With the unveiling of a website and filing of a draft application, a Mexico-based religious group’s plans for a 272-acre multi-use development — Light at Flowery Branch — are creating a renewed buzz among South Hall residents.
Posts are back on social media, and Sterling on the Lake, the 2,000-acre subdivision sitting next to the proposed site, has recently updated residents through email.
“My biggest thing is what’s this going to do to traffic, what’s it going to do to property values?” area resident David Nixon said of the potential development. “Having this large, sort of questionable entity building a city within our city — are there going to be infrastructure upgrades that need to be made?
“And it’s a church. They’re not going to be paying a lot of that. Our property taxes are.”
LDM Central USA Evangelical Ministries of Houston has filed draft paperwork with Flowery Branch laying out basic plans for the property at 5071 Hog Mountain Road, which is between Spout Springs and Capitola Farm roads. Capitola Farm Road connects Hog Mountain Road back to Spout Springs, cutting through Sterling on the Lake.
LDM, which identifies itself on the website as The Light of the World Church, is seeking 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.
One concern from residents has been whether the property would be taxable because of the church’s involvement in the project.
“I can’t really speak to what will be tax-exempt or not because I don’t have an official plan yet,” said Rich Atkinson, the city’s community development director.
The document also features a map and a page declaring “Reservation of constitutional and legal rights,” which says “a refusal by the city of Flowery Branch to approve the application, as requested by the applicant, will be unconstitutional in that they will constitute a taking of the applicant’s and owner’s property rights.”
“Potential litigation talk is not out of the ordinary or surprising,” said Rich Atkinson, the city’s community development director.
Joshua Scoggins, the church’s Cumming lawyer, also downplayed the legal language.
“If that letter is not filed with the local government, you are precluded from challenging any decision later in court,” he said.
Scoggins said the early filings in Flowery Branch are drafts, “and they do not constitute any type of formal submittal.”
Atkinson also said as much.
“To be clear, the city has not received an official submittal, and this is not up for a public hearing,” he said.
Atkinson also noted that a traffic study would be required as part of the rezoning.
The Light at Flowery Branch website goes into some details about the development, containing photographs and renderings.
The site says commercial, office and retail space will be available, as well as academic and cultural centers.
“We strive to create a sustainable development that will complement the natural environment and support the growing economy of Flowery Branch,” the site says.
“We seek to enhance the livability of residents and neighboring communities by providing a better quality of life for residents, cultivating a safe and peaceful environment, and providing opportunities for employment, education and recreation.”
The Light at Flowery Branch logo features gold sun rays and a motto, “Living in God’s Harmony Together.”
There wasn’t much harmony from area residents when news broke in September that the development was in the works.
A meeting between Scoggins and Sterling on the Lake subdivision residents at Mulberry Creek Community Center on JM Turk Road was canceled because of Hall County’s public safety concerns due to an expected 1,000-1,500 attendees.
Word had spread beyond Sterling to other neighborhoods through social media. The outcry also triggered a petition drive on change.org.
Instead, some 100 people gathered at Cherokee Bluffs Park, 2-3 miles from the proposed site on Hog Mountain Road at Wade Orr Road, to talk about the development.
“As long as we stand together, we can make our voice heard and be a force to be reckoned with,” resident Doug Davis said at the meeting.
There also have been concerns about the nature of the group.
Hall County records show the property owner as LDM Central Evangelical Ministries, and a March 2017 Facebook post links the property to La Luz del Mundo, translated as The Light of the World church, based in Guadalajara, Mexico.
LLDM has identified the project 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.”
The church is led by a person calling himself Apostle of Jesus Christ Naasón Joaquín García, who toured the Flowery Branch site, according to an English translation of the Facebook post, written in Spanish.