Planning board meetings often draw a few citizens who have strong opinions about what should or should not happen regarding land use in their neighborhood. The 600 or so people who turned out to a …
Planning board meetings often draw a few citizens who have strong opinions about what should or should not happen regarding land use in their neighborhood. The 600 or so people who turned out to a meeting of the Town of Deerpark Planning board on April 10 to sound off about the expansion plans of Dragon Springs Buddhist LLC, (DSB) in rural Cuddebackville had stronger opinions than most.
It was hard to know if they were more angry at the DSB and its sprawling cultural, religious and educational center, or the local officials who allowed the organization to build structures without permits, repeatedly pollute a local trout stream and otherwise ignore local laws.
One person testifying said to the members of the planning board, “You work for us.” Another said, “Do your job.” Both were met with thunderous applause.
One man who worked for a cement company near DSB said his first encounter with the place seven years ago, “scared the hell out of me. I was met at the gate by a man carrying an AK47. That is nothing we need in our community.”
DSB is, among other things, the training center for six groups of dancers that travel the world with a Chinese dance performance called Shen Yun. The television ads for the shows are ubiquitous, and funded through local Falun Gong (also known as Falun DaFa) organizations who pay for them in many cities around the world. Some 96 performances are planned in the U.S. this year.
Are the ads or the performances any good? Here’s what New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino had to say: “The ads have to be both ubiquitous and devoid of content so that they can convince more than a million people to pay good money to watch what is, essentially, religious-political propaganda—or, more generously, an extremely elaborate commercial for Falun Dafa’s spiritual teachings and its plight vis-à-vis the Chinese Communist regime.” (www.bit.ly/TRRnewyorker).
Falun Gong was founded in 1992 by a Chinese national named Li Hongzhiin who called it a “system of mind-body cultivation.” A few years later, Li was spreading Falun Gong outside of China. By 1999 the organization claimed 100 million adherents worldwide, and, that same year, China began a serious crackdown on the organization in that country.
Persecution by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is one reason, supporters will tell you, DSB needs to be protected with AK47s. DSB also says the CCP persecution extends to their efforts to spread the beauty of ancient Chinese dance through Shen Yun. The website says the CCP had a habit of sending dance troupes of its own to compete in the same cities with the Shen Yun performances, and CCP officials further contacted theaters around the world urging them not to sign or to break contracts with Shen Yun.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that DSB, Shen Yun and Fulon Gong now have pretty deep pockets, and the activities of these groups converge in the sprawling facility in rural Cuddebackville. Perhaps it is wealth that convinced the powers that be that they need not be overly concerned with local zoning laws. Build whatever you want, pay a few fines and move on. The nearby residents, however, are not happy.
In June 2014, DSB settled a lawsuit with the Town of Deerpark, and one of the stipulations was this: “Dragon Springs shall, to the extent required under the Zoning Code and all other applicable laws, rules, and regulations, apply for and obtain any and all permits or approvals as may be required by law for such changes or expansions before undertaking same.”
But the powers that be either did not understand that condition, or simply decided they could ignore it. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for plans to greatly expand this facility admits that, since signing the agreement that ended the lawsuit in 2014, DSB has built various structures without planning board approval.
Further, DSB has violated permits time and again by allowing plumes of mud to flow into a trout stream that empties into the Neversink River. One resident at the hearing said to the members of the planning board, “You need to get a handle on this, you need to follow the zoning laws, follow the town planning, because I’ve read the town planning and there’s a lot in there about protecting the rural character of this area.”
To this point, DSB has done a truly awful job of following state and local zoning and environmental laws, and it’s disrespectful to their neighbors and their community. Local officials have not done much better.