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Posted: Tuesday, November 13th 2012 at 11:21pm

Cornelia Hispanic church withdraws rezoning request

By Rob Moore Editor
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Iglesia de Dios (Cornelia Hispanic Church of God) withdrew its petition for conditional use. (Photo/Rob Moore)
CORNELIA – Facing opposition from neighbors and a recommendation of denial from the Cornelia Municipal Planning Board, a Cornelia Hispanic church withdrew its application for rezoning Tuesday night.

Attorney Spencer Carr, representing the Cornelia Hispanic Church of God, had applied for conditional use zoning for property located at 242 and 316 Cash St., Cornelia. Located at the corner of Cash Street and Nacoochee Street, the decades-old church has a zoning designation of R-1A, single-family residential.

Carr said City Planner Jeff Barron had suggested the church apply for conditional use so that a roughly 1.5-acre parcel recently donated to the church could be used for church purposes – possibly additional parking if the congregation can raise the money.

Because the church, formerly Cornelia Christian Church, is in a residential zone, the current use of the property is non-conforming under The Official Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cornelia.

While the church property itself is grandfathered, the additional property received recently is not. Instead, a conditional use would have to be granted by the city commission.

“I’m sorry – I don’t understand,” said former Ward 2 Cornelia City Commissioner Brenda Garcia. “I was a member there of that church back when it used to be Cornelia Christian Church 50 years ago. So why is it suddenly coming up now that it needs to be rezoned?”

“I don’t think they’ve ever been a detriment to the neighborhood,” Garcia said.

“The problem’s not with the existing church,” said City Manager Donald Anderson. “The problem is they’ve acquired this new piece of property and if they want to do anything related to the church, it wouldn’t be allowed in a residential district.”

“It’s not conforming, but it’s not like the city’s telling them ‘you’ve got to close down,’” Anderson said.

Carr said the church has, at its own expense, removed a condemned structure that had been located on the donated property as a means of improving the neighborhood.

Still, neighbors expressed concerns about the potential for increased usage of the property beyond two days a week, that any trees could affect their view of the mountains, and one even asked that the church pay to install a fence on her property so she wouldn’t see the property.

“We’re adamantly against that [fence] and feel that there are some constitutional issues involved in requiring an applicant to give any money to a private citizen for their individual benefit,” Carr told the commission.

Carr showed the commission some potential site plans.

“This is a proposed plan that may come before you some day,” Carr said. “Again, this proposed plan of a parking lot may be back before you at some point by the applicant, but what’s before you today is basically an acre and a half piece be given a conditional use as a church so that they can continue to operate how they’ve been operating, in the best interest of the church and the city.”

The Cornelia Municipal Planning Board had recommended that the commission deny the rezoning request.

Ward 3 Commissioner Don Bagwell addressed the issued, saying, “Nobody wants to do anything to inhibit the growth of the church in this community. There is no cause greater or better than that.”

“I think the other concern – and I speak from my personal experience a little bit – is that there are churches in town that happen to sit in residential neighborhoods and there can really be some problems that arise as those churches have grown and as the density and the congestion increases there,” Bagwell said. “You want to be sensitive to the folks that are there, too, so it’s a matter of trying to determine a happy coexistence between the citizens’ ability to forgive the church for clogging up their streets during service times and all that sort of thing. So I think the idea is to always just be real careful that we create a win/win for everybody when this kind of thing happens. We want to stay very open-minded about the good things that can come from this for everybody, and make sure that bad things don’t result.”

After the public hearing on the application was concluded, Ward 1 Commissioner Wes Dodd expressed hesitation in proceeding with disposal of the request.

“Mr. Mayor, I am personally not comfortable rezoning it carte blanche without some kind of negotiated plan or something,” Dodd said. “There’s really no issue as far as what the church is now doing.”

After conferring with his clients, Carr withdrew the rezoning petition.
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