A prominent Gwinnett County faith-based institution has encountered a road block in its latest expansion effort.

The Buford City Commission voted 2-1 Monday night to deny a special-use permit that would have allowed 12Stone Church to open a facility in a former Kroger site on Buford Highway, in the Village Square Shopping Center.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission had recommended denying the permit. According to city documents, “Allowing a church to be located within the existing shopping center could cause existing commercial businesses within the shopping center to lose customer base, either due to the nature of the proposed SUP enterprise or due to diminished customer traffic over a more traditional customer business.”

Norwood Davis, chief financial officer of 12Stone, said before Monday’s meeting that church officials were “disappointed in this process.” He noted that 12Stone signed a lease for the building in July, but that Buford officials then modified the process to require a special-use permit.

Dean Zurmely, spokesperson for At Home, a current retail tenant in the Village Square center, spoke at the meeting in opposition to 12Stone’s effort. He noted that “retailers like synergy,” and that a non-retail tenant would “deny us that synergy.”

However, Penn Hodge, a member of the ownership group of Village Square center, said he felt At Home was “dead wrong” in its opposition, that 12Stone would be “a plus for your business.”

An affidavit presented to city officials by a licensed agent for The Shopping Center Group said that “there had been and continues to be interest in the Shopping Center and the Kroger Space by other retailers.”

The situation may not be over. Accompanying 12Stone officials and the Village Grove owners at the meeting was Gwinnett attorney Gerald Davidson, who represented some Gwinnett residential developers in a lawsuit against the City of Suwanee. That matter also involved a special-use permit, and eventually was decided by the Georgia Supreme Court in Suwanee’s favor in 2013.

Hodge said it had yet to be determined if any legal action will ensue as a result of Buford’s vote Monday.

Buford Commission Chairman Phillip Beard said after the meeting that “12Stone is welcome in Buford.”

Regardless, 12Stone seems determined to expand into the Buford area, perhaps outside the city limit.

Davis issued a statement after the meeting that said, “While disappointed in the results of the City of Buford’s SUP process, we are committed to launch a campus in the Buford or Sugar Hill area. We look forward to continuing to serve the people of Buford from another location and anticipate announcing that location in the coming weeks.”

12Stone has its main facility in Lawrenceville, with other sites in Duluth, Hamilton Mill and Flowery Branch. Davis said about 28,000 people pass through 12Stone’s doors monthly.

In other action Monday, the Buford commissioners:

• Approved rezoning that will allow Larry Ross Builders to build a 15-home subdivision on 7.49 acres on Shadburn Ferry Road. Spokesperson Mitch Peevy said the homes would be in the $400,000 range, with some in ranch style and some as two stories;

• Approved rezoning that will allow KCP Ardent to develop property at 3525 Gravel Springs Road as a Class A business park; and

• Approved rezoning that will allow Life Unlimited Church Inc. to operate in an industrial district on Belle Wood Court, in Friendship Industrial park.

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