A dispute about a developer’s plans to demolish an old church on Mitchell Road ended in a way that controversial zoning cases rarely do: a compromise that mostly satisfied everyone.
St. James Anglican Church, located at 5975 Mitchell Road in Sandy Springs, was slated for a development of single-family homes. However, congregation members argued that the people claiming to own the church, the family of the late Bishop Vincent Thakore, didn’t really own it.
The developer, Bryan Flint, reached an agreement with the church’s new owners – William Lundquist and the rest of the St. James congregation. Lundquist is the grandson of the late Bishop Frank Benning, who presided over St. James until 2000.
Sandy Springs City Council on Dec. 18 approved Flint’s rezoning request for the property. Under the terms of the agreement, Flint will have an option to buy the property from Lundquist and the congregation.
Lundquist has told neighbors he isn’t interested in selling. He spoke at the Dec. 18 meeting to confirm the agreement between Flint and the church, but made clear he wasn’t speaking for or against Flint’s application.
“St. James acknowledges a settlement will be reached,” Lundquist said.
Some of the neighbors spoke against the application. Neighbors have complained the development would be too dense.
Sandy Sweeny said that because the Thakore family wasn’t in a position to authorize the sale of the property, the zoning petition should be rejected. “The property is not for sale,” Sweeny said. “So why would the city rezone this property?”
Council members expressed frustration about the dispute. Council members voted three times this year to delay the zoning request while the developer, neighbors and the dueling owners worked out their differences.
Councilman Tibby DeJulio and Councilwoman Karen Meinzen-McEnerny voted to deny the zoning request at the Dec. 18 meeting.
Councilman Chip Collins supported it, but chided the parties for not resolving the ownership dispute in court.
“From day one, I laid out a policy that could’ve avoided all this,” Collins said. He said seeking a temporary restraining order to block development would’ve provided a faster resolution to the ownership dispute.
The disputes surrounding the case went beyond ownership. There’s also a question as to whether the church dates back to the Civil War or early 20th Century.
The church claimed it was older, but a report produced by a consultant Flint hired puts the approximate construction date in the 1920s.
While McEnerny opposed the rezoning, she was pleased the parties found an amicable solution.
“I want to applaud all the efforts of these fine citizens and the developer …,” McEnerny said. “Everyone out here that came to listen to these proceedings had a major impact in the end result.”