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Buckhead neighborhood, church at odds over youth center
by Caroline Young
April 03, 2013 04:38 PM | 2980 views | 11 11 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print

A disagreement between Peachtree Road Methodist Church and residents of the Buckhead Forest neighborhood about a new youth center is still unresolved.

“One of the important growing edges of our church is to continue to find ways to reach out to adolescent students and help them with their lives,” said the church’s senior pastor, Bill Britt.

He said some numbers were wrong regarding the neighborhood’s concerns about the center, which were voiced at the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods monthly meeting March 14.

At the meeting, Buckhead Forest representative Amy Hilman said the church wants to build a 60,000-square-foot youth center, which she said would be four stories high and 20 feet from the closest residential home.

However, Britt said the center would be 35 feet from the closest property line.

“It’s a two-story facility with a basement and it is 49,000 square feet,” he said.

Britt said he wanted to stress the fact that the youth center would not be a gym, especially because the church already has one.

He said the space will be used for Boy Scouts, mid-high students and senior high students, to take “basic Christian discipleship” classes.

Regarding the neighbors’ concerns, Britt said the church sat down with them to show the preliminary plan in November 2011.

“We showed them a two-story facility on one of our parking lots,” he said.

He said both residents and church members expressed concern about where cars would go with the loss of a lot.

“We took both feedbacks to our architects and asked if there was any way to locate it on another place on campus without impacting the campus,” Britt said.

He was told the church must buy a piece of property, which Britt said was already “interior” to the church, meaning it already owned property on either side of it. The church has since bought that land.

“We designed a building in such a way that it would be in the interior in our lot … and do our best to landscape and hide it from the neighborhood. So, traffic flow is the same,” he said. “We shared that with the neighbors in December and got positive feedback, [which] led to a letter of agreement on Jan. 4. … It was conditional on us meeting some particular conditions.”

He said the church was working on the conditions when it was informed in mid-February the neighbors no longer supported the building being built in an R-4 (single-family residential) zone.

Hilman also said at the meeting there is water damage from unfiltered water coming from one of the church’s water pipes.

“They have an open pipe where they funnel water into people’s back yards and they are expecting to connect the development up to that pipe and keep on going,” she said.

But Britt said the pipe is not on the church’s property, and the issue of hydrology is one condition of the agreement with the neighborhood.

“We are working on hydrology for the whole campus. … There is a sewer line that runs through our property, deep into the neighborhood. At some point, apparently, it opens up,” he said. “And so the concern is are we willing to do something for that?”

He said the church wants to use its leverage to help get the city’s attention to do something about it, and to work with the neighborhood to fix the problem.

The neighbors recently applied for Buckhead Forest to be put on the National Register by the Georgia Department of Natural Resource’s Historic Preservation Division, which would protect it from outside development.

In a March 18 letter to Jack Whitaker of the Buckhead Forest Civic Association, Amanda Schraner, historic resources section chief, wrote, it “believe[s] that the district meets the criteria for listing in the Nation Register and has been documented to National Register Standards.”

However, the National Register Review Board has to first hear the nomination, which will not be presented until 2014.

And Britt said the church has to receive a special use permit from the city first, and then he hopes to start the one-year build this summer to open in fall 2014. “We would like to work with our neighbors so we are in agreement. We want to go before the zoning board together,” he said. “We’d like to fulfill all conditions we were asked to fulfill and go back to the original agreement.”

Britt said his hope is the neighbors will give their blessing to it being built where they intend it to be. “We have this property and we want to build, still with greenspace behind it and landscaping behind it,” he said. “We have no interest in tearing down and encroaching into the neighborhood.”

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