Suwanee officials postpone decision on proposed mega-church

SUWANEE - Suwanee City Council members voted Tuesday to table a requested annexation and rezoning that would put a Korean church on 12.65 acres on Smithtown Road.

A final decision on the matter will be made at May's council meeting, following further discussion and research of possible traffic issues that may result from locating the large church on a two-lane road.

Pastor Byungho Kim of Evergreen Presbyterian Church wants to build a 45,000-square-foot church with 350 parking spaces on Smithtown Road, a winding two-lane thoroughfare that neighbors fear will become congested and dangerous if Kim's request is granted. The church owns the land, which lies in Gwinnett County.

Evergreen Presbyterian Church has been located in the city of Suwanee for about 10 years but has outgrown its current facility. Kim and his congregation researched expanding the existing facility, which is 17,000 square feet on Suwanee's Main Street downtown, but decided building a new church is more prudent in the long run.

Originally, the 50,000-square-foot building was proposed with a 2,000-seat sanctuary. Following ongoing meetings and negotiations with area residents, the size of the sanctuary is now proposed at 1,500 seats and the size of the church has shrunk as well.

Several neighboring residents spoke in opposition to the proposed mega-church, citing traffic congestion, safety issues and the inappropriateness of any facility that size being built on a two-lane road.

Suwanee resident Tom McConnell has spearheaded the opposition, and presented photos of a similar-sized church in Lawrenceville to demonstrate his points. Crossroads Community Church, located on Buford Drive in Lawrenceville, has a 1,000-seat sanctuary. McConnell showed photos of traffic congestion created by that church on a four-lane road and said the impact would be even worse on Smithtown Road.

The residents who spoke in opposition to the proposed church said Kim and his team seem to want to be good neighbors and they are not opposed to him or his church coming to Smithtown Road. The objections center around the size of the facility, the design of the structure, its impact on surrounding properties and safety.

Based on concerns raised during Tuesday night's meeting, councilman Jimmy Burnette moved to postpone a decision on the matter until May. The council voted unanimously in agreement.

City manager given

a warm goodbye

Tuesday night was City Manager Hardin Watkins' last council meeting, having resigned his position to take a similar position in Garner, N.C. Past mayors and councilmen, current council members, Police Chief Mike Jones and Mayor Nick Masino each presented Watkins with a parting gift and a short speech praising his service to the city of Suwanee.

The Suwanee STAR award, given to city employees for exemplary performance and public service, was renamed the "Hardin Watkins Suwanee STAR award" in honor of Suwanee's first city manager.

Watkins, leaving after nearly 10 years as Suwanee's city manager, attributed his love for public service to his parents, both retired teachers. Watkins also thanked his wife for her support of his career.

"Hardin has done a tremendous job building a team here in Suwanee," said Masino. "This is a huge loss for the city of Suwanee."

Kristi McCarley will assume the role of interim city manager until Watkins' replacement is hired. McCarley served as a special projects manager under Watkins.

Councilman honored

Jimmy Burnette, who served on the council for 32 years, was honored by the city and the Georgia House of Representatives Tuesday night. Burnette recently passed away; his son Jimmy also serves on the Suwanee City Council as mayor pro tem. Burnette's family received copies of resolutions from both the city and the state honoring the longest-serving council member in the history of Suwanee for his dedication to public service.

City Hall designs presented

BRPH, the firm hired to design the new Suwanee City Hall, presented drawings and a 3-D computer model of the new building, expected to be complete by the end of 2008.

The art-deco style structure is designed to be eco-friendly, and the city is seeking Leadership in Environment and Energy Design certification once the building is complete. Everything from furniture made with recycled materials to clean operation and maintenance to environmentally friendly construction contribute to LEED certification.

The building reflects a clean, contemporary design with an art deco flavor. Scott Gordon, the lead architect in charge of the project, praised city officials for their commitment to a "green" building.

The next step in the planning process is the creation of construction documents. Those documents should be complete some time in July, according to Gordon.

The estimated cost of the entire project is $9.3 million.