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Forsyth planning board says no to Hindu temple near Lake Lanier
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Residents turned out in droves Tuesday night to attend the planning board's public hearing for a proposed Hindu temple in a neighborhood near Lake Lanier. - photo by Isabel Hughes

Zoning proposal at a glance

• What: An 11,200-square-foot Hindu temple with a 4,128-square-foot priest residence and 109 parking spaces
• Where: 5325 Pilgrim Point Road in Cumming
• Property: About 8 acres on the edge of Lake Lanier
• Vote: 5-0 to deny
• Next steps: A lawsuit claiming religious freedom was threatened if the Board of Commissioners denies the application — the proposal is set to appear before the BOC on Feb. 16

CUMMING -- Cheers and claps erupted from the county administration building in downtown Cumming as the Forsyth County planning board unanimously voted to send the application for a proposed Hindu temple in the Shady Shores and Bald Ridge on Lanier communities to the Board of Commissioners with a recommendation of denial Tuesday night.

More than 200 residents dressed in red attended the meeting to voice their opposition to the application, which has drawn attention from the get-go.

The applicant, Evansville, Indiana, gastroenterologist Sumaltha Satoor, first requested a conditional use permit, or CUP, in June 2016 to build a Hindu temple on land she currently owns.

A CUP allows use of a property in a way not permitted by current zoning laws without applying for a rezoning.

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Traffic, roads most pressing concerns

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Residents in the Shady Shores and Bald Ridge on Lanier communities have stressed from the beginning the traffic that would be created from the temple is one of their biggest concerns.

Because the property is so close to the lake, few roads are paved and those that are paved are not wide enough to carry heavy two-way traffic, which Bald Ridge resident Amanda Harden said she witnessed as recently as Tuesday, Jan. 31.

“I am a single mother of three beautiful children that every single day go to the bus stop [and] I’m up there with them,” she said. “Today, I got to watch a bus try to pass an incinerator truck trying to block off a Dumpster. The bus had to completely pull around and go onto the side of the road to be able to fit.

“Let’s start talking about the fact that there’s going to have to be [approximately] 8,000 dump truck loads of dirt that have to pass my children while this [temple] construction is going on.”

Builder and developer Eric Bott first came up the 8,000 number by looking at Satoor’s site plans.

He said because the property is directly on the lake, a retaining wall would need to be built to raise the property to street level, and he estimates about two acres of land would need to be raised.

Conservatively, he said, the math adds up to about 4,000 to 6,000 truckloads working around the clock for months.

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“Nothing to do based on religious use”

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Residents opposed to the property have stressed for months their opposition has nothing to do with Satoor’s religion, something District 1 planning board member Rusty Whitlow echoed Tuesday.

“I’d like to say that I agree that we absolutely need to protect the rights of someone to worship however they see fit, to worship regardless of their religion,” he said, “whether it’s Jewish, Catholic or Hindu. I feel proud that the community we live in [is] welcome to all so the decision that I’ll personally make will have nothing to do based on religious use.”

Satoor’s attorney, Stuart Teague, said if the BOC denies the application, he and his client will file a lawsuit based on religious discrimination.

“The planning commission only does a recommendation, so it’s not binding whatsoever,” Teague said. “The Board of Commissioners has the only decision in it, and if the Board of Commissioners follows that recommendation, we will end up filing suit in federal court in support of a religious use.”

“When we looked at the comparable properties around, it looked like other religious properties existed in the neighborhoods and our property should be treated just like that,” Satoor said. “We are a peacefully existing religion, and that is what the United States is all about — peaceful coexistence of all races and religions.”

The board’s vote serves as a recommendation to the BOC, which is scheduled to vote on the application Feb. 16.