Photo of the Week: New Neighbors
For Saint-Paulites, we have very few neighbors; there are only four properties within a couple hundred feet of our property lines, and one of them is owned by Ramsey County. By comparison, Paul’s mom, who also lives in St. Paul, has 23 neighbors within that proximity. So when we see someone new, it’s kind of a big deal.
To our north, we have our next-door neighbors (and their enviable hot houses and chickens), then a small used-car shop, and then a 4-acre, partly-wooded corner lot. There was once two houses on this lot, but a number of years ago one burnt down, and then the other one was demolished shortly after. According to the gossiping of our neighbors, the lot was then sold to a developer, who planned on splitting the lot into six lots and putting six houses there. Paul and I were not too thrilled with that prospect, but que será será. Then the word on the street was that the developer couldn’t afford the assessment to run city water and sewer lines for six houses, got hit with $28,000 in property taxes (thanks to a governor that shall not be named) and went bankrupt. So the lot was sitting vacant, with no residents except the local herd of deer:
Cut to about two weeks ago: Paul and I are leaving our house and notice, for the first time since we bought the property, a car in the vacant lot. We figured it for a grounds-keeper and didn’t think much else of it. A few days later, the car is back, but with several people working about the property, most of them wearing orange robes. “Why are there Buddhist monks mowing the lawn on the corner lot?” I asked Paul at the time. Moderately confounded, we shrugged and moved on. From then on, we saw them regularly: raking leaves, mowing the grass, clearing the underbrush around the back of the property, cutting down tree limbs with chainsaws, and so on. Then, last weekend, the lot sprung to life! We drove by Friday morning to see a number of canopies had been set up in the middle of the grass, one of which sheltering what looked like an altar. Additionally, about a dozen tents had been set up along the tree line, and about a half-dozen fire pits had been dug. On Saturday, dozens of monks and laity were gathered under the canopies as we drove by. They were there all weekend, then on Tuesday the lot was completely empty again.
At this point, we were wondering what the story was, so we did a little internet sleuthing. The Ramsey County GIS system is an underutilized but very handy application that is available for public use, so we searched for the property. As we scrolled down on the property record, we let out a gasp:
I’ve redacted the name of the organization for their privacy, but the gist of it is that this property is currently owned by a Lao Buddhist meditation center based out of a suburb north of the Twin Cities. The land is zoned “church,” which makes sense since it is owned by a religious non-profit. Paul and I were thrilled by this discovery! No McMansions or ugly cookie-cutter houses! Best neighbors ever! There is actually a Burmese Theravada Buddhist temple and monastery in Maplewood (the suburb directly east of us), so maybe this could be a potential site for another temple? I have no idea, but how exciting would that be?