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Suwanee council to consider changing residential zoning law

LAWRENCEVILLE - A change to Suwanee laws that would require schools, churches and other institutions to get permission before building in residential neighborhoods passed the city's planning commission Tuesday.

It was "not a coincidence," Suwanee planning director Josh Campbell said, that the issue came up days after a private Catholic school asked if it would be able to build a campus on 37 acres of land it has under contract in the city.

But Campbell said Notre Dame Academy's request was not the only reason the zoning amendment was proposed and a moratorium on such projects was put into place in late February.

Last summer, residents sued the city after it allowed a large Korean church to locate in a residential area. And a major part of Suwanee's 2030 comprehensive plan deals with preserving various areas' residential nature, Campbell said.

Campbell said the amendment will go before Suwanee's City Council May 27. The moratorium is due to be lifted that same day, with the expectation that the comprehensive plan will be passed at the meeting.

The amendment would require a special-use permit for land disturbances of more than five acres, buildings larger than 20,000 square feet or projects that take up more than seven residential parcels, for nonresidential uses.

Without the amendment, schools, churches, golf courses, parks, stables and other selected uses are permitted in areas zoned for homes and do not need new zoning designations for their projects.

Campbell said he did not know when that list was last updated, but that Suwanee instated zoning in 1983. Prior to that, anything could be built anywhere.

Mayor Dave Williams said the current zoning ordinance is from 1998, and was last modified in 2005. He did not know when the use by right section was last updated.

Both Williams and Campbell said the discussion taking place was not based just on the school.

Debra Orr, Notre Dame's president, said the planning board did a good job of keeping the issues separate. But she is worried that if the amendment goes through, the school will not receive permission to build on the Moore Road property it has under contract.

The 500-student Catholic school is three years old and is currently located in the River Green office park in Duluth.

Orr said she spent more than two years looking for suitable property and that the moratorium and possible amendment have already delayed the schools plans to expand.

"We're growing so rapidly, we're outgrowing the school," she said. "It takes time to build. We were on a perfect timetable until the moratorium came up."

Orr said she thinks the school would be a good asset to the community - many students live in Suwanee - and that she doesn't understand why Notre Dame isn't being welcomed.

"We just want to come in and be friendly neighbors," she said. "It's just a mess."