For more than a decade the Purple Lotus Society has been diligently planning, designing and raising funds to build a grand temple at the base of the Fremont foothills near the Niles district.
Although plans for the project were approved several years ago, there hasn’t been much activity on the site – until now. The basic frame, walls and roof of the temple and school have gone up in recent weeks, taking some area residents by surprise.
“The main thing is people will see it and not expect it,” said Joel Pullen, an associate planner with the Fremont Community Development Department.He added that the project is clearly visible to motorists crossing the railroad overpass on Niles Boulevard near the Union City border.
Construction on the temple, and an adjoining school, got under way this fall on a 5.5-acre lot sandwiched between the northeastern edge of Quarry Lakes Regional Recreation Area and the Union Pacific and BART railroad tracks.
When completed next year, the two-story temple will be just over 55,000 square feet, with the school, called the Dharma Institute, measuring in at about 32,500 square feet.
The temple will reflect the Buddhist basic philosophy of affinity, karma, reincarnation, and enlightenment in its layout, design and use. The organization, formerly known as the Purple Lotus Society of the USA, is a local chapter of the True Buddha School.
While the Purple Lotus Society didn’t respond to requests from Patch on details about the temple, the architectural plans they submitted to the City of Fremont show the temple will include overnight quarters for 120 people (monks and guests) and a main hall designed to accommodate up to 150 people for gatherings.
According to the plans, the temple’s placement on the property and architectural elements are in keeping with the ancient Chinese practice of feng shui where objects and numbers are arranged in specific ways to promote health, harmony and prosperity. In this case, all main entrances to the temple will face south for prosperity, with the quiet and louder areas being placed on opposite ends of the building. The temple’s design also will maximize the view toward the adjacent Quarry Lakes Park.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Niles resident Estela Herrera, 60, who lives nearby on Niles Boulevard near the railroad overpass. The six-year Niles resident said she’s happy a temple is being built near her neighborhood instead of more housing or retail which she feels would generate too much noise and traffic.
“They’re very welcoming and accommodating; I love their philosophy,” Herrera said of the Buddhist beliefs and practices. She added that because the temple will be within walking distance to her home, she hopes to be able to take advantage of its facilities. “I’ve been looking for a meditation center in the area,” she said.
But not everyone is happy to see the site developed.
Longtime Fremont resident Barry Scott lamented the vanishing open space in the area and the changes the temple will bring to the landscape.
“Fremont has grown so much and Niles is kind of dear to my heart and I hate to see it change,” Scott said. However, the 55-year-old truck driver acknowledged that the temple will likely be a good neighbor.
There will be no permanent residents on the site; but visiting monks, students and others may stay for specific periods of time in the school’s dormitory rooms and guest areas while attending events at the temple.
Even though the site will have more than 220 parking spaces to comply with city requirements, the project plan submitted by The Purple Lotus Society states that no private vehicles will be allowed; transportation for area students attending events at the temple will be provided for them. Parking issues will likely not impact nearby neighborhoods.
The San Bruno-based organization is no stranger to the Tri-City area. It operates the Purple Lotus School, a private kindergarten through 12th grade boarding school on Ninth Street in Union City. The Dharma Institute at the temple is designed for high school age and adult students and will not affect younger children at the Union City school.
According to The Purple Lotus Temple website, the Fremont property was purchased for $1.2 million in 1999. In a ceremony marking the occasion, Lu Sheng-yen, sometimes referred to by followers as the Grand Master Living Buddha Lian-sheng, was called in to bless the property and the eventual construction of the temple.
A construction timeline posted on the Purple Lotus Temple website pegged the cost to build the temple at about $28 million in 2006. The cost is being covered by donations from followers.
Although the path to building the temple hasn’t been a smooth one because of funding challenges and the need to meet city and county building requirements, Purple Lotus has remained steadfast. City of Fremont development fees, zoning changes, and the need to conform to building height rules and other issues have prompted minor changes to the project’s original design which was submitted to the city in 2005.
“The building permit has a lot of stuff they have to do,” noted Pullen, who oversees the project for the City of Fremont.
Have there been any significant problems or setbacks with the city over the project?
“Nothing at this point that is significant,” Pullen said. He added that it’s important that they follow the use permit in the construction in order to pass the final inspections. “They’re also on the hook to pay the city of Union City and Fremont in the form of traffic improvements,” Pullen added.
Access to the site will be from Fox Avenue, an existing small frontage road along the BART tracks that connects to Alvarado Niles Road in nearby Union City. The Purple Lotus Temple will need to pay for road improvements, curbs, and driveways as needed along the road in both Fremont and Union City.
If all goes well, the construction on the temple will be completed sometime in 2013.