Spalding County Board of Appeals member Alan McCallum said, “I hope it’s kicked in, you have to get a permit before you build.”
Board member Michelle Cannon, told them, “It’s a trust issue. You’ve proven you’re not trustworthy with a trail of half-truths well documented.”
Those include building structures without permits, building in the buffer area and using a storage building as an assembly hall.
“You continue to worship in a building you were told not to, but did anyway,” Cannon said. “That’s why your neighbors are hot.”
The board also heard again from two of those neighbors, Terry Sweatt and Troy Hulon, who have been pointing out the repeated violations on the site and objected to the initial request back in 2007 for allowing the place of worship on the first five acres.
“For some reason,” Sweatt said, “they have a hard time going by what the county tells them they can and can’t do.”
Hulon said his objection is about “their expanding in the AR-1 zoning and not complying with state and Spalding County rules,” including re-routing a waterway and runoff onto his property.
“If it wasn’t for us,” he said, “this would have gone unnoticed.”
The message he said the county is sending “is build first, then seek forgiveness. Lie, deceit, cover up, then ask forgiveness, and get a lawyer who can say ‘sue.’”
The Board of Appeals had to re-hear the request because the applicants sued after being denied by the Spalding County Board of Commissioners in August, questioning the legality of the denial. Community Development Director Chad Jacobs said the request to expand the special exception for a place of worship from five to 17.563 acres in an AR-1 (agricultural residential) zoning was remanded back through by the court.
Board of Appeals Chairman Doug Hardwick told the attorneys, “I assure you folks this has nothing to do with religion. Erosion on the other property has nothing to do with religion.”
Spalding County Zoning Attorney Newton Galloway said, “The lawsuit was unrelated to the permit issue. The lawsuit was on religious grounds, they said we violated, we say we didn’t.”
Galloway said, “The fight was to get them into compliance.”
Which is something, Galloway said, the county has done with other places of worship.
“Rather than see people waste money and not have to demolish something built, if usable, we try to bring them into compliance,” he said.
The storage building in question now has a certificate of occupancy, but Jacobs said it cannot be used as a place of worship or assembly hall until the new special exception is approved. The certificate only means it is safe for that use and has had an inspection.
The Board of Appeals voted unanimously, 6-0, to recommend approval of the request for the special exception to the Board of Commissioners, with several conditions including keeping lighting on site, a 25-foot planted buffer, a development plan and hydrology study before any new buildings are built, and the moved pavilion, and that anything beyond the current site plan will have to come back for approval.
An acceleration/deceleration lane will not be required until the permit is granted for the proposed 5,000-square-foot building, described as an open outdoor dining area, with residential above it on a second floor, which the attorneys initially called “a covered breezeway connecting the two buildings.” The board also agreed to require the identification of any soil erosion problems on or from the site and to have the issues resolved in a timely manner before this moves forward.
Hardwick told Hulon, “We made a proposal to try and address your problems the best we know how.”
The request will go before the Board of Commissioners on the fourth Thursday in July, Galloway said. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. July 26, beginning at 6 p.m., in Room 108 of the Spalding County Courthouse Annex.