Commissioners deny request for places of worship

LAWRENCEVILLE - Members of two local congregations must find other places to pray.

Tuesday, county commissioners denied requests by a Hindu congregation and a group of Jehovah's Witnesses to allow places of worship in two rural areas.

In denying the requests, County Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said his decision came down to the congregations' incompatibility with surrounding residences.

"It's not an easy decision at all," Beaudreau said of the Witnesses' church. "But when I take into account the potential negative impact, I cannot bring myself to support it."

In that case, Jehovah's Witnesses had originally proposed putting two buildings on 5.66 acres on Ace McMillian Road in Dacula. After discussions with nearby residents, they agreed to limit the congregation to one building, and reduced the number of parking spaces requested for the church. At most, leaders said, the church would have 180 members.

But in the end, residents' assertions that the location was out of character with a neighborhood where most residents own horses won out.

"We want the church to succeed and grow," neighbor Todd Brey said. "It needs to be in the periphery of the neighborhood. The bottom line is this is not a major arterial road."

Pete Love, a volunteer who represented the church, said he was "really disappointed" with the decision. Other church members who attended the public hearing declined comment.

Janet Pipkin, who also represented the congregation, said the group has a history of building very modest buildings and felt that they had a constitutional right to build on the land. Some adjoining neighbors said they would rather see the church on the property than another subdivision.

"Me and my family are very excited to have a church in the neighborhood," resident Jerome Smith said.

Residents near a Hindu mandir that was denied on Briscoe Road in Loganville, however, had no interest in having the congregation as a neighbor.

They signed a petition against the mandir, which religious leaders said would have had about 25 members and be located in an existing house.

Neighbors said the mandir, which had already been operating, negatively impacted their quality of life. Art Stein, who represented a group of neighbors, said accidents had increased since the mandir started operating and claimed that there were a number of inconsistencies in their application.

Valerie Sobotta, who represented members of the mandir, said Stein took information from another group that some of the mandir's members had previously been associated with.

Turner Persaud, who owns the Briscoe Road property, said he intends to rent it out - perhaps to a member of the congregation, who could have other members over to worship. Other ideas discussed after Tuesday's meeting included the creation of a homeless shelter on the land.

"We were peaceful there," Persaud said. "We weren't making any noise."

Both congregations required special-use permits to operate because they wanted to locate on minor collector roads. The mandir, which catered to Hindu Indians from Guyana who speak Hindi, had already been operating for three months.