will be visible from the surrounding context. The looming affect, which results from the relationship between the height of a structure and its distance from adjacent uses is also of concern," noted Konkin.

The proposed density also has staff concerned. Although permitted, the magnitude of the development would be like no other here.

Parking has also been flagged. A shortfall, staff say, will result in temple-goers parking in neighbouring residential streets, especially during major events.

Temple officials say a growing congregation, now numbering 10,000, is necessitating expansion. The expansion would allow 100 resident nuns, up from the current 47.

Richmond has historically allowed places of worship to locate on this stretch of No. 5 Road—despite its Agricultural Land Reserve designation—provided farming also takes place on the land. As part of this application, temple officials promise to intensify farming, and open the majority of the agricultural lands for farm school programs.

The applicant maintains there are other public benefits, such as improved local drainage, extensive planting and public access to the temple grounds, complex and kitchen, offering free food "all week for everyone," according to documents submitted to the city.

The applicant also suggests the project "reflects and enhances the multicultural character of Richmond."

Consultant Brook Pooni Associates Inc. found "overwhelming city-wide support," following two open houses and a telephone survey. In its report, the firm noted the main temple would be 12 metres (40 feet) shorter than a 2010 proposal.

"The consolidation of agricultural land which forms part of the proposal allows for the tallest building to be located at the rear of the property reducing visibility from No. 5 Road and creating a park-like area along No. 5 Road," concluded the consultant.

Lingyen Mountain Temple issued a statement yesterday, saying its members and volunteers are "very disappointed" by the ruling from city staff, and that they're seeking "additional clarification as to why denial is recommended."

"The temple is at capacity and as the population of Richmond continues to grow, so too do the spiritual, cultural and community needs of Richmond residents," reads the statement.

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