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Legal battle over Hindu temple in west Forsyth resolved

Other action

Also during their meeting Thursday night, Forsyth County commissioners:

* Approved 4-1, with Commissioner Todd Levent opposed, to move forward with public hearings to amend the county’s unified development code to make the commission member of the District 2 subarea planning board a nonvoting member.

* Voted 5-0 to hold public hearings to add a second public comments segement to regular commission meetings. It likely will come before old business on future agendas.


-- Kelly Whitmire

WEST FORSYTH — Longstanding legal issues between a west Forsyth community and a nearby Hindu temple appear to have been resolved.

The Forsyth County commission on Thursday voted 5-0 to approve a mediation agreement between Chinmaya Mission of Alpharetta and James C. Cartwright and the Polo Golf and Country Club Homeowner’s Association Inc.

Before the vote during the commission’s meeting, County Attorney Ken Jarrard explained the situation.

“That would end litigation,” Jarrard said. “All of the various appeals will be withdrawn, the court cases will all be dismissed and we will all dust ourselves off and go forward.”

The commission approved a conditional use permit for Chinmaya in September 2014. The permit allowed for 35,000 square feet of facilities to be built for a temple and educational center.

Chinmaya also wanted to operate a religious place of worship and priest residence in an existing structure that totals about 10,000 square feet.

The legal dispute between the temple and association dates back to October 2014, when the Polo Club appealed the commission’s decision.

The group contended the wrong permit application number had been used at a public meeting and Polo Club was not provided a required participation letter.

In July 2015, Forsyth County Superior Court Jeffrey S. Bagley issued a final order allowing Chinmaya to move forward, overturning his own decision in May of that year when he ruled against it.

Chinmaya and Polo Club were at odds over whether the center was fundamentally religious or educational in nature. Ultimately, the ruling was in favor of Chinmaya’s claim that it was more religious.

According to Jarrard, the decision was made after a meeting between Chinmaya, Polo Club and commissioners and members of his law firm.

Under the agreement, the temple will not be allowed to do its full buildout for at least five years.

“Basically, the Chinmaya Mission will not improve its property on Pittman Road beyond 30,000 feet for a time period of five years, beginning Jan. 20, 2016,” Jarrard said. “They will not improve beyond 35,000 feet for a period of 10 years.”

Any changes to the property after that would require additional action by the county commission

Also as part of the agreement, the county and neighborhood will discuss in the future potentially abandoning right of way where Polo Hill Road, which runs through the neighborhood, meets Pittman Road. The intersection is across Pittman from the temple.

“The county will place this issue on an agenda to allow public input on whether the county should abandon the intersection,” Jarrard said. “By making this request, neither Polo nor the county are saying that they support any abandonment of that area of the county right of way.”

Jarrard said it would likely be a while before right-of-way talks are held.

Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said the association hadn’t spoken with its members about the road matter.

In a separate matter, a rezoning request for land abutting the Chinmaya site is scheduled to come before the county’s planning board this week.

Bagley, the judge, is listed among those selling the 150 acres at Pittman and Post roads, on which a developer wants to build 81 residential lots.

In court filings for the Chinmaya case he heard, Bagley disclosed that he and his father own property abutting the 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 him to do so.