County officials say they have not decided to extend or end a controversial moratorium on permits of places of worship beyond the original Sept. 20 deadline, despite a legal notice of a public hearing regarding a possible extension that ran in the Aug. 28 edition of The Covington News.
Officials said the public notice was published as a precaution to comply with county zoning ordinances in case the moratorium is not lifted in the time period stated during the original motion for the five-week pause.
The public notice was sent out as “a best management practice” in case the Newton County Board of Commissioners was to extend a five-week moratorium on permits for places of worship, according to Newton County Public Information Officer Macrae Brenna-Fuller.
Newton County Zoning Administrator Judy Johnson said the county’s legal firm of Jarrard and Davis requested the notice be sent out in case of possible action by the BOC.
According to Newton County zoning ordinances, each amendment to the zoning ordinance shall go to a public hearing before the planning commission, if applicable, and the board of commissioners “at least 15 days prior to the hearing.”
“Following the procedures set forth in the 2009 county zoning ordinance, section 620-020(C) the Newton County Development Services department placed a public hearing ad in The Covington News on Aug. 28 2016 giving public notice regarding upcoming board of commissioners meeting to be held on Sept. 20 2016, in which the board may discuss the current moratorium with places of worship with possible action,” Johnson said.
A moratorium on permits for places of worship was unanimously approved by the board of commissioners on Aug. 16 after a proposed mosque was made public. The mosque, a cemetery and proposed school is set to be built on 135 acres at the intersection of Hwy. 162 and County Line Road. The land was purchased from Neely Farms Family by Al Maad Al Islami Inc, which owns a mosque in Doraville, on August 2015 for a total of $675,900 from Neely Family Farms, LLC.
A use permit was granted on June 16, 2015, by Newton County Developmental Services without a public hearing or notice because the county ordinance permits places of worship in all zoning areas. Cemeteries are also permitted in areas zoned agriculture residential, as long as the property is at least 10 acres in size and all graves are set back 40-feet from property or right-of-way lines, according to Section 510-151 of the Newton County Zoning Ordinance.
In accordance with Article Five of the Newton County zoning ordinance, a place of worship must be a minimum of four acres, and can only have accessory uses including Sunday school facilities, recreational areas, parking, cemetery, caretaker’s housing in a separate residential structure and residential living facilities such as a convent, abbey or parsonage. All places of worship fall under tax-exempt status.
The proposed mosque met all those standards, and did not need to come before the zoning board or BOC to be approved.
County Manager Lloyd Kerr told The News that county staff has not made any recommendations of changes to zoning on places of worship, as of Friday.
“To date, the Board of Commissioners has taken no further action concerning the moratorium placed on all places of worship,” Kerr told The News.