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Ruling on Hindu temple in west Forsyth affirmed
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Forsyth County News

WEST FORSYTH — The struggle over plans for a Hindu temple in west Forsyth has taken another turn.

In a recent decision, Chief Forsyth County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley issued a final order affirming the county commission’s September 2014 decision allowing Chinmaya Mission of Alpharetta to move forward with a new building on Pittman Road.

The structure, which will be used as a Hindu worship center and community building, has been at the source of controversy since going before the county’s planning board in 2014, with neighbors claiming that the development would cause traffic issues along Pittman.

Chinmaya wants to operate a religious place of worship and priest residence in an existing structure, which totals about 10,000 square feet on nearly 11 acres off Pittman. It also plans to build several additional buildings that would bring the project to about 60,000 square feet total, with some 300 parking spaces.

The decision comes after the county filed a motion of reconsideration, asking Bagley to review his May decision that negated the conditional use permit awarded in 2014. That action would have meant the mission had to begin the application process anew and remanded the matter to the county planning department.

Somewhat curiously, Bagley overturned his own decision. In the ruling, however, the judge noted that both the court and attorneys had the chance to concentrate on the hearing’s issues.

“The court’s review of this case, like the parties’ respective claims and arguments, have become more focused through the evolution of the judicial review process,” Bagley wrote. “Parties have narrowed their claims and refined their arguments. So too has the court’s analysis of pending claims.”

Three of the major issues in the hearing were tied to due process and whether the county had followed its own rules during the zoning process.

James Cartwright and the Polo Golf and Country Club Homeowners Association, plaintiffs in the suit, contended the county had listed an incorrect conditional use permit application number at a public participation meeting.

In addition, they maintained there had been errors on zoning signage and that Polo Club was not provided a public participation letter, which is required under the county’s unified development code.

Bagley’s ruling, however, found that the neighborhood was active in the zoning process and the petitioners could have taken the matters to the county’s zoning board of appeals rather than straight to the court.

Attorneys for Polo and Chinmaya could not be reached for comment.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said Tuesday that Forsyth officials were happy with decision, as it had agreed with their process, but was unsure if the Polo Club would appeal the ruling.

“It is a win for the county’s process, and we are pleased with that,” Jarrard said. “We’ll obviously have to see what the plaintiffs choose to do in response to it, but the biggest thing right now is the county is just pleased with our process and the way handled the decision making from a procedural perspective was ratified by the court.”

Although the ruling was described as a final order, Jarrard said he was waiting to see if an appeal would be filed.

“From the perspective procedurally, this would be a final order by the court. So we’ll simply be monitoring the final to see if there is an appeal,” he said. “I want to be clear, it would be a request to appeal. And we’ll see, within the time frame, whether or not that occurs.”

Regardless of whether there’s an appeal, Jarrard said the sides likely would meet again in court over decisions made by the commission and zoning board of appeals, which agreed with county Planning and Community Development Director Tom Brown that the proposed development would have a religious rather than academic use.

“There is another piece of litigation that has now been filed by the same parties, which is an appeal of the county’s affirmation of the ZBA related to Mr. Brown’s decision that has just recently been filed to the court,” Jarrard said.