What will ultimately become the largest Buddhist temple in the Bay Area for ethnic Cambodians was approved Tuesday night by San Jose councilmembers — the final hurdle to be cleared for a project that has been in the works for more than four years.
The Wat Khmer Kampuchea Krom temple, a nearly 14,000 square-foot project that will incorporate architectural features resembling those found at holy sites in Southeast Asia, could break ground as early as this summer, with a cost of up to $25 million.
The councilmembers’ unanimous vote to approve the project was followed by joyous applause from hundreds of supporters at City Hall.
Located at 2740 Ruby Ave. in San Jose’s Evergreen neighborhood, the temple will serve the city’s population of Khmer Krom, ethnic Cambodians who hail from southern Vietnam. Financing for the project will come from Lyna Lam, a Khmer Krom advocate and wife of tech billionaire Chris Larsen.
On Tuesday night, dozens of Buddhist monks dressed in orange, yellow and maroon robes and caps sat in attendance in the City Hall chambers and spoke about the importance of their community having an established home.
“We need a proper place,” said Saduol Son, a Khmer Krom Buddhist monk. “We are so blessed and so pleased about it.”
Son, who came from Vietnam to San Jose in 2019, said that the new temple will serve as both a space to practice his religion and to help keep the Khmer Krom culture alive.
The project got the thumbs up from councilmembers despite concerns from neighbors, who have asserted since its inception that it does not fit in with the largely residential area from either a size or architectural standpoint. They also claim events hosted at the site will create too much noise and traffic. Many said they supported the idea of a temple, but not on Ruby Avenue.
In an attempt to respond to neighbors’ concerns, Mayor Matt Mahan and four other councilmembers put forth additional requirements on the site, like capping the number of attendees at 300 and the operating times of the temple at 10 p.m. Altogether, the temple must comply with such 40 requirements, or face penalties from the city.
“These are never easy decisions,” said Mayor Mahan. “I don’t think any compromise is going to be perfect.”
Councilmember Peter Ortiz said he’s “confident that this new temple will add value to the surrounding neighborhood.”
Organizers behind the development say the need for the new site stems from the fact that many Khmer Krom temples across the Bay Area are small, converted single-family homes. In San Jose, a temple on 66 Sunset Ct. is home to over 100 families who are looking to exit the cramped space.
In approving the project, councilmembers granted the rezoning of the 1.86-acre site and authorized a special use permit, unlocking the ability for the project’s planners to construct a building with a larger footprint and height in a residential area.
But Nha Tran, whose modest 900 square-foot home is sandwiched inside the U-shaped plot of land that the temple will take over, said the project will strip away any sense of privacy that he’s enjoyed on Ruby Avenue since 2008. Once the temple is built, he has no choice but to live side by side with it, he said.
“What can you do?” asked a bewildered Tran outside of his home. “What can I do?” Others have expressed their opposition in a Change.org petition, which has garnered nearly 1,500 signatures against the temple.
Soaring 65 feet into the air, the temple’s spire will sit on top of a sanctuary that will accompany a golden, bell-shaped monument at ground level known as a caetdi in the Khmer language. An adjoining community center will also be onsite, with the design being overseen by architecture and design firms in Bay Area and Cambodia.
The two buildings will include a community center, library and living space for up to eight monks.