Over the weekend, the 14th annual Sewa International USA Holi celebration, which celebrated the Hindu spring festival, drew both praise from attendees and criticism from neighbors and may now result in a new zoning condition for the Atlanta Cricket Fields on Keith Bridge Road, where the event was held.
At a work session on Tuesday, Forsyth County Commissioners voted unanimously to start the process for a county-initiated rezoning to add a condition dealing with parking after some attendees parked outside the facility while trying to get into the festival.
“I just want to make sure that the parking is contained on the site,” said District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills, who represents the area. “We never anticipated that being an issue and that they were going to have anything that couldn’t be contained on the site because it was only considered to be for cricket.”
The event drew thousands of guests and hundreds of cars, which caused deputies with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office to close the fields to vehicles and direct drivers down Keith Bridge Road. Traffic on the road was backed up for at least half an hour.
“They said that there were so many cars lined up trying to get in the facility that the sheriff’s office – which they had several deputies on staff for them directing traffic – that they couldn’t get them into the space, and so they kept waving them by because it was backing up [Hwy.] 306 literally for miles. That’s when people just started parking everywhere,” Mills said.
Mills said she was unaware the event was going to happen and described the number of complaints she received on Saturday as an avalanche.
“There was music playing so loudly you could hear it half a mile away, and it went on all day long,” she said. “I had complaints from autistic children; one man who lived down Cantrell Circle couldn’t get out to take his child to a doctor that had two autistic children. The complaints just went on and on and on, and some went overboard as well.”
County officials said no permit was pulled, and Tom Brown, director of the county’s planning and community development department, said there wasn’t even a permit in county regulations that would have allowed such an event on a private field.
Brown said parking for the fields had only been determined for cricket events.
“The property was both rezoned – it obtained a conditional-use permit for a commercial athletic field, outdoor – and it was permitted for a commercial athletic field,” Brown said. “The land disturbance permit identifies that as the proposed use, and the parking calculations are based on that. The parking calculations are not based upon a festival or a concert venue.”
Mills detailed conversations between the neighbors and the developers prior to approval, where compromises were made to not hold cricket games during revivals at nearby Harmony Grove Baptist Church and having a sound study done.
“I told him how disappointed I was and that all the goodwill they had built up, they had thrown out with one event,” Mills said.
Earlier this week, Sumanth Yellanki, founder and CEO of the Atlanta Cricket Fields, told Forsyth County News they were caught off guard by the number of attendees and would look at how the organization approaches any future events.
"This event went beyond our expectations,” Yellanki said. “Because of which we had an opportunity to learn certain lessons. The plan for next year is to work with the local community, the local churches, as well as the local authorities and county, because it would have been avoided 100 percent if we would have expected this and worked with the local officials.”
Forsyth County staff reporter Alex Popp contributed to this report.