Amid concerns from neighbors, Forsyth County Commissioners voted this week to approve a new church on Bennett Road in north Forsyth.
Commissioners voted unanimously on Thursday to approve a conditional-use permit for Iglesia Luz y Vida and applicant H. Eugene Barrington to build a place of worship on 8 acres on Bennett Road. The proposed buildings will total 4,475 square feet.
“[Martin Acevedo, pastor of the church], I've known him for about 15 years. They've served faithfully, and his ministry began to grow and outgrew a church,” said the Rev. Mark Smith, with Abundant Life Church. “So, they felt like they needed to move out and plant.”
During the church's approval process, nearby residents have pushed back, including at planning commission meetings last year, and several residents said at Thursday’s meeting that they didn't oppose a church being built but felt the location between a residence and a neighborhood was not a fit for the rural road.
“The best thing to me would be if this property is not used for this purpose, that I see as commercial-type purpose; that's the only reason,” said Christina MacCartney. “I love Publix. I love Chick-fil-A. Those are great companies. I wouldn't want that on Bennett Road directly in-between residences either.”
Several speakers echoed that sentiment, and also raised concerns about increased traffic, lights, noise and the property being on a septic system.
The church property is across Bennett Road from Grogan Disposal Company, which resident Andy Coleman pointed out has its entrance on Crossroads Road rather than Bennett.
“I went to the zoning of that property in 1991 as an 11-year-old with my dad because I grew up in this area,” Coleman said. “If you will go back ... and look at the conditions of that zoning, there's a ton of them for an old zoning, when we didn't put that many in back then.”
At previous meetings, neighbors carried signs and wore buttons saying, “Keep it Rural.”
Commissioners discussed other areas where places of worship are next to residential areas, but in many of those cases the residential came second. If not residential areas, commissioners asked, where should these go?
Neighbors favored industrial or business-zoned areas.
“The way this county is growing, as it grows, we're going to have more and more need for religious facilities and where are they going to go?” said District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent. “If they're not in your neighborhood closer to where you are, I mean, where do they go. Eventually they're all going to be close to a house.”
Tom Brown, the county's director of planning and zoning, said the area along Ga. 400 is planned for commercial use under the county's comprehensive plan.
“Our comprehensive plan identifies that we are going to continue to leverage Ga. 400 for business and industry,” he said. “So, all signs point to more commercial businesses or more intensity of commercial businesses along 400. I know this property is not along 400, but staff saw it as being fairly close, and they thought it would be a transitional-use from this heavier commercial and industrial presence on Ga. 400 to what clearly is a residential and agricultural feel on the rest of this road.”