Panel denies rezoning for Buddhist association

By GEORGE CHIDI, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 27, 2005

Gwinnett County, Georgia (USA) -- The Vietnamese Buddhist Association of Central Georgia didn't receive the blessing of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night.

The commission denied a rezoning request by the group's representative, Trung Van Le, for a church in a residential area of Ingram Road near Duluth. The group has been out of compliance with local zoning rules for years, which was less than endearing to some commission members.

"Usually, if someone has ignored zoning laws for years, then they're usually unlikely to comply with [zoning] conditions," Commissioner Bert Nasuti said shortly before making a motion to deny the request.

Ray Smith, an attorney for the property owner, argued that other churches also were operating nearby, and that a religious facility would be preferable to denser residential development.

Unfamiliarity with local law had led to the nonprofit facility's operation without zoning clearances, Smith said. The rezoning request was part of its attempt to comply with the law, he added.

But neighbors presented pictures of rows of cars parked in the 3-acre lot on weekends, complaining that the narrow street with sharp turns would attract accidents if the church were allowed to continue operating.

"Ingram is a small road," said Debra Vaughn, who owns nearby property. "The area is unsafe already. . . . When it gets big, it's going to be harder."

A call to church officials was not returned before press time.

In other matters before the commission, a proposal to place a service station and convenience store in a residential neighborhood near Norcross ran out of gas.

A request to rezone office property at Five Forks Trickum and Lake Lucerne roads to build a convenience store and gas station ran into significant opposition. When Commission Chairman Charles Bannister asked the audience whether anyone present was in opposition, most of the people in the room stood up.

Jill Wade, a nearby resident, recited a litany of arguments opposed to the rezoning, from the invasiveness of street lighting to the potential of increased crime.