- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

CUMMING, Ga. (AP) - Residents in upscale neighborhoods north of Atlanta are opposing a Hindu group’s plans for a 35,000-square-foot facility.

Chinmaya Mission of Alpharetta gained approval from the Forsyth County Commission to build a spiritual retreat center on Pittman Road in an unincorporated area of south Forsyth County, but the Polo Golf and Country Club Homeowners Association has asked the commission to reconsider its decision.

The proposed center would sit directly across from one of Polo’s entrances.

The appeal won’t be heard until after the new year.

Mission volunteer Arvind Malhotra told WSB-TV (http://bit.ly/1vwGdp8 ) that more space is required for his group that began in a member’s basement 15 years ago.

“Over time we need our own property,” he said, describing plans for a multi-purpose facility that would serve 600 area children.

“It’ll have classrooms, where we can do teaching on Sunday afternoons,” Malhotra said. “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.”

Malhotra noted that the property, which previously was the site of a church, already is zoned for religious use.

The homeowners’ association says its objections are not motivated by religious or race-related issues. But the organization maintains that the proposed center is not compatible with the surrounding neighborhoods and, in fact, isn’t religious in nature.

“The facility is not going to be used as a ‘church,’ ‘worship center’ or ‘temple,’” association President Kris Darnell wrote in an emailed statement. He described the proposed facility as having “a focus on personal improvement,” making the center more like a “personal service establishment or a school” than a religious venue.

That, Darnell said, would fall outside the existing “religious use” zoning classification for the parcel. Treating the proposal as a school or personal service establishment would require a public participation period that did not take place before the county commission approved the plans.

The homeowners also assert that the center will bring more traffic than the area can handle.

Malhotra said those concern are misplaced. “We’ve addressed it in multiple ways,” he says. “We’ve limited the parking, limited the number of people who will be there. We are willing to pay for a traffic lane. We’re willing to pay for cops to be there to ease the traffic.”

Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project estimates that there are more than 1 billion Hindus, about 15 percent of the world’s population, though it is the most concentrated of the world’s largest religions, with 99 percent of adherents living in India, Nepal and other Asian-Pacific nations.

Pew estimates that 1.79 million Hindus live in the United States.

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Information from: WSB-TV, http://www.wsbtv.com/index.html

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