A proposed Hindu center on Trammel Road didn’t get a peaceful welcome from neighbors during a public participation meeting Thursday night.
About 70 people attended the session to view the plans and voice their opinions about the nearly 70,000-square-foot Harmony Center that the national Radha Madhav Society wants to build.
Neighbors said the 14-acre site, which is about 5 miles southeast of Cumming, is not right for the size of the center, which is still in the early stages of its application process.
The society’s attorney, George Butler, said the site was chosen, at suggestions of local planners, for its proximity to Ga. 400 and due to the institutional-like mansion across the street.
Also, several members of the Hindu sect live in the area, including 26 families in the neighboring Blackstock Mill subdivision, society representative Barik Priyabrata said.
Though there is a Hindu worship facility on James Burgess Road in south Forsyth, Priyabrata said, the Radha Madhav Society is a different sect.
He said the center would take about six to seven years to reach its full size, which could eventually include three two-story buildings and about 300 parking spaces.
Open worship and meditation would be ongoing. Classes, camps for children and festivals would also be offered, primarily on weekends.
Nearby residents expressed concerns, primarily about traffic on the busy, two-lane road. Their worries also included times of worship, annual festivals, plans to use a septic system, noise and light.
Butler told the group that the meeting’s purpose was to find out those concerns so the center could be a good neighbor.
“We respond by agreeing to zoning conditions that will restrict us from doing things that we don’t have any intention of doing, but might be a concern,” Butler said. “We appreciate these concerns, and we would like to be able to skin the cat.”
During the two-hour meeting, it became apparent that the residents did not want to settle on conditions. They don’t think a large center is appropriate for such a small road.
“It is a facility that’s going to introduce into a neighborhood what’s not meant to be there,” neighbor Bill Brother said. “Trammel is too quiet and it is too small, traffic-wise and perspective-wise.”
Brother compared the building to a YMCA, both in size and in terms of traffic. Like other neighbors, he noted the concerns have nothing to do with what is being proposed, whether religious, commercial or anything other than a neighborhood.
The residentially-zoned property was originally intended for a 27-lot subdivision, which was abandoned before any homes were constructed.
That proposed neighborhood also met resistance but received county approval anyway, like many other nearby subdivisions, neighbor Martha Mashburn said.
“If zoning took place because people wanted that zoning to happen, y’all wouldn’t be living here,” she said. “I don’t have an objection — and I live right down the street — because I know what zoning requirements are.”
Butler told the audience that the center has applied only for a conditional use permit for a worship center based on recent changes to the county’s unified development code.
A country club would be a permitted use on the residentially-zoned site, Butler said, and would not require the permit or the meeting.
The center is going through the motions, Butler said, though he questioned the legality of the need for a conditional use permit, since a similar-sized country club, for example, does not need one.
“We happen to think this requirement violates federal law,” he said, referring to the protection of freedom of religion in zoning laws. “As good neighbors, we’re coming through it and we’re not going to put a square peg in a round hole. If we’re going to cause dissension, that’s inconsistent with what my clients want to do.”
The center still has several months to go in the process before reaching a more finalized stage to present for county approval.
The sale of the land hasn’t closed and is still under contract, site planner Jack Hamilton said.
Butler said the group will review the concerns gathered at the meeting and formulate the best course of action before working with county planning staff.
“The next step is we have to convene and ingest these comments and obviously there’s themes that stand out, like traffic,” he said. “We’ve got to decide whether we want to pursue this site.”