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Board rejects Hindu temple

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County commissioners nixed plans for a Hindu temple near Lilburn Tuesday night.

They said the marble-and-stone structure topped by domes and spires would not mesh with the surrounding area, and that it would be too intense of a use for the 4 acres at Lawrenceville Highway and Braden Drive.

In a bid to gain the commission's approval, the Hindu congregation had offered to shrink the ornate temple from 13,200 square feet to 10,000 square feet, and altogether drop an activity center from its plans.

"We don't want to do anything to make anybody unhappy," said project engineer Ramesh Suhagia, who is also trustee of the Swaminarayan Satsang Mandir of Atlanta.

Nearby residents asked commissioners to block the ornate temple. They said it would be out of character with their quiet subdivisions and cause traffic problems.

"We respect their freedom and their right to have a temple," resident Sue Stidham told county commissioners. "We want you to respect our freedom and right to keep our neighborhood as it has been."

Although the spires on top of the domes would reach 67 feet into the air, the building itself would be about 35 feet tall, Suhagia said. And despite being designed for 200 worshipers, it would only serve about 25 people in the beginning, he said.

Commissioner Bert Nasuti, whose district holds the land on the edge of Lilburn's city limits, said the temple would be too massive for the site.

It might start out small, he said, but the temple would eventually affect residents.

"I've never seen a church or religious facility that doesn't want to grow," said the commissioner.

The land's zoning was not at issue. Instead, the Hindu sect was asking the county to change rules placed on the land in 2004 when it was rezoned with a day care in mind.

The rules mandate any building be made of brick and glass, and prohibit the marble and stone blocks that would been shipped from India for use in making the temple.

The glass-and-brick building requirement was established during the 2004 rezoning at the behest of area residents, who wanted to ensure whatever went on the land fit with existing buildings.

The Hindu congregation also needed a tall structure permit so it could build the domes.

Afterward some members seemed crestfallen, but the group's president, Mansukh Dhanani, was optimistic that it would find another location in Gwinnett County.

"I believe in God and God will take care of everything," Dhanani said outside the auditorium.

Behind him a man had walked up to Suhagia and was telling him he had land for sale in Gwinnett that would be a good spot for a temple.

Less than a half-mile from the rejected temple site, another much larger temple is under construction just off Lawrenceville Highway inside the Lilburn city limits.

That marble and stone temple being assembled with a crane will also serve devotees of the Swaminarayan branch of Hindu.