FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. - A Hindu Mission’s plans to build a spiritual retreat center in south Forsyth County is meeting opposition from neighbors.
Chinmaya Mission of Alpharetta won approval from the Forsyth County Commission to build a 35,000-square-foot facility on Pittman Road, but some neighbors have appealed the decision.
“It’ll have classrooms, where we can do teaching on Sunday afternoons,” Mission volunteer Arvind Malhotra told Channel 2’s Mike Petchenik. “It will have an assembly hall, where the group can meet and go to their respective classrooms. It’ll have a yoga, meditation room, and it will have a library.”
The Mission purchased land that once held a church, so it’s already zoned for religious use, Malhotra said.
He said the Mission started some 15 years ago in a member’s basement, but has grown to teach nearly 600 area children.
“Over time we need our own property,” he said.
The homeowners’ association of an adjacent neighborhood has asked the Forsyth County Commission to reconsider its decision, which will happen after the New Year.
In an emailed statement, President Kris Darnell said:
“The Polo Golf and Country Club Homeowners Association, Inc., (“Polo”) is made up of the homeowners who live in the Polo Golf and Country Club Community. The community is governed by a Board of Directors which determines policy and makes decisions for the Association. The Board of Directors is a diverse group of individuals with minority representation reflective of Polo. Polo has appealed the decision by the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners to approve the location of a 35,000 square foot facility on Pittman Road in unincorporated Forsyth County, which location sits directly across from one of the entrances to Polo. The appeals (two have been filed) are upon two grounds. First, Polo contends that, contrary to the application submitted to Forsyth County, the facility is not going to be used as a “church” “worship center” or “temple.” Instead, the uses of the property, which will include things such as yoga classes, language classes, cultural classes, and other activities with a focus on personal improvement, fall within the category of a “personal service establishment” or a “school” instead of the purported church, worship center, or temple. Personal Service Establishments and Schools are prohibited on the property as zoned, and as such Polo has appealed the County’s decision until the matter is treated in a way which is in accord with the actual proposed use.
Second, Polo has appealed the decision of the Forsyth County Commission because of failures during the public participation plan and process required by the Unified Development Code of Forsyth County. More particularly, Polo should have received written correspondence regarding this development as part of the property owner’s public participation plan. However, the County’s records and the materials submitted by the property owner all confirm, unequivocally, that no such correspondence was ever sent to Polo.
Importantly, Polo is disturbed and saddened that some people appear to have cast Polo’s decision to appeal and require adherence to the Unified Development Code as being motivated by religious or race related issues. This is absolutely not the case. Quite to the contrary, Polo has offered its support to the landowner to use the property for the landowner’s intended use at a size double that which is currently placed on the property (which facility was formerly used for church and worship purposes). However, the potential for a facility for the intended uses on the significant scale that the landowner proposes is simply not compatible with the surrounding residential area. Such is why Polo requires that the project be evaluated for its actual use (Personal Service Establishment or School) and that the public participation process required by law be adhered to.”
Malhotra said the Mission has addressed traffic concerns the group already raised.
“We’ve addressed it in multiple ways. We’ve limited the parking, limited the number of people who will be there,” he said. “We are willing to pay for a traffic lane. We’re willing to pay for cops to be there to ease the traffic.”
Volunteer Kirtan Patel said he believes the appeal is merely a delay tactic that will have no bearing on the final decision.
“We’re willing to listen to all sorts of people. However, the commission has granted us what we think has been rightfully granted following all the rules,” he said. “This is the changing face of Forsyth County. I understand that people would like to live in a place where they would love to have it exactly how it has been, but the demographics of Forsyth County are changing.”