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BOC to hold additional public hearing on Hindu temple permit
Hindu Center of Atlanta 1 072419 web
The owner of 6.85 acres on Kelly Mill Road applied for a conditional-use permit to build a Hindu place of worship in 2019. (Google Maps)

Forsyth County Commissioners will hear from the public again before making a decision on a permit for a planned religious center in west Forsyth.

The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners discussed the possible modifications or rescission of a conditional-use permit, or CUP, on a piece of property approved for a place of worship and a priest’s residence at 2010 Kelly Mill Road at a regular meeting on Thursday, Aug. 19.

Previously, the applicant, Hindu Center of Atlanta Inc., was approved to build a 9,355-square-foot place of worship with a priest’s residence and 81 parking spaces on 6.85 acres. Commissioners approved the application for the CUP on Nov. 11, 2019.

Since the approval, a land disturbance permit has not been filed for the property. Land disturbance permits, or LDP, are separate zonings to help facilitate sustainable growth through plan review.

Commissioners discussed the possibility of modifying the CUP or revoking it altogether because the applicant had not filed an LDP in over 18 months of development approval.

Those in favor of modifications/revocation

Ginger Vigneault, a resident of the neighborhood that “directly backs up” to the property, spoke about how “miserable” the noise and light violations have been since people have been in service at the property.

Vigneault said that there have been “high-intensity beam lights that are attached to trees” that “cast shadows all night long.” She also showed commissioners a photo that she had taken last year of the lights shining into the front of her house.

“It makes it difficult to actually enjoy being at the house,” Vigneault said. “The noise … is unheard of if you were living at your home. It reverberates in my house.”

Because worship services are held outside, Vigneault said, lights and noise are especially “miserable.”

Rupal Vaishnav, another neighbor that lives next to the property, spoke in conjunction with Vigneault, stating that the “noise is loud.” He said that he typically cannot watch television in the evenings because of the “thumping.”

“As a practicing Hindu, a temple is not a problem for me,” Vaishnav said. “But this isn’t about a temple or a church; it’s about just following the rules and regulations … as a good neighbor.”

Those in opposition of modification/revocation

Ethan Underwood, an attorney at Miles Hansford & Tallant, LLC., spoke on behalf of the owner, Hindu Center of Atlanta Inc. He said that the facts presented by the public were “grossly overstated and … outdated” because the parishioners had not held events on the property since November of 2020.

Underwood credited the absence of events to a fire that burned a garage on the property to the ground. He also said that in October of 2020, parishioners were allegedly “pummeled” with pebbles thrown at them during religious service.  

“Fearing religious persecution, the owner has since limited its use of the subject property for religious services and ceremonies,” Underwood said. “However, the owner continues to hold the property for development of a Hindu temple upon the subject property.”

Underwood also said there had not been any citations issued about the noise or lights, stating that he believed the “corrective mechanism” for any such issues should be a visit from code enforcement instead of a revocation of the CUP.

“If there’s a problem out there, that’s what code enforcement is for,” Underwood said.

Discussion

During discussion, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said that the county’s code did not explicitly state that a CUP should be removed after 18 months of no development. However, it was recommended in the code for properties to come back before the board for assessment if an LDP had not been filed in 18 months after zoning.

“It was designed to bring zonings back to the board’s attention lest they languish on our books for years and years,” Jarrard said. “They give the board a chance to look at it again, to ensure that doesn’t happen if there is no meaningful land development activity occurring on the property.”

Chairwoman Cindy Jones Mills agreed and said that while she would “fight for religious freedom” in Forsyth County, the board had to look at this issue objectively.

“The reason we haven’t had religious institutes … [that have] come before us is because typically, when they come and they get zoned, they’re ready to build,” Mills said. “So, it’s not been that we are selectively choosing a religious institute to punish or … choosing to pull them out separately.”

John Mullin, code compliance and animal services director, spoke about citations on the property, stating that only one call had been made.

Mullin said that code enforcement responded to a call in early January because of a possible violation of zoning conditions. During the assessment, Mullin said that code enforcement had learned that the garage that burned had previously been used to house worship services. A warning was issued in January.

District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent, after hearing both sides of the argument, made a motion to bring the issue back for a second public hearing on Sept. 16. The motion carried with a 5-0 vote.