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Members of the Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute say the recent denial of a municipal building permit for a new 176-person residence has exacerbated a shortage of housing for members of their community.
But during a meeting Thursday in Charlottetown of the standing committee on natural resources and environmental sustainability, the three nuns also acknowledged a “lack of trust and understanding” within the community related to questions around landholdings of the Buddhist community.
In mid-September, Three Rivers council denied the building permit for the construction of the new residence for GWBI nuns. Minutes for the meeting do not state a definitive reason for the denial. But concerns raised during the meeting focused on the impact of the Buddhist community on local housing prices, claims that GWBI is attempting to circumvent the Lands Protection Act and the lack of an official development plan for the new Three Rivers municipality.
It remains unclear what lies in the future for the Mahayana Buddhist community.
Venerable Sabrina Chiang said the community has decided not to appeal the decision. But concerns have been expressed from overseas family members of nuns and of children who attend the Buddhist Moonlight Academy, a private school for youth in Little Sands, Vernon River and Brudenell.
“Many parents were worried that their children were not welcomed on the Island,” Chiang said.
Chiang said that Islanders have been “extremely kind and welcoming to us”.
“So, we were kind of stuck in the middle wanting to both comfort our parents and our Island community,” Chiang said.
Chiang said the denial has also thrown into question plans to construct a multi-building campus facility that could one day house up to 1,400 Buddhist nuns.
"We also need this dormitory to provide better living conditions for our student nuns since they are living in tight quarters, scattered across eastern P.E.I., as all of our facilities have reached maximum capacity," Chiang said.
At present there are 220 nuns living on a farmhouse property in Vernon River. Another 220 live in Brudenell and 65 live in a lobster shanty in Montague.
"We all want to live together under one roof," Chiang said.
Venerable Yvonne Tsai said the community is unsure what can be done to address the local concerns.
Tsai said she is aware that individuals are concerned that purchases of homes by either GWBI or family members of nuns have had an impact on local housing and land prices.
“But the reality of it is that now we are faced with a pressing situation. We need to really think about our next steps in how we can build a solution for our lack of housing,” Tsai told MLAs.
Tsai also said GWBI owns a total of 667 acres of land. This is well below the land size limit allowed under P.E.I.’s Land Protection Act for corporations.
Some critics of the Buddhist community have expressed concern about the combined land total owned by the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society (GEBIS), which is an organization of male monks, GWBI and the Moonlight International Foundation. But the combined land purchases of both GEBIS and GWBI, which can be accessed on the IRAC website, adds up to 2,005 acres of land. This is also well below the 3,000 acre land size limit under the LPA.
Venerable Joanna Ho said some family members of nuns, fewer than 10 in total, have purchased property in the vicinity of the existing monastery. She said this amounted to 270 acres of property in total.
During the meeting, Montague-Kilmuir MLA Cory Deagle said there have been many concerns raised by his constituents of past land transactions involving GWBI.
He quoted an email he had received, which originated in 2016, sent from a former board member of GWBI. The email appeared to indicate that the organization planned to circumvent executive council approval of land purchases involving more than five acres.
"Let's pretend that the lay people are buying first for better negotiation and then transfer it to GWBI later before closing," Deagle read from the email.
Tsai said the email was written by a former board member of the organization. She said local realtors had advised the organization to transfer ownership of properties after individuals purchased small plots of land.
"In the first few years we were maybe lacking in local knowledge and we were advised by some people of what things could be done locally. But later on, we realized maybe that's not the correct way to do it, and we fixed it," Tsai said.
- Buddhist institute not appealing Three Rivers' decision against building permit
- UPDATE: Three Rivers council votes against Buddhist residence
- Parents of children at Moonlight Academy defend Buddhist school
- Buddhist monks welcome Islanders, N.S. and N.B. residents to monastery during open house
- Land purchased in Brudenell, P.E.I., for Buddhist nuns’ monastery
- Buffaloland Park and animal sanctuary flourishing under Buddhist ownership
- Buddhist Academy opens doors to overwhelming crowd at open house