Snellville council approves rezoning, variances next to Grace Baptist Church

SNELLVILLE — Following the third and final public hearing concerning the requested rezoning and variances for the 0.644 acre site in the 1900 block of Scenic Highway, council members voted to grant the requests despite vigorous opposition from members of Grace Baptist Church. At about 4 p.m. Monday, applicant Truong Nguyen submitted a revised development plan to the city, which depicted a 4,250 square-foot building instead of the original 5,000 square-foot building.

The new proposal reflects a 10-foot undisturbed, 15-foot landscaped buffer on one side, and a 10-foot undisturbed, 20-foot landscaped buffer on the other side. One of the major sticking points for church members was the smaller buffer presented by the applicant originally. A new request was made Monday, with the applicant asking for the ability to install a drive-thru in the retail space should a potential renter require one and if so, the overall size of the building would be decreased to accommodate the addition. In such a case, the drive-thru would have to be presented to the city’s planning staff for approval, but the matter would not have to be heard by mayor and council.

While Grace Baptist Church members months ago agreed to give up 30 feet of their 60-foot buffer (60 feet granted by city ordinance), the applicant wanted the church to give up still more of the space between the church and the planned building in order to accommodate the proposed building size and parking spaces.

Attorney Warren Auld, who has represented the church throughout the public hearings, said Monday that the church was not asking for any special consideration or favors from the city; rather, the applicant was asking for six variances for property he bought last year knowing what the ordinances were at the time.

Auld said Monday that it was clear that Nguyen would not build the building according to plans he submitted to the city Monday afternoon. “The question that has to be asked is ‘how many variances will you grant?’” Auld said, addressing the mayor and council, “You’re setting a precedent here.”

Guy Abernathy, an engineer representing Nguyen, said “I think we want to do what’s best for the city. I think we’ve made a good faith effort.”

Once representatives and those in the audience Monday had their say, the matter came to a vote. Councilman Bobby Howard moved to approve the rezoning, variances and conditions for the 0.644-acre property. Mayor Kelly Kautz said that she would not support approval, as she sees the six requested variances as a “red flag.” Kautz went on to add that many developers through the years have complained about the city’s strict buffer and tree ordinances, but years later, those ordinances are paying off for Ga. Highway 124. “The church did not dictate the buffer requirements; city ordinances did,” Kautz said, further explaining her lack of support for the applicant’s requests.

The final vote on the issue was 5-1, with Kautz casting the only dissenting vote. Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts was not present Monday because of out-of-state family matters.

Church members left Monday’s council meeting expressing their disapproval of the council’s decision. Someone remarked that council members had “sold out,” while another member told others to “remember the names” of those who voted to approve the rezoning and variances.

City leaders OK painted mural

Council members voted to approve a conditional-use permit for the painting of a mural on the wall in front of New London Plaza. “It is a blank, 42-inch wall,” said Snellville Public Arts Chairman Kirk Buis, who then presented examples of the proposed painting the plan is to paint a scene depicting a vibrant city. Among the examples was a child pulling a wagon loaded with puppies, a bicyclist, a jogger and a man relaxing on a bench. Many of the subjects are painted from the waist down, though smaller children would be painted “in full.”

Snellville citizen Marcy Pharris asked Buis why the mural would be painted in that manner. “Why only the bottom half of the people?” Pharris asked. Buis answered, “It’s more artistic to do it this way. I don’t think we want real models.”

Kautz proposes cultural diversity and ethics training for city leaders

Kautz added an item to the city’s new business on Monday night’s meeting agenda. “We may not want to admit it, but (discrimination) is an issue in Snellville,” Kautz said.

Referring to the last council meeting, Kautz said, “I sat up here and looked out into (the audience) and thought, ‘I have to do something.’”

The mayor said discrimination is not merely racial; it can be exist with respect to age, gender and other differences.

As city leaders, the mayor said, she and the council have to be aware that the perception of discrimination is just as destructive as actual discrimination. To that end, Kautz is proposing that she and council members participate in a session regarding diversity and sensitivity through the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia.

Councilman Dave Emanuel said, “I probably shouldn’t say anything, but I’ve heard about all I can stand of the race-baiting. Sure, there are bigots, and even idiots, in the city … but no one on this council is a racist. It’s great grandstanding, but I deeply resent the allegations that have been made. They are false.”

Kautz said that she would wait until after the Sept. 12 and 13 planning retreat for city leaders and staff, then place the item on an agenda to be heard after that event.

Councilwoman Barbara Bender said that she is glad that the city is going ahead with a planning retreat, since the January retreat ended so abruptly and with such division between Kautz and council members. “I feel like we’ve lost nine critical months of planning; while everyone on staff has been trying to do their job, people haven’t been headed in the same direction.”