Sikhs told to re­move tem­ple

New build­ing vi­o­lates deed re­stric­tions, ap­peals court says

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Joshunda San­ders

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.

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