By W. Wright Mitchell
The Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta and Archbishop Wilton Gregory recently came under fire for their decision to build a $2.2 million mansion for Archbishop Gregory on Habersham Road. Archbishop Gregory has since apologized for this decision, which was widely criticized by members of the Catholic Church as lavish, and indicated that he will vacate the Habersham Road home and move into more modest accommodations. But there is another, more expensive, controversy involving the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta that is brewing just down the street at 136 West Wesley Road in the Peachtree Heights West neighborhood.
For many decades, the single family residence served as the home to Atlanta’s Catholic archbishops. The archbishops were a welcome addition to the neighborhood, and the residents of Peachtree Heights West enjoyed having the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta as a neighbor. The Archdiocese has since sold the house to Christ the King Church for $1.9 million, however, and many residents are concerned about the church’s plans to construct a rectory on the premises.
In a 2013 Buckhead Reporter article, many Peachtree Heights West neighbors learned for the first time that Christ the King intends to relocate the church rectory, which currently sits on the Christ the King campus on Peachtree Road. To accomplish this feat, Christ the King will spend up to $1 million to build a 2,978-square-foot, two-story dormitory with four bedroom suites in the location of the current garage on the property. The plans also call for a substantial renovation to the existing single family home, which will include an additional three bedrooms, an expansive kitchen, two eating areas, a chapel, a large priests’ den complete with full bar, and a library. The rectory will house up to six priests, and the total cost of the project will likely exceed $3 million.
Upon learning about the rectory plans, many Peachtree Heights West residents expressed dismay that such a structure could be built in the midst of a neighborhood zoned for single family use. Upon further investigation, the residents learned that Christ the King obtained the building permit for the rectory without going through the process to obtain a special use permit, which would have required an impact analysis, and review and comment by Neighborhood Planning Unit B and the city of Atlanta Zoning Review Board. Christ the King has maintained that they are not required to go through this process.
In a neighborhood like Peachtree Heights West, which is zoned R-2A Single Family Residential, the only permitted principal uses and structures are single family detached dwellings, public schools and structures incidental to the operation of MARTA. Any use that is not customarily incidental and subordinate to the principal use of a single family home, such as a garage, greenhouse or swimming pool, requires a special use permit. A church rectory, which is a commonly recognized accessory structure of the church with which it is affiliated, requires such a special use permit.
The special use permitting process ensures that the interests of the neighborhood are appropriately considered before the construction of a potentially incompatible structure is undertaken. Peachtree Heights West residents are proud of its history. Developed in 1910, Peachtree Heights West is the only known suburb designed by the illustrious New York architectural firm of Carrere and Hastings. Many nationally and locally noted landscape architects and residential architects designed its homes and gardens. Peachtree Heights West was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. In 2006, the Cultural Landscape Foundation named Peachtree Heights West an “at risk” neighborhood.
To ensure that the historic character and quality of life in Peachtree Heights West is protected, Christ the King should go through the special permitting process like any other organization proposing a similar non-conforming project. At a recent meeting between Christ the King officials and Peachtree Heights West neighbors, however, Christ the King indicated that it does not intend to obtain a special use permit. This decision, unfortunately, raises the possibility that Christ the King may spend $3 million to build a rectory that cannot be lawfully occupied.
W. Wright Mitchell is a resident of Peachtree Heights West and an Atlanta attorney. He can be reached at email@example.com.