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Neighbors concerned with plans for church

SUWANEE - Pastor Byungho Kim wants a larger space for his growing church. Neighbor Tom McConnell is worried that if the church moves in down the street, it will be like plopping a Wal-Mart near his neighborhood.

There are several smaller churches in residentially zoned areas, McConnell said, but putting a new Evergreen Presbyterian Church of Atlanta at Smithtown Road will add immense amounts of traffic and create an eyesore in the residential community.

"One of our biggest problems is that this is an enormous church," McConnell said. "It's sandwiched pretty much beside residential lots. The size and the scope of the building are like a warehouse."

On Tuesday, Suwanee's Planning and Zoning Commission will hear Kim's request to annex 12.5 acres from Gwinnett into the city so he can build a 50,000-square-foot church on Smithtown Road near Westbrook Road.

Josh Campbell, Suwanee's principal planner, said the R-100 zoning that Kim is requesting allows churches. Evergreen Presbyterian, which has a predominantly Korean congregation, currently has a 17,000-square-foot building on the city's Main Street downtown.

Kim said 90 percent of the church's members live in the city, and he wants to keep the 9-year-old congregation within Suwanee's limits. If approved, the new church will have an educational building with a gymnasium, a multi-purpose room and a main sanctuary that seats 1,200 people. There will be 350 parking spaces.

The congregation is trying to be a good neighbor, Kim said, and he has met with neighbors three times to iron out details of the request, agreeing to build a fence and reducing the number of parking spaces from 500.

"Most people are satisfied," he said. "I think it doesn't have any problem. ... That's why we pray every morning. We pray for that. We already are trying to solve the problem."

The 450 members who attend services are outgrowing their building, Kim said, and need a new place to call home. He said the land they found is blessed - beautiful and affordable - but McConnell said he wishes the city would have purchased it for greenspace when it had the chance.

McConnell said he feels his area, which was annexed into Suwanee in the past year, is getting the short shrift when it comes to greenspace and other attention. McConnell said he has requested a traffic study to see how the church's addition will impact the area, but that request has been ignored. He said a church that large is like a business and belongs elsewhere.

Congregations near neighborhoods are small, community churches, he said, and planners never contemplated that one this large could be put on a two-lane road near neighborhoods.

"I'm concerned about the concept here more than anything," he said. "No other church is right in the middle of residential lots."

Kim said Evergreen Presbyterian is doing everything it can to iron out any differences before Tuesday, and plans to have left turn and deceleration lanes, along with two driveways, to reduce the impact of new traffic.

For the past three Sundays, Kim said, there have been about 130 cars coming to three services.

"We don't want make trouble," he said.