The monks of New Braunfels Dao Tam Buddhist Temple built their temple where they hoped to lead a quiet life. That decision has now landed them in court.
Resident of Ashby Acres Subdivision Gerry Meyer is suing Dao Tam Buddhist Temple and its venerable monk Hung Nguyen, complaining the temple is not following the property restrictions.
“It was shocking to me when I heard about the lawsuit,” said Anh Dang, a daughter of one of the temple’s members. “I thought that subdivision is older people, living a quiet life — which is why when they bought the land — that was the assumption, it’s a quiet neighborhood, somewhere good for the monks to lead a quiet life.”
Meyer, a resident of one of the five lots in the Guadalupe County subdivision, filed the suit stating the number of people who attend events at the temple disrupt him and his family, and the structures on the temple’s land violate the lot’s use restrictions.
“They’re the nicest people — only have a few little events a year,” said Paula Brewer, another resident of Ashby Acres Subdivision. “We live right next door to them, and their festivals are always done by 8 p.m. They sometimes sing and do dances with dragons, it’s lovely.”
Brewer said they are very quiet and kind people and haven’t been a problem since purchasing the land in 2012.
“You’d think if it bothered anyone, it would be us since we’re right next to them, but they’re not a bother at all,” Brewer said. “In fact we really have enjoyed them — they’re humble and helpful people. Mr. Meyer is all the way at the end of the land, so there’s something like 30 acres between him and the temple. I don’t know why he’s doing this to them.”
Many of the members are Vietnamese, and Brewer said the temple adds something special to New Braunfels.
“It’s a chance to learn about another culture, a very peaceful culture,” Brewer said.
According to the petition filed by Meyer’s lawyer, Paul Fletcher, Meyer believes the Buddhists are using the property outside of allowed uses — which include residential, limited agricultural and limited commercial. The petition also states one of the structures — a public restroom — violates the water and septic tank systems restrictions.
“The property shall be used for residence purposes; however a limited commercial and agricultural use may be made of the property so long as the same is subordinate to the primary use of the property for residential purposes,” the declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions for Ashby Acres reads. “Such subordinate commercial use allowed would be that conducted in conjunction with the occupation of the owner.”
In the petition, Meyer asks the court to require the temple be removed from the property, and the Buddhists remove all “other structures in violation of the restrictions.”
“A few years ago the main house burned down due to an electrical short in the middle of the night,” Dang said. “All the members donated money to have a main hall built, and during the building (Meyer) never said anything — he even helped donate some of his time and equipment to helping us during the cleanup.”
In his deposition given in April 2018, Meyer states he has been over to visit the temple between 15 to 20 times, however he states most of the time his purpose was to tell the Buddhists they were violating the restrictions.
“When the main hall was built (around 2015, 2016), Mr. Meyer came over to help dig where the main statues would go in,” said Michael Morris, the lawyer defending the temple and Hun Van Nguyen. “Does that sound like someone who’s opposed to the temple?”
Meyer argues in his petition and deposition that the temple breaks lot restrictions, which limit “no more than one mobile home may be placed or constructed on (the temple’s lot),” and “no more than one framed residential structure may be placed on (the temple’s lot).”
“(The Buddhists) have at least five structures on their property — two trailers / mobile homes, one structure is a temple, another structure contains an altar to worship the dead and a third structure contains public restrooms,” the petition states.
However by waiting a year after the temple opened to say anything, as well as even helping in the construction of the main hall, Dang argues Meyer forfeited his time and right to oppose its existence.
“When we were building the temple he even came over and helped give us referrals for contractors and then one day, he sees us erected and we see a lawsuit,” Dang said.
Fletcher said Ashby Acres is a residential neighborhood.
“At the end of the day our client just wants to have folks in the neighborhood that are following the rules,” Fletcher said.
The petition also states Meyer will “suffer irreparable harm … as the property value in the entire subdivision may be reduced by the large-scale religious … use of the property.”
However, in his deposition, Meyer states his property value has gone up over the last four years.
“Have you had an appraisal of the value of your property … within the last four years?” Morris asked, during the deposition.
“Yes, sir,” Meyers is quoted saying.
“And what was the change in the value of your property?” Morris asked.
“Several thousand dollars,” Meyers said.
“That it went down?” Morris said.
“Up, when I built the house,” Meyers said.
When Morris asked Meyers how the temple has caused his housing value to be damaged, Meyer said he doesn’t think he could sell the property for what it’s worth now. When asked why, then, he thought the value had decreased, he said it was his “personal belief.”
Meyer requests in the petition the Buddhists permanently be stopped from conducting religious events and services on the property.
In the deposition, when Morris asked Meyer if he believed it was his right to have a Bible study on his property at Ashby Acres, Meyer said he does have a right.
Morris asked Meyer when the Bible study would constitute as violating restrictions, to which Meyer responded it would depend on the size of the Bible study.
However when asked for a specific size that violates restrictions, Meyer said “when it becomes objectionable to neighbors.”
“Let me ask you a question,” Morris said. “If you have a neighbor who objects to the fact you have two couples showing up for a Bible study, does that make it a violation?
“No,” Meyer said.
Morris asked Meyer when, then, the activity on the temple’s lot became a violation to the restrictions.
“When they moved in,” Meyer said.
In his deposition, a complaint Meyer had was against the use of an easement road that allows access to several of the properties on Ashby Acres Subdivision.
“Is there some restriction on the easement of (the temple’s lot) that you’re aware of, for its use?” Morris asked, during Meyer’s deposition. “(Their lot) is entitled to use the driveway as part of their easement, isn’t that correct?”
Meyer answered they are entitled to use the driveway, but can’t openly cross anywhere they want.
“We closed off that road now though (in 2017), and people can enter from off Klein,” Dang said. “That road was communal, but because we want to placate him, we asked all members to enter through Klein — even though we have full rights.”
When asked where his authority came from, Meyer stated the property was his, despite documents stating the road is for all tenants.
“Can you show me where in the (declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions for Ashby Acres Subdivision) where you have (the authority to deny access on the easement?)” Morris asked.
“No, sir,” Meyer answered.
Some of Meyer’s neighbors have also accused him of breaking the restrictions that he is now filing suit over.
“The restrictions state you have to live on the property if you are going to run commercial activity on it,” said one source who wished to remain anonymous. “Meyer ran his lighting company off that property while living in town for years.”
Dang stated they are not the first tenants on the lot Meyer has tried to frighten off.
“He bullied the previous owners off their property and now it’s us,” Dang said. “But I’ll tell you what, I’m in it ’til I win it.”
The case is set to go to trail Sept. 30.
Should Meyer win the case, he is requesting the temple and Hun Van Nguyen pay him back for legal fees. In the temple’s response to the petition, Morris seeks the Buddhists be paid back for their legal fees, should they win.
“We don’t charge money for any of our events, everything at the temple is a donation,” said Thai Lai Nguyen, a devote member of the temple the past seven years. “We don’t know what we’re supposed to do. We’re hoping the problem will be resolved soon because we don’t have a lot of money.”
The response states the monetary relief sought by Meyer also breaks several codes including the Texas Religious Freedom Act.
“We don’t want any problems or any trouble,” Tai Lai Nguyen said. “We do actions out of caring, we want to share our way of life with others — to keep loving everyone and smiling and being friendly.”
The temple is located at 1410 W. Klein Road, New Braunfels. For more information about the temple, visit www.daotambuddhisttemple.com