In a unanimous vote, the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners approved a special use permit which would allow the Jehovah's Witnesses to build a 5,000-square-foot church on their property located in the 1500 block of Ace McMillian Road.
Before making a motion to approve the request, District 3 Commissioner Tommy Hunter thanked both the applicant and those opposed to the request.
"It's been spirited, it's been constructive," Hunter said referring to his discussions with both sides.
In his motion, Hunter included several conditions which must be met regarding exterior appearance of the structure, lighting, buffers, signage, air conditioning unit placement and parking lot requirements.
The Oct. 22 vote ends a long battle by Dacula-area Jehovah's Witnesses.
According to Marian Adeimy, the attorney representing the Jehovah's Witnesses, the church has owned the property for over seven years and has tried on two previous occasions -- in 2011 and 2007 -- to have the parcel rezoned for the purpose of building a church.
"It's been made clear by the county, the department of transportation and the planning commission that the only reason the church is before you is because Ace McMillian Road is misclassified," Adeimy said at the Oct. 22 Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners meeting.
Ace McMillian Road is categorized as a minor collector road. Churches are allowed on property zoned as RA-200 except when the roads are classified as a minor collector.
During the Sept. 3 planning commission meeting in which members voted 8-0 to recommend approval for the special use permit request, District 3 planning commission member Chuck Warbington said discussions with DOT officials convinced him Ace McMillian is improperly designated as a minor collector road.
"The only reason this is coming in is because of classification of a road -- not because it's agricultural, not because it's residential -- but because of classification of that road," Warbington said.
Tuesday night, area resident Betsy Strauss, addressing commissioners on behalf of neighboring property owners, said the church would be an incompatible use when compared to surrounding properties and does not conform to existing land use plans.
"Those attracted to a rural estate area will not want to live in our neighborhood anymore," Strauss said. "We will be damaged."
Adeimy said church members have spent hundreds of hours trying to reach a solution that would satisfy surrounding property owners regarding concerns about traffic, light pollution and property values. The use of the property for a church, she said, would be a good fit for the community.
"This is not a mega-church," Adeimy said. "This is a small community church for Bible worship."
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