Buddhist group selling off some local properties

Disgusted after finding rubbish dumped on several of their properties, a Buddhist group in Amsterdam
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Categories: Schenectady County

Disgusted after finding rubbish dumped on several of their properties, a Buddhist group in Amsterdam has put about two dozen parcels up for sale.

The group’s spokeswoman, Jennie Wong, on Wednesday said that the group’s members found used tires, a computer monitor and other trash dumped in and around some of the 48 parcels they bought from last year’s foreclosure auction in the city of Amsterdam.

There are for-sale signs on six properties on East Main Street, three on Division Street, two each on Kline and Lark streets, two on Mechanic Street, three on Voorhees Street and three on Forbes Street, among others.

Wong on Wednesday said some neighbors saw somebody pull up in front of a Division Street property and pull a computer monitor, which costs money to dispose of, out of a red car, leave it on the porch and then take off. The rubbish was reported to the city and ultimately led city code officials to the properties, responding to complaints, Wong said.

Efforts to reach a code official to verify this were unsuccessful Wednesday.

“We’ve spent a lot of time and money for cleaning the houses,” said Regina Law, who is fielding calls to the phone numbers listed on the for-sale signs.

Since buying 47 properties, many slated for demolition, the group of Chinese Buddhists known as the World Peace and Health Organization has made repairs to some of the roofs; others had major cleanups. Law said she is expecting them to fetch a better price than the money spent purchasing them because of the work. She said prices have not been set, but she hopes prospective buyers will offer a “reasonable price.”

Some of the homes are valued, for taxing purposes, at several times the price paid for them, but it was unclear if the taxes were a factor leading the Buddhists to put them up for sale.

The group’s leader, Lucas Wang, known as the Holy Ziguang Shang Shi by Buddhist adherents, was not available for comment on Wednesday, Wong said.

Wang gathered with a few dozen followers in January at an old factory the group bought on Leonard Street and declared that damage to their numerous properties was prompting him to consider unloading their holdings and finding another home.

That announcement followed the discovery of thefts of copper and electrical wiring in yet another building owned by the group.

It was unclear Wednesday if plans to sell mostly run-down properties is a precursor to an exodus or simply good sense; many of the cheaper parcels they bought, some for as little as $100, appear too far gone for rehabilitation. And despite their condition, many of these properties are assessed at many times the money the Buddhists spent to buy them.

They bought a boarded-up house on Division Street for $3,250 in August and, though still boarded up, it’s valued at $28,000. Two Kline Street houses, each bought for $100, are valued at $19,000 and $11,000.

City Assessor Calvin N. Cline could not be reached for input Wednesday.

There are, however, indications that the group is not planning to pick up and leave.

There are no signs on some of the other properties the group purchased, including the two former Roman Catholic church buildings they bought from the Albany Diocese and retrofitted into Buddhist temples: St. Casimir’s on East Main Street and St. Michael’s on Grove Street.

And the World Peace and Health Organization continues to offer classes on the form of yoga they say helps people recover from illness, called the Guang Huan Mi Zong health dharma.

Spokeswoman Wong declined to comment as to whether the group intends to depart altogether, deferring to Wang.

Difficult history

If the Buddhists’ allegations that people are dumping stuff on their properties is borne out, it will mark only one of several spates of bad experiences they’ve had in the city of Amsterdam:

September 2010: The city’s Common Council refused to allow the WPHO to deed its 48 properties, bought at the auction under individual members’ names, into the name of their organization, which would have saved them about $300 on each property. The council allowed two others who bought at the auction to do so.

September 2010: Following months retrofitting the former St. Casimir’s Church into the Five Buddhas Temple, the Buddhists returned from a week-long retreat to find several priceless statues stolen. One of eight was recovered.

October 2010: The WPHO offered the Greater Amsterdam School District $450,000 for the mostly-vacant Bacon Elementary School building, only to face a public sign campaign urging residents to vote “no” to the sale prior to a referendum on the sale. The WPHO pulled out of the purchase, and the building is again on the market.

October 2010: During a press conference, Wang expressed frustration at difficult relations with a farmer in the town of Ephratah who refused to remove sap-tapping gear from dozens of trees on the 200-acre property the WPHO purchased there.

November 2010: Buddhist adherents woke up to find a makeshift roadblock on the driveway of the former Jesuit Retreat House they purchased in Auriesville. Schenectady Pizza King restaurant owner Jon Camaj, who witnesses said told the Buddhists he was a police officer and asked them if they wanted to see his gun, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in the case last month.

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