Sikhs told to remove temple
New building violates deed restrictions, appeals court says
An Austin-based Sikh group that recently opened a $150,000 temple in western Travis County will have to move it or tear it down after the 3rd Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s decision that allowed the group to build the temple on its property.
Austin Gurdwara Sahib, a Sikh religious group, bought a lot in the Bee Caves West subdivision off Hamilton Pool Road in 2003, moved a mobile home onto the lot and started to hold services that attracted 20 to 25 people.
But the “mobile home temple” became the source of a court battle between the Sikhs and their neighbors, Leslie and John Bollier, who purchased a lot in the same subdivision in 2007 and filed a lawsuit the following year claiming that the subdivision’s deed restrictions didn’t permit a religious temple.
A trial court sided with the Sikhs and allowed them to build a new temple, which at more than 3,800 square feet is the largest building in the subdivision. Last week, the 3rd Court overturned the trial court decision and ordered that the temple be removed. The deed restrictions say that only single-family dwellings with garages can be built on the lots, and the new temple lacks bedroom space and has
Continued from B separate men’s and women’s bathrooms, according to the appeals court opinion.
Harnek Bains, president of the Sikh group, testified that the new temple “basically has all features of a residence” but then said that it was not residential, according to the opinion.
Bobby Bains, who is Harnek Bains’ son and a member of the Austin Gurdwara Sahib congregation, said that there is “a certain amount of shock” and that people are angry after the ruling.
Doug Young, who represented Austin Gurdwara Sahib in the case, said, “The startling thing about the story is that here’s a place of worship that must be torn down.”
Young said that the application process to build the temple started in 2005 and that “there was no opposition expressed” at the time the group got permits.
Harnek Bains said he emailed plans for the new temple to the subdivision’s neighborhood association president in September 2005. Site plans for the building that described it as between 3,892 and 4,545 square feet — Bains testified to two different size estimates in court — were approved at public meetings by the City of Bee Cave’s Planning and The group bought the lot in 2003 and began to hold services after moving a trailer onto the property in Bee Caves West, which is in Bee Cave off Hamilton Pool Road in western Travis County. Zoning Commission and City Council, according to the appeals court opinion.
Young said his clients are likely to ask the 3rd Court to reconsider its ruling or to appeal the case to the Texas Supreme Court.
Leslie Bollier, a lawyer who represented herself in the trial court case, said the appeals court got it right.
“The decision was based on the law in Texas, and that’s why I brought the lawsuit,” she said.
Bruce Bennett, who represented Bollier in the appeal, said the appeals court “did what had to be done, since Gurdwara proceeded with construction. Religious organizations are restricted by deed restrictions like everyone else, and they proceeded in the face of those anyway.”
The opinion appears to move against a general trend by the Texas Supreme Court to side with religious groups in its rulings.
In 2007, the court ruled that the state’s previous restriction on religious schools’ use of the term “seminary” was unconstitutional.
And in 2009, it ruled unanimously that a town near Corpus Christi violated state law when it zoned two Christian halfway houses out of existence. The court said the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act entitles faith-based operations to greater legal protection than similar secular operations.
The Sikh group meets for services Sunday. An appeals court ruled that the temple violates deed restrictions, citing the separate men’s and women’s bathrooms and a lack of bedroom space.