Buckhead Forest residents say they feel like they are making progress after weeks of battling Peachtree Road United Methodist Church over its plans to build a youth center.

Negotiations over the 50,000-square-foot building hadn’t gone smoothly, as evidenced by signs planted in neighbors’ yards that accused Peachtree Road UMC of “encroachment in our neighborhood.” The church is seeking a special use permit, but neighbors have pressured city officials to contain the development within the church’s current zoning and not allow it to spill over into areas of residential zoning.

Amy Hillman, a Buckhead Forest resident who has been involved in the negotiations, on April 11 told the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods that the latest version of the church’s plan is a positive sign for residents.

“I’m guardedly optimistic that there’s finally started to be some good faith negotiations,” Hillman said at the BCN meeting.

Peachtree Road UMC Rev. Bill Britt said the negotiations with the neighborhood are ongoing, but he didn’t have any new information. The youth center will be a $9.2 million investment.

Hillman and other Buckhead Forest residents said they had been told that the proposed church youth center had to expand into the residential area to accommodate the building. Now there is an option to keep the church inside its current zoning, Hillman said.

But there are issues that could still thwart the neighborhood’s optimism.

Katy Bryant, a resident, said the church wants to demolish two of the homes it owns to create additional parking. Bryant and Hillman haven’t warmed to that idea. Bryant said when churches next to the neighborhoods have built a parking lot it has created an impervious surface that pushes more rainwater through the neighborhood.

Buckhead Forest has 13 creeks, and flooding is an ongoing concern. A parking lot at Peachtree Road UMC would likely add to the neighborhood’s rainwater woes, Bryant said.

“PRUMC has increased the volume, velocity and erosion of infrastructure in addition to individual residential property damage due to the entire impervious surface paving over the past decade,” Bryant said in an email. “Buckhead Forest will not allow this to continue.”

The neighborhood also produced a video illustrating the flooding problem along its streets.

Bryant said the neighborhood will continue pressuring the church to give more concessions to its neighbors so they will give their support to the youth center.

“As of now, the building has been moved out of our R4, single-family zoning classification,” Bryant said in an email. “That is good. Back where it was in the beginning. There will be some restrictions Buckhead Forest will insist be attached to the building, such as height, certain uses, hours of operation, lighting, landscaping, etc.”

Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011 - 2014. He is the founder and editor of Decaturish.com