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Commissioners to vote on moratorium
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Newton County will hold a special called meeting Tuesday, Sept. 13 to vote on the moratorium on permits for places of worship.

The county and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) released a statement Wednesday saying “staff expects to complete the preliminary review on proposed updates to local zoning ordinances” during the meeting.

At least two commissioners said they will vote to lift the controversial moratorium that was placed on permits at the Aug. 16 meeting after plans for a mosque and cemetery on Georgia Highway 162 and County Line Road were made public.

"As a result of the County's quick and efficient review of our zoning ordinances, I plan to vote in favor of lifting the moratorium at the special called meeting on September 13," District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz said. "Newton County is rich in diversity and hospitality, and we are happy to see residents of all faiths and backgrounds live and worship together in our community."

“As a County Commissioner, I encourage us to create a community where people from all walks of life and backgrounds are proud to live, work and play in Newton County,” District 2 Commissioner Lanier Sims said. “I will vote in support of removing the temporary moratorium at the September 13, 2016 special called meeting.”

The other commissioners could not be immediately reached.

Newton County Chair Keith Ellis released a statement saying that he is not in support of a vote to lift the moratorium on Sept. 13.

"I will continue to serve as an advocate for all Newton County citizens, especially those whom will be impacted the greatest," Ellis said. "Therefore, I do not support lifting the moratorium until the September 21 date listed on the Resolution. If the project moves forward, I will continue to work collaboratively with all parties involved to minimize the impact of this project for all Newton citizens." 

Since the moratorium was imposed several groups, including the CAIR, Anti-Deformation League, NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union, implored Newton County to once again allow permits.

"We thank and commend the Newton County commissioners for pledging to lift the moratorium on permits for houses of worship," Edward Ahmed Mitchell, Executive Director of CAIR Georgia said. "Although Newton Muslims will once again have the right to proceed with building a cemetery and house of worship, they plan to first spend more time building bridges with their neighbors."

Newton County Chair Keith Ellis, commissioners J.C. Henderson, Nancy Schulz and Lanier Sims, along with County Manager Lloyd Kerr and County Attorney Megan Martin met with members of the At-Taqwa mosque in Doraville, including Imam Mohammed Islam during two seperate meetings Monday.

Imam Mohammed Islam, the leader of Masjid At-Taqwa in Doraville, has also accepted invitations to attend Sunday service at different churches in the area over the next four weeks.

"We believe that building bridges with our neighbors is far more important than immediately building a new house of worship and cemetery."

Newton County Development Services issued an Administrative Use Permit to Al Maad Al Islami, Inc. in June 2015. Prior to the moratorium being enacted, Al Maad Al Islami had not submitted plans to Newton County Development Services for review. Once an applicant submits plans, they are reviewed by various County departments and divisions including Engineering, Transportation, Planning and Zoning, and Fire Services, as well as applicable state agencies. Once plans are approved, the county issues permits and construction may begin.

“We pledge to work collaboratively with the applicant throughout the review process to ensure the project meets federal and state requirements and follows local ordinances and laws. Once plans are approved, the County can issue permits and construction begins.” County Manager Lloyd Kerr said.

During the Sept. 13 special-called meeting, the Commissioners plan to receive an update on proposed changes to the County's zoning ordinances, which will not affect previously approved projects, including the Al Maadi al Islami, Inc. project.

As of Aug. 26, Kerr said that no recommendations or changes had been made in the zoning ordinances.

The motion for the moratorium was made by District 1 Commissioner John Douglas and approved unanimously, with a date of Sept. 20 to review staff recommendations.