Farmer fights proposed Buddhist center

BONSALL, Calif. - An avocado farmer is concerned over a Buddhist group's plan to construct a meditation center on their rural property in Bonsall, which will go before the San Diego County Board of Supervisors Wednesday.

It took 12 years for Michael Berns to finally reach the perfect growth pattern for his 15-acre Bonsall avocado grove. It's small in size, but big in production yielding some 150,000 pounds of fruit this year.

"This grove is just fantastic," said Berns counting bundles of the fruit on each branch.  "We're going to have a heavy crop again."

He's concerned the neighboring land could soon interrupt his grove's growth spurt.

"From the very end all along here," said Berns as he's pointing at the plot of land next door.  "The county is literally cutting my legs out from under me with this approval."

Right next to the Berns Grove is the proposed site of the new Buddhist Dai Dang Meditation Center at 6326 Camino del Rey.  The group has applied for a permit to build a two-story, 8,900-square-foot residence, a 7,600-square-foot meditation hall and a 6,200-square-foot worship hall on their nine-acre lot.  The buildings would be connected by walkways, courtyards and gardens. The plans also call for about 120 parking places.

The permit would allow 30 monks to live at the center.  In addition, as many as 300 visitors could visit the center each weekend.  

"I didn't realize the size and scope of the project and how it was going to impact me," said Berns.

For Berns, the impact is hardship.  Growing his avocados takes a delicate balance of water, fertilizer, bees to pollinate, as well as aerial spraying of a natural pesticide

"We're constantly trying to keep the pests that destroy our fruit in check," said Berns.

With the proposed mediation center in such close proximity, Berns knows pesticide and people don't mix and the bees will sting.

"With that concentration of bees and that number of people, over a certain number of years, several people will get stung that will have a serious reaction," said Berns. "That is a risk I can't afford. I can't have that risk."

Berns has suggested moving the cluster of buildings along his property line to the other side of the compound, however, the request was rejected by the monastery.

The county Planning Commission unanimously approved the project but, the Bonsall Community Planning Group, an advisory panel that voted against it four times in the past eight years, appealed the approval. Opponents say the Vietnamese Buddhist meditation center does not fit the character of the community and its agricultural surroundings, pointing to Berns' avocado grove next door.

A county staff report refutes the planning group's claims and recommends denial of the appeal.

FOX 5 News tried to contact the monastery for comment on the project, but no one was available.

The final decision on the monastery will come down at Wednesday's Board of Supervisor's meeting.