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Sewer, roads might be issues for proposed La Luz del Mundo development in Flowery Branch
Officials say some infrastructure not up to anticipated growth
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A religious group is looking to turn 272 acres in Flowery Branch into a development featuring housing, retail, hotels, offices and church space at 5071 Hog Mountain Road, across from Wade Orr Road and next to Sterling on the Lake, a 1,000-acre subdivision off Spout Springs Road. - photo by Jeff Gill

La Luz Del Mundo may have some infrastructure challenges ahead with a proposed multi-use development off Hog Mountain and Wade Orr roads in Flowery Branch.

The South Hall city has said it “cannot currently offer sewer capacity to a large residential development.” LLDM’s Light at Flowery Branch calls for 314 single-family units and 134 multifamily units.

Future sewer availability “is a hot topic for us,” Flowery Branch city planner Rich Atkinson said at the City Council’s June 27 meeting, in discussing a proposed 200-home subdivision off McEver Road. “We’re going to have to have a new sewer plant to handle this influx of new customers. We’ve approved a lot of residential, and it came on in a big wave.”

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Men sing hymns during a service at La Luz Del Mundo in Gainesville on Wednesday, March 27, 2019. The seating during the service is divided between male and females. - photo by Austin Steele

The subdivision was approved on first reading after a lengthy council discussion about future sewer capacity. 

“Growth is here now and is coming this direction … but we need to make sure as we go forward to get the best bang for our buck,” Councilman Joe Anglin said. 

LLDM’s proposal hasn’t been officially filed with the city, but preliminary plans also show a hotel, commercial/marketplace, school site, fellowship hall, administrative offices and nearly 16 acres for a “cultural center/park.”

The church 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.”

When forwarded city documents on June 27 citing the sewer concerns, church spokesman Jack Freeman said in an email, “I will look at this package with the team today.”

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Parishioners worship during an April service at the Marietta location of the Light of the World church. - photo by Joshua Silavent

Joshua Scoggins, the church’s lawyer in the potential rezoning, said last week that he didn’t know how the sewer issue would affect development plans.

“We’ve met with the city’s officials in the past to discuss various utility issues, but it’s been so long ago that I don’t really recall what the sewer situation was like,” he said.

City Council members also have expressed recent concerns over traffic.

On May 2, the council voted down a 62-acre multi-use development featuring 520 apartments and commercial outparcels off Spout Springs and Hog Mountain roads — less than 2 miles from the LLDM property.

Anglin said he was concerned the city’s roads, particularly Spout Springs Road leading to Interstate 985, couldn’t handle the number of cars flowing from the project.

Traffic improvements are on the way, including a widening of Spout Springs and I-985, but if the council approved the complex, “we would create a traffic situation before we ever dealt with the (infrastructure),” Anglin said.

Atkinson has said a traffic study would be required as part of the LLDM rezoning request.

Flowery Branch has also shown recently it can oppose a proposed church rezoning.

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The Rev. Rob Bruce, pastor of McEver Road United Methodist Church in Oakwood, speaks to the Flowery Branch City Council Thursday, June 27, about a proposal to build a new church in the city.

McEver Road United Methodist Church in Oakwood is hoping to build a new church off McEver Road at Gainesville Street. Flowery Branch staff is recommending that City Council deny the project, saying it believes that corner should be reserved for neighborhood shopping.

The city’s land-use plan “calls for this site to be neighborhood commercial,” says a staff report, citing area subdivisions under construction. “It should be a commercial development that serves nearby neighborhoods and the city as a whole.”

Unlike LLDM, which owns its 272-acre site, McEver Road is looking to buy the property, which is also across from Jim Crow Road.

The church has a contract to buy the property and “it’s probably going to close in about 60 days,” said the Rev. Rob Bruce, the church’s pastor, as the issue went to City Council on June 27.

The council ended up putting off a vote on the McEver Road UMC matter to July 18.

McEver Road UMC’s attorney, David Dickerson, told the council he had presented a letter to Mayor Mike Miller “raising a few constitutional objections.”

“We feel like current zoning is a detriment to us in keeping us from being able to use the property as we’d like to,” he said. “Under Georgia law, the Georgia courts and the Georgia legislature have indicated that churches get special consideration in zoning matters.”

Draft paperwork filed on the LLDM development with Flowery Branch features a page declaring “Reservation of constitutional and legal rights.”

The document 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.”

That’s customary, however, in rezoning applications.

“If that letter is not filed with the local government, you are precluded from challenging any decision later in court,” Scoggins has said.

LLDM is facing legal problems on a much larger scale.

The church, which is based in Mexico and claims 5 million followers in 58 countries, was dealt a serious blow in June when its leader, Naasón Joaquín García, a self-proclaimed apostle, and his co-defendants were arrested in California on suspicion of child rape, statutory rape, molestation, human trafficking, child pornography and extortion.

“This is very unfortunate, however we stand by the international leader of the church, Naason Joaquin as we know that he is a clean and good man," Freeman said at the time. “I have never witnessed anything other than respect and care from him. We are certain that this will come to pass and he will be found innocent on all allegations.”

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California Deputy Attorney General Amanda Plisner, far right at podium, asks the judge to bar the defense attorneys from working closely and sharing information with members of the church of Naason Joaquin Garcia, as he appears in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Friday, June 21, 2019. Garcia, surrounded by his attorneys, third from left, and his co-defendants were arrested earlier this month on suspicion of child rape, statutory rape, molestation, human trafficking, child pornography - photo by Associated Press
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