No formal papers have been filed or public meetings held since a religious group’s plans for a 272-acre development in Flowery Branch became public more than a year ago.
But Mexico-based La Luz Del Mundo hasn’t given up its vision for a multi-use community at 5071 Hog Mountain Road, near Wade Orr Road.
“We own the property, and we have full intentions on going forward with the project,” said Jack Freeman, spokesman for the church, in an interview last week in Flowery Branch.
He didn’t have a time frame for the project and neither did lawyer Josh Scoggins of Roswell.
“Our team’s engineers and architects are still in the process of refining both the conceptual master plan, as well as elevations for the houses and the various commercial and institutional buildings,” he said in an email. “At this point, there is no definitive timetable for submitting any type of application to the city.”
Freeman said the development is a separate issue from the sex abuse case against the church’s leader, Naason Joaquin Garcia, that Freeman believes will end up being dismissed.
“I understand the case brings an image, but the case is separate from the project,” he said. “We are waiting for whatever is going to happen in the case … but I don’t think that’s going to be a determining factor on next steps (for the development).”
LLDM has identified the project, which first emerged publicly in September 2018, as “City of Light of the World” and as its “first effort to build cities where the values that distinguish human beings are cultivated, (people) live in an atmosphere of peace, equity, solidarity and above all, on the principles that human beings can achieve the harmony of living together by applying the statutes of healthy coexistence that the Lord Jesus Christ left to his apostles in teaching.”
As LDM Central USA Evangelical Ministries of Houston, the church has filed draft paperwork with Flowery Branch, laying out basic plans for the property, which is between Spout Springs and Capitola Farm roads.
The tentative plan is to rezone the property from single-family residential to planned unit development.
According to the document, the project designates 10.7 acres for a hotel; 17.2 acres, commercial/marketplace; 6.7 acres, multifamily development; 57.3 acres, single-family development; 3.2 acres, school site; 18.1 acres, fellowship hall; 16.8 acres, administrative offices; and 15.8 acres, cultural center/park.
“The total acreage to be developed is 161.9 acres with 314 single-family units and 134 multifamily units,” the application states.
Freeman said he understands people’s anxiety about the development, but “I can’t believe that people still say, ‘This cult is putting up a compound. It’s going to be walled-off.’ There is no wall, this is not a compound, and there’s no security gate to keep people in or out.”
The development has caused a stir on social media and such a flurry of questions among residents that the city of Flowery Branch set up a webpage to field potential questions.
One of the concerns has been how much land the church owns.
Beyond the 272-acre site, bought for $8 million, the church has bought another 43 acres in surrounding property — some in unincorporated Hall — that includes two tracts on Blackjack Road, according to Hall County tax records.
“As far as the LLDM property, we think we’ve satisfied the review of the sale,” Hall County Chief Appraiser Steve Watson said in an email last week. “Of course, we are curious as anyone else would be to see what plans lie ahead for the property. Even though the ownership appears to be that of a religious group, the property remains taxable until such time that the property would qualify as a place of religious worship.”
Freeman agreed, adding he expected that non-religious property uses, such as homes in the development, would be taxable.
“No one is going to be picking up our tab,” he said.
As for the multiple properties, “we don’t have any plans for them,” Freeman said. “It’s a just-in-case type of thing. When construction starts, we’re going to need different sites for offices, management and stuff like that. We have no plans for continuously, like a cancer, absorbing Flowery Branch (until) eventually we own it.”