By Joe Taglieri
The Azusa City Council voted 4-1 Monday to approve a facilities expansion project for the Dhammakaya International Meditation Center.
The local hub for Buddhist spirituality has an ambitious site-improvement plan that will make significant changes to the property located at 865 E. Monrovia Pl.
“The … project will include the construction of 69,179 square foot Meditation Hall, nine two-story dormitory buildings (to house up to 176 temporary guests and 48 staff members), a storage/workshop building, a stormwater detention/water quality basin, a fire access road,  parking spaces, a reflecting pool, and landscaping,” according to a city staff report.
The council held a public hearing on the project at the panel’s last regular meeting Sept. 8.
In addition to traffic and construction noise concerns, Council Member Uriel Macias’ opposition centered on plans to demolish the MacNeil Mansion swimming pool and replace it with a workshop and storage building.
“The pool is currently filled with soil and planted with a rose garden,” the staff report states. “The Conditions of Approval require a decorative outline of the pool be included on top of the workshop building and the inclusion of a plaque describing the pool’s relationship to the MacNeil Mansion, its location, and construction materials.”
“It’s a private property, but at the same time it’s going to have significant impacts to the neighborhood and to the community around it,” Macias said Sept. 8.
“The site provides the philosophy of peace and tranquility and a positive vibe,” Council Member Angel Carrillo said. “I appreciate what it does and how it makes people feel.”
The Dhammakaya property contains the historic MacNeil Mansion, which will not be affected by the center’s facilities improvement plans.
The ordinance enacted Monday explains key elements of the project. The project will:
“Move the ‘activity’ center of the DIMC retreat (that currently occurs in the MacNeil Mansion) to the central/southern portions of the Property, which would allow the MacNeil Mansion and Organization Housing to function as the very ‘quiet’ area in the northern part of the Property.
“Construct a new Meditation Hall large enough to accommodate DIMC’s existing ceremonies, and house all teaching and meditation programs inside a structure during inclement weather and outside when the weather permits.
“Design the Meditation Hall to be compatible with the MacNeil Mansion by incorporating certain key design aspects, such as the roof balustrade design and material colors from the MacNeil Mansion into the Meditation Hall design.
“Construct new Organization Housing to provide housing for guests and staff that meet current earthquake standards and has updated plumbing, electrical, heating, and cooling systems.
“Maintain the historic value of the MacNeil Mansion by placing the new Organization Housing buildings behind the Mansion and, therefore, shielding the new housing from view to the north.
“Enhance the lawn in front of the MacNeil Mansion to create more formal gardens in a manner that celebrates the history and formality of the building, as well as incorporate a reflecting pool that provides a tribute to the original pool, located southeast of the MacNeil Mansion.
“Provide sufficient on-site parking to accommodate the largest ceremonies; encourage participants to use public transportation, specifically the Gold Line, by providing a shuttle service from the Citrus Avenue station to DIMC during events.
“Transplant as many qualified trees as possible and incorporate them into a robust landscape plan that maintains and enhances the retreat setting and provides screening from neighboring properties.
“Provide new water quality treatment and storm detention facilities that connect to City and County storm drain facilities.
“Provide emergency access throughout the Property that meets current building and safety codes.”