Officials: Mosque not a fit for area

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Agriculture-residential zoning for a mosque and cemetery do not fit along Lawrenceville Highway, Lilburn planning commissioners said Thursday.

Despite a supporter reading from the Bill of Rights, officials said the city's controversial proposal to build a 20,000-square-foot mosque at the highway's corner with Hood Road is not about the freedom to worship.

"This is a land-use planning issue and not a religion issue," Planning Commissioner Lawrence Kahn said before the unanimous vote, which is a recommendation to the City Council. "We really have to focus on our current land-use plan and the future of Lilburn."

Members of the Dar-E Abbas congregation, who want to expand from the two old homes currently used for worship at the location, and residents of the community filled the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center's 450-seat auditorium for the hearing, and several dozen watched from a jury assembly room upstairs.

The meeting was rescheduled from Lilburn's City Hall after more than 300 people crammed into the 150-seat council room last month. Even though the hearing never began, that gathering was raucous, with sides shouting back and forth.

But Planning Commission Chairwoman Diane Bronk warned the crowd that outbursts and applause would cause people to be escorted out. The Lilburn neighbors waited until the decision before bursting into applause.

"I feel great," said Janie Hood, whose grandfather and father built Hood Road.

A special meeting of the City Council will be held at the Lawrenceville justice center next Wednesday to make a final decision on the matter. Mayor Diana Preston, who owns some of the land in question for the expansion, said she will not attend.

Doug Dillard, who represents the mosque, said the group is seeking the agriculture zoning because it is the only one where cemeteries are allowed in the city.

But residents said the zoning classification not only does not fit the nature of the property, where a mosque and gymnasium would have more intense use, but also clashed with the surrounding homes and the commercial corridor along Lawrenceville Highway.

"I haven't seen farm property on Highway 29 in the city limits of Lilburn in the 25 years I have lived here," John Cook said.

Thor Johnson, the president of the Lilburn Business Association, spoke in favor of the proposal.

"I'm convinced that essentially we all want the same thing ... the opportunity to prosper," he said.