Snellville annexes, rezones land for Catholic church

SNELLVILLE - City leaders voted Monday to annex 9.82 acres into the city for St. Oliver Plunkett Catholic Church. The annexed land was then rezoned for civic/institutional use, and the land-use plan was amended to reflect the same for the church property.

The annexed property will be used for expansion of the church campus and for much-needed parking, according to Jason Thompson, Snellville's acting planning department director and city planner. Council members voted unanimously to approve the annexation, rezoning and land use plan amendment.

The proceedings were not without controversy. Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer recused himself from the meeting about this matter, "on the advice of the city attorney and my priest." Oberholtzer is a member of St. Oliver Plunkett Catholic Church.

Councilwoman Kelly Kautz also recused herself, saying she was told at the last minute by city attorney Mike Williams that since she owns property that abuts the church property, there would be a conflict of interest if she participated in the proceedings.

Councilman Robert Jenkins tried to have the vote postponed, citing his disagreement with Williams in recommending Kautz recuse herself from the proceedings.

"We need to allow Ms. Kautz to research the recusal as opposed to being intimidated into her decision," Jenkins remarked.

Marilyn Swinney, a city resident who attended a council work session that immediately preceded Monday's council meeting, said that Kautz did not mention any potential conflicts of interest when given the opportunity during that work session.

Councilwoman Barbara Bender and councilman Tod Warner are also members at St. Oliver but were allowed to remain in the meeting and participate in the vote. According to Williams, simply being a member of the church did not present a conflict of interest.

Rezoning and land-use plan change vote postponed

Snellville's elected officials postponed a decision on a rezoning request Monday for a 6.93 acre site along the south side of Pharrs Road between Scenic Highway and North Road. The applicant, local developer ALM Homes Inc., proposed a nine-building, 47,000-square-foot professional office development on the assembled property.

Residents who opposed the proposed development cited traffic impact on already burdened roads, an over-burdened intersection and spot zoning as three objections. The land is zoned low-density residential, but commercial development is encroaching and in effect creating an island of homes in a commercial area.

City staff recommended postponement of the rezoning and land-use plan change until August, as studies are under way for the creation of overlay districts in the city. The land would be affected by a new overlay. Oberholtzer and council members did not want to rezone land being studied for possible uses by the city.

Lee Tucker, who represented the applicant Monday evening, said postponing the vote until August would kill standing contracts made with property owners in assembling the properties. Tucker said while he and his client wanted approval of the project, denial would be better than a postponement.

The issue will be placed on the Aug. 25 regular council meeting agenda.

Kautz calls for investigation of mayor, city clerk

An item on Monday's council meeting agenda caused sparks and accusations to fly.

Jenkins asked for an explanation from Oberholtzer about the ongoing question of a $30,700 check written to the Gwinnett Municipal Association in 2007. Jenkins has previously said that City Clerk Sharon Lowery has said she was directed to write the check by the mayor. The city funds were used to pay GMA dues, according to Oberholtzer, which would include Partnership Gwinnett participation, a tax study and municipal funds for an executive director for GMA.

Oberholtzer, reading a prepared statement, said that former interim city manager Jim Brooks knew about the payment and even directed Lowery himself to write the check. The mayor said he was surprised to learn about the payments and could only guess that Brooks was "trying to curry favor with me so that I would appoint him city manager."

When Oberholtzer did not appoint Brooks city manager, according to the mayor, Brooks then attempted to embarrass the mayor and the city by feigning ignorance of the $30,700 expenditure and raising the question to council members. Oberholtzer said the $30,000 was in the city budget for just such a purpose and that no improprieties took place.

Jenkins was not satisfied with the mayor's prepared statement and said there were errors and inconsistencies and that council members never authorized city funds to be used for an executive director for GMA.

"Either Ms. Lowery is lying, or you are. This is $30,000 of the peoples' money," Jenkins said. Mayor pro tem Warren Auld then wanted to ask a question of Oberholtzer, and the mayor simply replied, "No."

Kautz commented that Oberholtzer's remarks about Brooks could be considered slanderous and called on council members and citizens to open an investigation into the matter.