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Lilburn tables proposal for Providence athletics facility

LILBURN - Providence Christian Academy, along with nearby homeowners, will have to wait another 30 days to see if the Lilburn City Council "paves paradise and puts up a parking lot," to rephrase the old Joni Mitchell folk song.

Following a two-hour public hearing in a standing-room-only auditorium here Monday night, the council decided to table a proposal until the October meeting concerning a special-use permit request from Providence to allow the construction of athletic facilities on 11.5 acres at 4525 Wynne Russell Drive near the private school.

If approved, the Pilgrim Presbyterian Church on the property will be demolished, and football and softball fields, tennis courts, and track facilities will be built there for the academy to use for its sports programs, which currently have to be played off campus.

The City Planning and Zoning Commission has recommended denial of the request based on the configuration of the property, having concerns with access for emergency vehicles.

The planned construction is important, according to Providence Athletic Director Michael Woods, to help attract new students to the school, which presently houses 254 students, 150 of which play five sports. The student athletes basically have nowhere to play, and the school has to rent outside facilities.

"We can't be afraid of the need for change ... we need to grow our enrollment," Woods said. "Many of the students don't participate in sports because they don't drive or their parents work."

Bethany Reynolds, who has two children who attend Providence, said, "This is nothing but an opportunity for growth for the institution."

"This is a chance for us to catch up with the public schools in the area," another parent, Jeff Norman, said.

"I love Lilburn ... it's like Mayberry on steroids," said another parent.

Many residents spoke against the proposal. Problems cited were lights from the fields, public address systems blaring late at night, and traffic and related noise.

One resident asked: "Where are they going to park cars for 2,000 people for a track meet? Someone's going to be parking in the space in front of my house."

Another resident against the proposal, Paul Caudell, asked the council to deny the request.

"We have to look at the impact on the neighborhood and the community," he said. "We have to look at the residences on three sides, along with safety and traffic issues."

Another homeowner said it would be "a shame for the property to be destroyed and make it a multi-sports facility."

In other business, the council:

· awarded Desmear System Inc. the low bid on the Lilburn Greenway Project at a cost of $632,807;

· recommended the dedication of the Greenway trail as "Centennial Greenway";

· agreed to a mutual aid agreement with other cities in Gwinnett County, the Sheriff's Office, and Gwinnett School Police for pooling agency resources;

· Denied a special-use permit for a pawn shop at 5514 Lawrenceville Highway;

· presented a Key to the City to Pat Swan, winner of The Legacy Award;

· received a thank-you letter from Cami Hull, an 81-year-old Lilburn Idol contestant;

· proclaimed Sept. 17-23 as Constitution Week, commemorating the 222nd Anniversary of the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.