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Court asked to revisit ruling over Hindu temple in west Forsyth
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Forsyth County News

WEST FORSYTH — The ongoing saga over plans for a Hindu temple in west Forsyth has taken a couple of twists this month.

First, Forsyth County has filed a motion for reconsideration of Chief Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley’s decision to reverse a conditional use permit awarded last summer to Chinmaya Mission of Alpharetta.

Chinmaya wants to operate a religious place of worship and priest residence in an existing structure that is about 10,000 square feet on nearly 11 acres off Pittman Road. It also plans to build several additional buildings that would bring the project to about 60,000 square feet with some 300 parking spaces.

In his ruling May 29, Bagley denied a motion for summary judgment made by Chinmaya and returned the proposal back to the county’s planning department, where Chinmaya must begin the application process anew.

The move had been sought by James Cartwright and the Polo Fields Golf and Country Club Homeowners Association Inc. The neighborhood sits across the street from the proposed temple and has maintained it never received a mandatory notice of public participation meetings.

In addition, the county commission has decided against revisiting the local Zoning Board of Appeal’s decision that the proposed temple would have a religious use rather than an educational one. The zoning panel’s ruling essentially affirmed the commission’s 2014 decision to grant the conditional use permit.

The timeline for the Superior Court reconsideration was not immediately known.

Last month, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the county was considering multiple legal options as a result of the judge’s order.

Stuart Teague, the attorney for Chinmaya, said his client would follow the county’s lead, but that the question of notification and other procedural issues likely would be a quick fix and limit what could be argued against the temple in the future.

The motion for reconsideration was filed on the grounds that attorneys for the county did not have notice the court would be taking final action.

The motion states the county believed the hearing was held only to discuss Chinmaya’s move for summary judgment and to dismiss the matter.

One legal avenue it appears the county will not be exploring is the judge’s possible impartiality.

Bagley disclosed in court filings this winter that he and his father own property abutting the Chinmaya temple site. The judge stated he saw no reason to recuse himself from the case, though he would consider any motions to do so.

None of the attorneys involved in the case asked Bagley to recuse himself.

Jarrard declined to comment on the matter due to the pending litigation, as did Bagley.

Teague could not be reached on the issue.

Kevin Tallant, the attorney for Cartwright and the Polo Club, noted that all of the attorneys were aware of the situation.

“As far as I am concerned, based on the order it is perfectly clear that Judge Bagley gave all of the parties notice of his land ownership and invited anyone who wanted to file a motion to recuse,” he wrote in an email. 

“Over the course of the following five months, not a single person, party or attorney asked Judge Bagley to recuse himself.

“Judge Bagley was very open about this from the earliest stages of this case, and all parties clearly felt comfortable with him hearing the matter or they would have filed something.”

In the Zoning Board of Appeals issue, Cartwright and the Polo group questioned that Chinmaya’s center would be used as a place of worship.

They maintained that since language and culture classes would be taught there, and because certain members of the mission had referred to it as a school in emails and news reports, that it was closer to a school or personal service center.

Under the land’s zoning as agriculture district, or A1, a religious center with a conditional use permit would be allowed while a school or personal service center would not.

Those backing the mission as a religious center compared the classes to Sunday school in Christian churches and said the children who attend them go to regular public or private school. They also maintained that all churches have separate programs not tied directly to worship.