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Buddhist temple permit approved by Nobles County Planning Commission

The application for a conditional use permit will now advance to the Nobles County Board of Commissioners.

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Sean Naing (from left), Sirimingalar Dhamma Center Monk Ashin Visuddha Zoti, San Wai and Min Zaw are shown Thursday afternoon inside the temple on their property nine miles south of Worthington.
Julie Buntjer / The Globe
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WORTHINGTON — Members of the Sirimingalar Dhamma Center are one step closer to having a home for their Buddhist temple after the Nobles County Planning Commission unanimously approved their application to establish a place of worship south of Worthington.

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Many of the group’s members attended Wednesday night’s meeting at the Nobles County Public Works facility, filling the meeting room and spilling out into the hallway. The group was requesting a conditional use permit to develop a place of worship on a 5.75-acre tract in the northeast quarter of Section 30, Indian Lake Township. Decades ago, the site was the Nystrom Brothers apple orchard.

A descendant of those owners, Dr. Dale Nystrom, owns property adjacent to the site and raised concerns about their planned use of the property. He asked if having a temple as a neighbor would impact his property value, and feared the value of his 80-acre parcel would go down.

Nystrom shared his concerns about the gravel road, particularly to the west of the property, because it can be nearly impassable in the spring, and said the group also needs to be aware of the odor from a nearby hog barn, located approximately 1,700 feet south of the property line.

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Members of the Sirimingalar Dhamma Center listen as Dr. Dale Nystrom speaks to the Nobles County Planning Commission Wednesday evening at the Public Works facility in Worthington.
Julie Buntjer / The Globe

He spent the largest share of his time, however, to share with the new property owners his concerns for the presence of lead, arsenic and DDT in the soil.

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“This land here, the original Nystrom brothers had it from the 1920s to the 1960s,” he said, adding that lead paint was used on the buildings, and DDT was common in chemicals used around the farm.

“All these old acreages have lead in the soil. It doesn’t take much lead to poison a child,” Nystrom said. “I just want to caution you folks that this is a toxic site for lead and arsenic. Our families put it there — I know it’s there.

Map by Kari Lucin on Scribd

“My advice to the group is you can build a temple, but you would be better to build it on a parcel of land without any previous buildings on it.”

Four other individuals — also members of the Nystrom family — who own land northeast of the site called Nobles County Planning and Zoning Administrator Kathy Henderscheidt prior to the meeting to voice their opposition to awarding the permit. The people noted concerns over increased traffic, large gatherings and, according to one, “a church should not be in the middle of farmland.”

Ryan Meyer, who owns the hog barn south of the property, voiced his opposition to the plans for the temple because of the odors emitted from his barn.

“I don’t want 35 families coming to say the manure stinks,” he said.

Initially, the center planned to purchase the acreage from landowner Dave Vander Kooi contingent on passage of the conditional use permit. However, the purchase was pushed through earlier in June by the center’s bank because of the favorable interest rate.

Nobles County Attorney Joe Sanow told members of the commission before their vote that the county cannot restrict the exercise of religion under the Religious Land Use Act.

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Sean Naing (left) and Min Zaw stand in front of the stage they have set up on their Sirimingalar Dhamma Center property south of Worthington Thursday afternoon. The center will host a celebration on Sunday evening, to include traditional dancers from the Twin Cities and Ohio.
Julie Buntjer / The Globe

“I do not see any justification for not granting a conditional use permit for the property,” Sanow said. “It’s also important to note that our zoning ordinance specifically allows for a church in an agricultural preservation district.”

Sanow said while some of the concerns mentioned by neighboring property owners are understandable, he doesn’t think they rise to the level of burdensome.

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“The commission cannot use lead and arsenic levels as a reason to deny without actual testing,” he said. “Under that rationale, just about every building in rural Nobles County would have those concerns.”

Min Zaw, president of Sirimingalar Dhamma Center, said they are looking forward to having a temple and a place to pray and worship. He said 95% of the membership resides in Worthington. Their faith precludes them from locating a temple within city limits.

“Buddhist temples are typically out in the country,” added Sean Naing, the center’s secretary. “We must have a monk and a temple to practice our religion.”

Naing said their group consists of Burma natives who had to flee their homeland as refugees. They speak Karen, which is different from the Lao language spoken at the temple north of Worthington.

“We believe we can live out in peace here and no one can harm us,” Naing said. “This is our American dream.”

The center has a monk already living on the site.

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In moving to approve the center’s request for a permit, without conditions, Commission member Marty Rickers said, “I think it’s a far superior site compared to the site that was first proposed. I thank Dave for having the foresight to move on this property and provide these folks with a good opportunity for a temple location.”

“It’s time for us to have our own temple, our own monk, a place where we can gather together and keep our own religions alive."

The commission’s action is a recommendation. The permit request will advance to the Nobles County Board of Commissioners meeting on July 5 for final consideration.

In other action, the commission:

  • Approved a conditional use permit for R&R Thier Feedlots, 19592 260th St., Rushmore, to construct a 55- by 245-foot vaccination building in portions of the southeast and southwest quarters of Section 22, Olney Township.

“Right now we’re using an outside alleyway and our employees are looking for something that’s more sheltered and more comfortable for them,” said Ryan Thier in his request. The new structure would be enclosed to protect both employees and animals from the elements.
Thier said in addition to vaccinations, the building will be used to house cattle that come into the feedlot after dark so that they can be moved into pens in daylight.

No conditions were placed on the permit, and Thier said construction is slated to begin in mid-July, with completion anticipated by mid-August.

Feedlot expansion approved

Earlier in the evening, the Nobles County Board of Adjustment met to consider a request from Andrew Fodness, Adrian, to expand an existing cattle feedlot at 17010 170th St., Lismore. The site is located in the west half of the southwest quarter of Section 5, Larkin Township.

Fodness has approximately 300 head of feeder cattle on the site, and sought to add another two cattle lots to house a total of 600 to 700 cattle on site.

“Eventually, five years down the road, I want to feed calves there,” Fodness said. “For now, I am finishing cattle out there.”

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With the requested expansion, Fodness could not meet the required 1,980-foot setback to a neighboring household, or the Lismore Cemetery. He said his plan was to construct the new feedlots directly east of the existing lots, which would be farther away from the cemetery and nearest neighbor.

Due to the terrain of the land, the barns could not be moved farther north on the property.

Nobles County Planning and Zoning Administrator Kathy Henderschiedt said she did not receive any comments or concerns regarding Fodness’ request.

The board approved the expansion request.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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