April 22, 2007

Dunearn Road 'temple' house has neighbours incensed

They say they've put up with chantings, smoke for nine years; URA says no rules broken

By Cheryl Tan

THE HOUSE STANDS OUT with its 15 statues of Buddha in the front garden and gold fabric umbrellas that flank the home's main door.

NESTLED along Dunearn Road is a house that stands out among a row of terrace houses.

Not for its architecture, but for the 15 statues of Buddha measuring 1.2 to 2m tall in the front garden, and gold fabric umbrellas that flank the front door.

Almost every night for the past nine years, neighbours have had to put up with late-night chantings, ringing of bells, the strong smell of incense and crowds of people who park their cars along the pavements when they visit the house.

Until two months ago.

That's when one of the neighbours decided she had had enough and called the police.

'The chantings, singing and bell ringing that stretch into the middle of the night are frustrating especially when my husband and I are tired and just want to get a good night's rest,' said the neighbour, an expatriate who moved in a year ago.

The houses in that area are worth at least $2 million and some neighbours are worried the late-night activities in the house might devalue their properties.

The big question was whether the house was doubling as a place of worship, something not allowed under Urban Redevelopment Authority rules.

But the URA, which had received similar complaints in the past, didn't think so - much to the surprise of residents in the neighbourhood.

Seven neighbours spoke of massive amounts of joss sticks burning, causing smoke to billow through the vicinity.

Retiree Peter Chin, 60, who lives a few doors away said: 'The smell of incense is very strong, but I'm more concerned that the burning of incense could pose a fire hazard as his house is next to a petrol station.'

The problem gets worse during the Hungry Ghost Festival every August. Another neighbour claimed to have seen the home owner, jeweller Danny Loo, 45, in a trance before his 'followers'.

Mr Loo is disappointed his neighbours are kicking up a fuss. He insists his house is not a place of worship.

'The people who gather here are my friends and family and we hold parties where we enjoy each other's company and share life experiences with each other,' he said.

He denied conducting any ritual and is puzzled that his neighbours could hear the chants as he does not use a microphone.

When asked about a woman in a Buddhist nun's robe who was seen in his house last week, he said she was there to seek a donation from him and was not staying there.

He also finds it ironic that none of his neighbours have approached him with their complaints before going to the police.

The neighbours' reply: They were either too afraid to approach him, which is why they declined to be named, or did not think it would make a difference.

One said that they had complained to the various authorities on many occasions, but the problem persisted.

A neighbour once stormed over to the house when the level of noise became unbearable, but stopped short as the porch was full of people.

The parking problem improved after some neighbours started putting potted plants outside their houses to prevent strangers from parking there.

Mr Loo said: 'I've already cut my gatherings to twice a week, but if I've really become a nuisance to the neighbourhood, I will stop them.'

A gathering that was planned for last night was cancelled after the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) paid him a visit on Friday.

Mr Loo said he was 'disheartened' by the latest visit although the SCDF found no fault with him.

The URA receives about 55 complaints a year about houses that are used as places of worship.

In another case three years ago, the resident of a house in Lange Road, near Yio Chu Kang Road, was warned because it was used as a place of worship.

The occupant, a monk, had a 2.4m tall statue of Buddha in his front yard which he was asked to remove. Neighbours said the monk moved out last month and the house is now empty.

A neighbour, undergraduate Shalini Raj, 23, said: 'The crowds brought vibrancy to the neighbourhood and it's a pity about the statue; it added a touch of quirkiness to our street.'

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