LAWRENCEVILLE - A cemetery that dates to the 1850s has survived an attempt to have a shopping center as its neighbor.
Gwinnett County commissioners denied a request to rezone land at Braselton Highway and Hog Mountain Church Road for a shopping center and decrease the buffers from a required 75 feet to 25 feet. The land abuts a cemetery owned by Hog Mountain Baptist Church that dates to the 1840s.
"It's not going to happen on my watch," Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said. "We're not going to trample on the dead, we're not going to encroach on the dead."
Phyllis Davis, the cemetery chairwoman for the Gwinnett County Historical Society, said she had been prepared to accept the rezoning with conditions that included the construction of a wrought-iron fence around the cemetery when she discovered Monday that about .9 acres that were to be included in the sale actually belonged to the cemetery.
"I feel really relieved, really excited," she said. "Once it's done, you can't undo it."
Davis said she was worried that some bodies may have been buried outside the cemetery's official boundaries. The oldest known grave is from 1843 and holds the remains of two young girls. At that time, the cemetery belonged to the community and the church took over in 1854.
Several people in the audience said they had family members buried there and were thrilled that no shopping center would be built on the adjacent land.
Charles Warbington, who said his parents, grandparents and cousins are buried in the cemetery, said he came to represent the dead.
"They can't represent themselves and somebody's got to stand up for them," he said. "I feel like it went the right way."
Rev. Barney Williams of the Hog Mountain Baptist Church said he was in favor of selling the land, which is currently used as athletic fields. Williams said he was worried that someone could be injured chasing a ball across the road and that the church did not have enough money to build a gym.
After the decision was made, DMH Homes' George Savage said he still thought he presented a viable solution to concerns about the development's proximity to the cemetery. He said now the cemetery will not be fenced, as it would have been if it had been approved.
"I'm just trying to buy a piece of property," he said. "I don't want to get involved in a community squabble."
Fern Knight, who owns a plot in the cemetery where she will be laid to rest, said she was elated when the decision was made.
"When he said, 'It's not going to happen on my watch,' I could have stood up and shouted," Knight said.