Voting for the special exception for a place of worship from five to 17.563 acres in an AR-1 (agricultural residential) zoning, were Commissioners Chipper Gardner, who made the motion, Bob Gilreath and Chairman Gwen Flowers-Taylor, with Commissioners Eddie Freeman and Raymond Ray opposed. Ray seconded Gardner’s motion.
The approval included several conditions which were recommended by staff and the Board of Appeals, including:
• Site lighting designed so it does not glare into adjacent residential areas or public rights of way;
• A 25-foot planted buffer shall be extended along the northern property line to the street right of way and be kept natural and undisturbed except for additional plantings to fill in the existing gaps;
• A deceleration lane shall be added to the entrance prior to any site development plan or building permit approval beyond construction of the 40-foot by 40-foot pavilion that was removed from the setback;
• A proper development plan and hydrology study shall be performed before any future site development or building permits are approved; and
• Addition or expansion of use beyond the June 5, 2012, site plan shall require an additional special exception.
A sixth condition was also part of the approval. The concrete prayer pads, which may be in the 25-foot stream buffer have to be removed immediately.
One of the other conditions recommended by the Board of Appeals last month, the identification of any soil erosion problems on or from the site, was addressed in a June 26 site visit by county staff and state Environmental Protection Division, explained Community Development Director Chad Jacobs. There was no evidence of down stream sedimentation, Jacobs said, “but due to the added impervious surface from parking, rooftops, it does increase storm water runoff.”
The commissioners heard from the attorneys for the temple, a couple of people who have been out to the site for meditation, including one who has done work out there for the monks as well as the secretary counsel of the Thai monks in the United States. The board also heard again from two neighbors, Terry Sweatt and Troy Hulon, who have been pointing out the repeated violations on the site and objected to the initial request back in 2007 for allowing the place of worship on the first five acres.
One of the attorneys for the temple, Richard Calhoun of Marietta, said they agree with the recommendations. “It gets us back to where we should have been before.”
Sweatt, who lives on an adjacent tract, went over a list of violations at the site. “Apparently they still don’t care about the county’s rules and regulations,” he said. “You can only judge people on their actions, and based on their actions I ask you on behalf of taxpayers of Spalding County to deny.”
Hulon, who lives down Steele Road from the site and raised concerns about run-off. claimed the property owners built a storage building then claimed on line it was a chapel and rerouted and dammed state waters. “The message the county is sending is build first, then seek forgiveness; Comply only if caught,” he said. “I don’t think they should be rewarded for all the wrongs they have done.”
Sweatt also noted the county had the monks vacate the storage building on April 12 because it was being used as a chapel, which Jacobs confirmed. The building has since been inspected and approved for an occupancy permit, Jacobs said at the Board of Appeals meeting, once the special exception was approved.
As to redirecting waters, Jacobs said it was the consensus of staff and the EPD that water may have been redirected for a pond and waterfall, and “we could have them place it back to normal state, but there the concern was sedimentation. Tearing it out and putting it back would cause more sedimentation, so prevent further sedimentation the recommendation was to leave it as is.”
The Board of Appeals and Board of Commissioners had to re-hear the request because the applicants sued after being denied by the commissioners last August, questioning the legality of the denial. Jacobs said the request was remanded back through by the court.