Lilburn council denies rezoning for mosque

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Same arguments, same results.

On Wednesday night, the Lilburn City Council voted unanimously to deny an application from the Dar-E Abbas Islamic center to rezone an area along Lawrenceville Highway and Hood Road from C-1 (neighborhood business) to RA-200 (agricultural residential).

The group sought to build an elaborate mosque on the property it currently occupies, along with an 8,400-square-foot athletic center and 1-acre cemetery.

The Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center was packed with both supporters and opposition and plenty of security, just in case.

Proceedings went along smoothly, however, despite the emotional nature of the hearing. The only outburst came from those in opposition of the rezoning, as they applauded and cheered when the decision was read.

Dar-E Abbas supporters claimed they are an expanding group that simply needs more space to worship.

One man, speaking on behalf of the group, apologized if they have fallen short as neighbors.

"In Islam, the neighbor holds a very high position," the man said. "Also the neighborhood ... We are all neighbors and brothers."

Ray Pritchett, a resident who owns property in the rezoning area, spoke in favor of rezoning, saying First Baptist Church started out small and was allowed to expand.

"I don't think it's right (if this is denied)," he said.

For their part, other Lilburn residents refuted accusations that their problems are based on cultural, religious or racial discrimination.

"Plain and simple, it's a land use issue," said Allen Owen.

Ilene Garry agreed.

"They could be putting up a church, a synogogue, another Hindu temple or a store -- it's not zoned for that," Garry said.

In the end, the council stated numerous concerns it had with rezoning the property, including a history of alleged code violations, parking issues and the unwanted precedent that spot zoning the land would set.

Doug Dillard of the Dillard and Galloway law firm called the decision "discriminatory" and "against the laws of Georgia and these United States of America."

The rezoning, he said, would be "consistent with what's happening along this corridor."

Dillard said he would confer with his clients and know within a few days whether they would file a federal lawsuit.

He expects that will be the case.