* Forsyth planning board says no to Hindu temple near Lake Lanier
CUMMING – Though the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners unanimously denied a conditional use permit, or CUP, for a proposed Hindu temple in the Shady Shores and Bald Ridge on Lanier communities in Cumming Thursday evening, the fight may not be over yet.
The applicant, Evansville, Indiana, gastroenterologist Sumaltha Satoor, said she intends to file suit in court against the BOC’s decision, citing the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA, which was passed in 2000.
RLUPIA was passed to “protect individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws,” according to the Department of Justice.
District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson, whose district the application falls in, stressed the decision was not made based on Satoor’s religion; rather, she said the CUP is “inappropriate and inconsistent with other general and special considerations in the unified development code.”
“There has been much speculation as to the motivations of the applicant and those who expressed opposition, but it’s important to set aside the unknown and the speculative and base our decision on the facts,” she said. “For a number of reasons, not limited to the unanimous recommendation of denial by our planning commission, the existence of community covenants, the scope and scale of the proposal with respect to the surrounding impact, I move to deny [the application] for the following reasons:
“This intensive use is inconsistent with the use and zoning of nearby properties. [It] will significantly burden adjoining and nearby properties. [It] will significantly burden the value of adjoining and nearby properties. [It] is prohibited by applicable covenants and [it] will burden traffic and roadway safety. Lastly, the planning commission unanimously recommended denial.”
Despite Semanson’s reasons, Stuart Teague, Satoor’s attorney, said he and Satoor will move forward in court.
“I think there are grounds for a [suit,]” he said. “The covenants – I don’t think they’ve taken a close look at them or that they’re very well drafted so I’m not really worried about those. The issue of religious use basically neutralizes the issue of zoning. So I think there’s really no reason for denial of this.”
Satoor first filed the CUP application in June 2016 to build on land she currently owns. It proposed an 11,200-square-foot temple, along with a 4,128-square-foot priest residence and 109 parking spaces be erected on about 8 acres at 5325 Pilgrim Point Road.
A CUP allows use of a property in a way not permitted by current zoning laws without applying for a rezoning.
The application has garnered attention from the get-go, with more than 200 residents attending a public participation meeting at the residence July 29.
Since then, opponents have worn red to county meetings, including Thursday’s BOC meeting, to visually show how many are opposed.
At least 200 attended the Jan. 31 planning commission public hearing, where the planning board voted unanimously to deny the application.
Though residents, the Forsyth County planning board and Semanson have insisted the CUP’s denial has nothing to do with Satoor’s religion, Satoor previously told the Forsyth County News she felt the opposition was, in fact, based in religious discrimination.
“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.
“They shouldn’t be discriminating against one particular religion and that’s what I felt like happened. They did not say it, but I [feel it.]”
Paula Chambers, a Bald Ridge resident for more than 30 years, has followed the application from day one and said she was pleased with the BOC’s decision.
“I feel very confident and positive by the rulings the Board of Commissioners made tonight,” she said. “Obviously I feel like they made the right decision, [but] it makes me sad that Dr. Satoor is pursuing this on the religious grounds. This is so not what that’s about.
“This is about our way of life and the covenants and I feel like we won tonight.”