A Buckhead church and a Buckhead neighborhood are at odds over the church’s plans to build a youth center.
In this corner: Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, established in 1925 and currently located at 3180 Peachtree Road NW. The 7,100-member congregation wants to construct a 50,000-square-foot, three-story youth center behind the church.
And in this corner: the Buckhead Forest Neighborhood, 126 single-family homes and multiple apartments and townhomes bordered by Peachtree, Piedmont and Roswell roads.
The neighborhood and the church have a complex relationship. Residents of the neighborhood use church facilities, like the pre-school, and participate in other church activities. But the residents have in the past taken issue with the church’s expansion.
Peachtree Road UMC Rev. Bill Britt said the youth center will be a $9.2 million improvement that will be open to the entire neighborhood. He said the church has discussed its plans with neighbors since November 2011. Britt said he thought both sides had worked out an agreement, but neighborhood leaders changed their mind.
“We’re hoping that the city can mediate with us and help us go something that’s mutually beneficial,” Britt said.
Kim Kahwach, President of the Buckhead Forest Civic Association, said the neighborhood’s main concern is that the church intends to buy more single-family homes for further expansion.
“Currently, Peachtree Road United Methodist Church has more than enough property to build an amazing Youth Center in their [zoning] district without eroding the fabric of our neighborhood,” Kahwach said in an email.
“Buckhead Forest Civic Association has approached Peachtree Road United Methodist Church with a spirit of cooperation, but we are waiting for the same approach to be returned.”
Britt said the neighborhood has a misperception about the church’s plans.
“There’s this perception that maybe we’re trying to buy a number of houses in the neighborhood and encroach,” Britt said. “We’re trying to set the back boundary of our campus and we can come forward with any future improvements. We’ve tried to show them that plan … We have no interest at all in buying or tearing down houses after that.”
Britt said the church is in the process of applying for a special-use permit to allow the church to build the youth center. Britt said the church has already requested two deferrals to find a compromise with residents. He said the application could be heard by the Neighborhood Planning Unit- B in April or May.
“We want to be good neighbors and we want to make it open and available as a community center,” Britt said. “We don’t see our church as a country club just for members.”
Kahwach said she expects the church will be able to come up with a plan to satisfy its neighbors.
“We anticipate an amended full campus special use permit plan, not yet public, that respects our single family district so that an acquisition and demolition precedent won’t be set for other neighborhoods adjacent to [zoning] districts,” she said.