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Neighbors pack meeting for proposed temple, neighborhood projects
Kelly Mill Temple
Ethan Underwood, a zoning attorney representing a proposed Hindu temple and neighbor development on Kelly Mill Road, shows plans for the developments at a public participation meeting on Monday, March 15. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

There were some tense moments at a recent meeting regarding a planned Hindu temple and neighborhood on Kelly Mill Road.

On Monday, March 15, a public participation meeting held at the Midway Park community building brought in more than 75 residents to discuss plans for adjoining parcels on Kelly Mill Road near Bethelview Road: the rezoning of 41.8 acres for agricultural (A1) and single-family redistricted residential (R2R) districts to single-family residential district (Res3) for a proposed neighborhood and a request for a conditional-use permit to operate a temple with a priests’ residence on 18.1 acres.

The rezoning request, filed by applicant Kelly Mill Consultants Cooperation, calls for 64 single-family detached homes with a minimum lot size of 14,750 square feet, 1.5 units per acre on 6.4 acres of open space. 

The proposal calls for homes for the Sri Ram Gardens neighborhood to be built on both sides of Kelly Mill.

On the south side of the road, homes would be built on 26 acres abutting Ashlind Street and Red Barn Court.

Across the road, homes would be built on 16 acres just west of homes in the Odle Field Chase subdivision and abutting property owned by the Hindu Center of Atlanta.

The proposed Sri Bhadradri Rama Temple of USA and priests’ residence would be on the north side of Kelly Mill abutting the west side of the planned neighborhood and is proposed with a main temple building totaling about 65,000 square feet, a 15,000-square-foot priest quarters a 2,025 square-foot ancillary building and four 30-foot-tall landscape statues. 

According to Forsyth County property records, property owners for the development include Sri Sam Samsthan Inc., SRC Builders LLC, Sushil Prem.

The proposals have raised some concerns for neighbors, who heavily attended the meeting, and have created a Facebook group called Kelly Mill Coalition with over 500 members and have circulated an online petition opposed to the developments, which has garnered more than 1,100 signatures as of press time.

During the meeting, residents shared several concerns, including worries about how much traffic and noise would be generated by the development, impacts on local schools, whether the design of the project would be allowed under county rules, how the developments might impact property values and concerns about large gatherings. 

“I am more concerned with the traffic problems that are going to be created by the worshipers and the new neighborhoods,” one speaker said.

Another speaker shared concerns that the planned homes – which are proposed with flat, rather than pitched, roofs – were meant to appeal to those of Indian descent, which the speaker said they did not have an issue with but felt developers were not being honest about the reasoning for wanting the style. 

“The point is, the architecture is being done in such a way to attract only [the Indian population] because the typical American living in the Forsyth County area will find the houses unappealing and not want to move in, so it’s an end-run against racial segregation by making the houses unappealing,” the speaker said.

During the meeting, Ethan Underwood, a zoning attorney with Miles, Hansford and Tallant who is representing the developer, touched on some specifics of the project, such as the priests’ residence being for four priests and their families, the total height of the temples being about 85 feet – about 60-feet for the actual structure and another 25 feet for temple domes – and sharing designs of the residential portions. 

Underwood said any festivals so large they would need offsite parking would be required to have shuttle services.  

Perhaps the most heated part of the meeting came when it was revealed the temple would be about 64,000 square feet, instead of the 31,890 square feet listed on documents submitted with the application due to a second floor not being counted. 

“That’s something I’ve got to go back and look at … My presentation is [based on] what we filed and that was my understanding,” Underwood said during the meeting. “That’s my mistake, and I’ll fix it.”

Developers said the property would be used for two to three large festivals a year, yoga and other classes, weddings and other uses. 

Forsyth County District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent, who represents the area and attended the meeting on Monday, shared a Facebook post discussing the requests, saying, he “must be mindful of everyone’s rights, to include not only the community, but also to those of the applicant.”

“As such, it is my duty to listen to all of your concerns and comments, as well as those of the applicant, and to keep an open mind until the matter comes before the Board of Commissioners,” Levent wrote. “Additionally, because this zoning involves the use of property for religious purposes, that is another consideration that I must take into account. There is a federal law called RLUIPA (it stands for the ‘Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act’) that provides additional legal guidance regarding zonings for religious purposes. 

“Because of that extra layer of federal authority, I will be working closely with the County Attorney on these two zoning matters to ensure that my decision-making is the best it can be; and consistent with all of the various laws that control – to include the County’s Unified Development Code, comprehensive plan, state law and the federal law I previously mentioned.”

Levent went on to say that many concerns were practical, said the concerns of the community would be considered in the decision and asked the community to be patient with the county through the zoning process.

The project will be discussed at a work session and regular meeting of the county’s planning board before going to county commissioners for a final decision. Dates for those meetings have not been set.