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Planning board questions Hindu temple proposed near Lake Lanier
Traffic burden, HOA covenants remain issues
TempleSatoor
Sumaltha Satoor, who wants to open a Hindu temple near Lake Lanier, has received opposition from residents. - photo by FCN file photo

SOUTH FORSYTH -- The application for a proposed Hindu temple in the Shady Shores and Bald Ridge on Lanier communities in Cumming that previously drew opposition from neighbors has reached the Forsyth County planning board.

At a work session Tuesday, board members discussed the conditional use permit, or CUP, application request, which proposes 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 applicant, Evansville, Indiana, gastroenterologist Sumaltha Satoor, said she already runs two temples but that she wants to bring a third to Forsyth County.

Satoor owns the residence in the wooded, lakeside community, where an existing house would serve as the priest’s home. She is requesting the CUP to also build the temple and parking lots on the property, which is zoned single family residential restricted district, or R2R.

She previously said she would delegate the full-time management of the temple, should it be approved, to her son, with herself making the trip to Georgia from Indiana on weekends.

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Traffic concerns biggest issue

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A required public participation meeting held in late July brought more than 200 residents to the property, which lies on the edge of Lake Lanier, as well as a number of Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office deputies.

The deputies attended as a precautionary, peace-keeping effort and were not called to action.

Details and site plan conditions often change, sometimes drastically, between public participation meetings and when they reach the planning board, but this application garnered attention from the get-go — and little has changed in the last six months.

Planning staff — paid county employees who review application and make notes and recommendations before the planning board sees it — issued a supportive report.

Planning board members raised concerns Tuesday about parking and traffic during important Hindu holidays.

“In the case of Diwali, for example, when you receive an unusually high number of parishioners to your facility, where might they park?” asked District 2 board member Stacy Guy, who attended his first work session after being appointed to the board by District 2 Commissioner Rick Swope.

“What we do over there is we have a contract with the local schools to get school buses to [bus] people over,” said Satoor on Tuesday. “They park at the schools and we have shuttle buses running from there. We send out an email about the event that says, ‘please park at this location,’ and we have volunteers that are running the shuttle services.

“That way it minimizes the effect on the property.”

At the July meeting, residents stressed their concerns about cars in the area, regardless of holidays. 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.

The drive leading up to Satoor’s property is also not currently paved, though Satoor said she would change that if the application was approved.

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Homeowners association covenants may pose obstacle

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The planning board also broached the issue of restrictive homeowners association covenants Bald Ridge subdivision owners established in the early 1980s to keep the area residential, which limit properties to one dwelling structure and one accessory building with a detached private garage.

Given the temple would not function as a single-family residence, developer and builder Eric Bott previously told the FCN he was confused as to why the plan had gotten this far.

“I question whether the county can even vote on this, because they can’t supersede us, or supersede Bald Ridge on Lanier’s covenant,” he said. “This is like putting a QT station, a retail station, a retail store or a commercial building in the middle of this neighborhood.”

At the meeting Tuesday, Satoor said because she bought the home from the bank, she was not informed of the subdivision’s covenants. Her attorney is reviewing her options, she added.

The application is scheduled to appear before the planning commission at their Jan. 31 public hearing, where they can vote to send the application to the Board of Commissioners with a recommendation to approve or deny.

The application is scheduled to appear before the BOC, which has final say on zoning matters, on Feb. 16.