Suwanee allowed to change ordinance
Court: City can alter law that blocks school

SUWANEE - The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked a judge's order prohibiting the Suwanee City Council from enacting a new zoning law.

The City Council was free to act on a zoning ordinance amendment without being in contempt of Judge George Hutchinson's order, issued Friday. A private Catholic school asked the judge last week to stop the city from requiring it to get permission before building a new campus in a residential area.

The zoning amendment, passed Tuesday during the City Council meeting, requires institutions to get a special-use permit to build on more than 5 acres or to construct anything larger than 20,000 square feet near homes.

"We are pleased with the Supreme Court's ruling," said Gregory Jay, an attorney for Suwanee. "The city believes that its amendment to its zoning ordinance is a proper and prudent measure to protect the character of its residential neighborhoods."

Tom Tate, an attorney for Notre Dame Academy, said the Supreme Court ruled on a technical legal issue - the ability of a court to enjoin, or prohibit, a vote. He said he doesn't think the order will change the character of the case.

Notre Dame Academy, currently located in the River Green office park in Duluth, entered into a contract Feb. 12 with Settles Bridge Farm LLC to buy about 37 acres on Moore Road. The way the land was zoned would allow a school to be built there as a matter of right, according to a lawsuit filed by the school.

But days after city officials found out about the school's plans, the City Council held an emergency meeting and issued a moratorium that stopped nonresidential uses in neighborhood districts, according to a lawsuit.

Notre Dame Academy and Settles Bridge Farm have filed separate lawsuits contending Suwanee is discriminating against the school by putting up obstacles that could prevent its construction.

Suwanee's planning director, Josh Campbell, previously said the school's request to build was not the only reason the zoning amendment was proposed. A large part of the city's 2030 comprehensive plan deals with preserving various areas' residential nature.

The school's lawsuit states the city's zoning amendment would violate its rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000.

In his order, Hutchinson agreed, saying Suwanee's zoning amendment would place substantial burdens on the school and violate the RLUIPA.