Sugar Hill extends grading permit for Hindu temple

SUGAR HILL — As a Hindu congregation struggles to raise funds to build its temple in Sugar Hill, Gwinnett’s fourth largest city on Monday extended a helping hand.

Shiv Mandir’s 12-month permit to have graded 11-plus acres for its $3.5 million temple on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard near Spring Hill Drive, already extended once by three months, expired on Nov. 21. Temple representatives appeared at the Sugar Hill City Council’s monthly meeting Monday to request a 24-month extension, which the council was empowered to grant despite the permit’s recent expiration.

At issue was whether the temple would have to seek a permit anew when ready to resume grading, but under grading requirements were made more stringent since the initial permit was granted in August 2009. Grading requirements now specify that sloped land be terraced every 15 feet high to better manage erosion, a requirement that would have cost the temple thousands of dollars for its hilly site’s redesign, additional flood study, grading reanalysis and topographical resurvey. Additionally, the changes likely would have reduced the site’s buildable area, and therefore, the temple’s size.

The site, within FEMA’s 100-year flood plain, is steeply sloped and has Level Creek flowing through it, making planning and engineering initially costly to have met development requirements.

Though the Sugar Hill Department of Planning and Development recommended the council decline the temple’s request, Planning Director Kaipo Awana reminded the council that, “the owner has a lot of investment in the property, (and) the site could probably be safely developed under current permit.”

The council then voted 3-2 to extend the temple’s permit the requested 24 months, meaning existing studies, analysis and surveys won’t have to be redone.

Ajeet Das, Shiv Mandir’s board of directors chairman who addressed the council Monday, appreciated the city’s flexibility in granting the extension and grandfathering in the initial grading requirements. It affirmed what Das already believed, that Sugar Hill is eager to have the 25,000-square-foot temple at 890 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., as an international lure just a mile from its planned $14 million downtown street scape.

“It shows this city wants a vibrant community,” Das said. “I’m pleased they made an exception in our case. This shows they want to see us in their community.”

Planning to relocate from its 8-year-old, 3,500-square-foot space within Global Mall at Interstate 85 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard, the initial phase of Shiv Mandir will comprise a main worship hall, offices and classrooms, above a kitchen and dining hall in a basement.

Shiv Mandir bought the land for $700,000 in 2005 and finished paying for it earlier this year. The temple plans to use the land as collateral for construction, together with $250,000 to $500,000 of cash donations from the temple’s roughly 500 parishioners.

The congregation hoped to have raised more funds by now, however.

“In hard times,” Das said, “donations are the first thing to go.”