Editor’s note: The following is a statement from Lloyd Kerr, Newton County Manager.
In June of 2015, Newton County Development Services staff met with a private local attorney to discuss the possible development of a place of worship on a 135-acre tract of land located at GA Highway 162 and County Line Road.
Additionally, a follow up meeting was held to further discuss zoning requirements and development regulations. Much like the initial meeting, the second meeting served as a working meeting for staff and representatives of the owners to discuss the possible development.
Currently, places of worship are permitted in every zoning category provided the site meets the minimum requirements of the Newton County Zoning Ordinance, and the applicant obtains an Administrative Use Permit. Although this type of approval does not require public notice or public hearings, Newton County Development Services followed correct procedures and protocol and has not attempted to withhold information from the public. Similar project inquiries are routine and applicants typically do not move forward to submit plans or obtain development permits.
To date, the applicant has not submitted plans to Newton County Development Services for review. Once an applicant submits plans, they are reviewed by various county departments and divisions such as Engineering, Transportation, Planning and Zoning, Fire Services and applicable state agencies. The review process ensures the County meets federal and state requirements and follows local ordinances and laws. Once plans are approved, the County issues permits and construction begins.
As a county, we understand the public’s concern regarding a development of this size and the impact it may have on surrounding neighborhoods. The right to practice one’s faith is protected by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which prohibits local governments from burdening citizens desiring to use land for purposes of worship with regulations not required of other similar land uses. Should this project move forward, the County pledges to work with the developers to protect the interests of our citizens to the best extent possible.