Katy Bryant, a resident of the Buckhead Forest neighborhood, talks about the residents’ concerns over Peacthree Road United Methodist Church’s plans to build a youth center.
Katy Bryant, a resident of the Buckhead Forest neighborhood, talks about the residents’ concerns over Peacthree Road United Methodist Church’s plans to build a youth center.

Buckhead Forest leaders think their neighborhood contains enough history for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places and that could be a future roadblock for a local church’s expansion plans.

The neighborhood’s more recent history includes battles with Peachtree Presbyterian Church and Peachtree Road United Methodist Church over their increasing need for space.

On March 18, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources informed the Buckhead Forest Civic Association that the neighborhood’s nomination for the National Register would be submitted to the National Register Review Board.

Inclusion on the National Register would put more restrictions on the Methodist church’s movements, Civic Association President Kim Kahwach said. The neighborhood is currently trying to resolve differences with the church over its plans to construct a 50,000-square-foot, three-story youth center.

“If these homes are part of a historic designation, you need to have a really good case for demolishing them,” Kahwach said. “I’m just not convinced that they need it that badly.”

Peachtree Road UMC Rev. Bill Britt said his church is continuing to work through its differences with the residents. The major concern among residents is the church expanding its footprint into the neighborhood.

Peachtree Road UMC owns four houses in Buckhead Forest, Britt said. Britt said the church intends to demolish two homes on Mathieson Drive Northeast and would maintain two homes on West Shadowlawn Avenue as residences for church staff.

“We have no interest in going further into the neighborhood,” Britt said. “That is not even a possibility for us right now.”

Britt’s overtures to the neighborhood haven’t swayed many from the belief that city approval of the project will allow the church to continue purchasing and bulldozing homes.

Katy Bryant lives in Buckhead Forest and her home on West Shadowlawn backs up to the site of the proposed youth center. She’s a veteran of zoning wars with Peachtree Road United Methodist and Peachtree Presbyterian. Bryant said she has been called the neighborhood’s “chief pugilist.”

She knows zoning and has achieved workable compromises with the churches in the past. Bryant showed off the end of Alberta Terrace, which backs up to a parking deck owned by Peachtree Presbyterian. It’s out of the way and, more importantly, out of sight of the neighborhood.

Bryant said the neighborhood isn’t opposed to development but wants to find the best compromise “to support reasonable, responsible development.”

“Churches are developers,” Bryant said. “Churches, they have a use that we have a little more of a warm feeling about. It’s all about dollars, keeping your congregation going.”

Church expansions pose a range of problems for neighborhoods beyond appearance and traffic, Bryant said. When a church builds a parking lot, it creates an impervious surface that pushes more rainwater through the neighborhood.

Buckhead Forest has 13 creeks, and flooding is an ongoing concern.

“It’s like this little ecosystem,” said Amy Halford, vice president of the Buckhead Forest Civic Association.

Peachtree Road UMC is in the process of obtaining a Special Use Permit for the youth center. Britt said the church still in the midst of going through the city’s zoning process.

Bryant said the church is trying to use the special use permit process to expand its zoning, Special Public Interest-9, beyond its current footprint “and circumvent the requirements of SPI-9.”

Neighbors continue to push back against the church’s plans. Recently residents began planting signs around the neighborhood that warn against Peachtree Road UMC’s “encroachment in our neighborhood.”

Britt declined to comment about the signs.

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011-2014. He is the founder and editor of Decaturish.com