To the editor:
Since my initial opinion column appeared in the Buckhead Reporter on June 13, additional facts have come to light regarding how the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta obtained the building permit for the church rectory project at 136 West Wesley Road in the Peachtree Heights West neighborhood. The new facts have resulted in the filing of an appeal of the building permit issued to the Archdiocese by the city of Atlanta.
Many residents of Peachtree Heights West have questioned how the Archdiocese obtained a building permit to construct what is admittedly a church rectory in a neighborhood zoned for single-family use. It has recently come to light that the plans the Archdiocese submitted to the city of Atlanta were drawn for a lot zoned R3, while Peachtree Heights West, and more importantly, the subject property is zoned R2-A.
Significantly, the city of Atlanta Zoning Code does not require a special use permit for churches and accessory structures of churches (on less than an acre of land) in a neighborhood zoned R3, whereas this is not the case in Peachtree Heights West.
In 2012, a group of Peachtree Heights West residents met with Archdiocese and Christ the King officials to view preliminary plans for the project, which showed the lot zoned R3. Following that meeting, the president of the Peachtree Heights West Civic Association sent an email to the architects for the Archdiocese and notified them that the zoning was listed incorrectly on the plans and asked that it be corrected.
In October of 2013, the Archdiocese obtained a building permit from the city of Atlanta for the rectory project. The Archdiocese failed, however, to post the required sign in the front yard of the property for thirty (30) days notifying the neighborhood that a building permit had been issued. Despite failing to satisfy the mandatory notice provisions of the zoning code, the Archdiocese started construction on the rectory during the week of June 9, 2014. The project includes the addition of an almost 3,000-square-foot, two-story dormitory in the rear of the property and a substantial renovation of the main house.
When neighbors finally obtained a copy of the final plans that the Archdiocese submitted to the city, the residents learned that the Archdiocese never bothered to change the R3 zoning representation. This fact taints the entire permitting process since the requirements for church construction in an R3 neighborhood and an R2-A neighborhood are completely different.
I have no issue with Catholic priests living in Peachtree Heights West. In fact, following Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s departure from his residence on Habersham Road, I personally emailed him and suggested that he and several priests return to live in the main house at 136 West Wesley Road, which has served as the home to Atlanta Catholic Archbishops for many decades. I also suggested the same solution to Father Frank McNamee at the Cathedral of Christ the King. My emails were never returned.
What I do have an issue with, however, is the fact that the Archdiocese obtained the building permit under the pretense that the lot is zoned R3, which is not the case. This is especially troubling considering the fact that the Peachtree Heights West Civic Association notified the Archdiocese of this fact in 2012.
Given the recent negative media attention surrounding the construction of a house on Habersham Road for Archbishop Gregory, the Archdiocese should be especially circumspect regarding these matters and make sure that it follows the law to the letter. Yet the Archdiocese has adamantly insisted that it has a lawfully issued building permit and that it will continue with construction. Unfortunately, this leaves residents with little choice but to resort to legal action.
The neighbors and parishioners who have challenged the Archdiocese on this issue have been subjected to intimidation and bullying. To this end, a lawyer for the Archdiocese recently threatened several Peachtree Heights West residents with a religious discrimination lawsuit under the Fair Housing Act. The lawyer also, somewhat amusingly, accused the neighbors of attempting to coerce and intimidate the Archdiocese.
This is simply not “neighborly” behavior. If the Archdiocese obtains the proper permitting for the project and follows the procedural requirements of the zoning code, I am sure the residents of Peachtree Heights West will have little objection to the project. I will be chief among them.