Last stand made against church

By Ed Brock

Some neighbors of the not yet built Amazing Grace World Outreach Church on Noah's Ark Road south of Jonesboro made one last effort to keep the church from coming.

The effort is not expected to succeed and Wesley E. Greene, the man who owned the lot where the church will be built and who successfully petitioned for a zoning change to allow that construction, said the church is making plans to go forward.

"We're having to do blueprints and all the engineering," Greene said. "We're in the process but it will be a while before we start any type of building."

In a 3 to 2 vote in late August the Clayton County Commission approved a request by Greene for a conditional use permit for the church. The property is currently zoned for agricultural use.

Some 300 people turned out at the meeting in which the permit was approved to protest the construction of the church, saying it would lead to increased traffic and other disruptions and would open the door to further development.

On Sept. 19 some of those against the building of the church sent a petition for a rehearing and reconsideration of the approval. The motion by attorney Louise Thomas cites several reasons why the group believes the decision was inappropriate.

For example, Thomas says in the document that Commissioner Charley Griswell "might not be eligible to be a bonafide voting commissioner, i.e., his sworn oath of office contains no day for date of swearing in." Also, Thomas says that because Griswell made the statement during the meeting that he "could not vote against a church" he was failing to live up to that oath of office and should recuse himself from voting on the issue.

Griswell said he's sure Clayton County Probate Judge Eugene Lawson did not make any mistake on his oath of office and he's not ashamed of expressing his sentiments about voting against a church and it doesn't excuse him from voting.

"That's my feeling," Griswell said. "That's one of the reasons I had for voting for it. If you don't voice your thoughts how will people know why you voted that way."

Greene called Thomas' request baseless.

According to his attorney, Greene said, the request itself is improper and the group can only file a lawsuit within 30 days of the decision in order to get the court to order the commission to reconsider its decision.

"They really did not take advantage of their right to file suit," Greene said.

Thomas also did not return several phone calls seeking comment but county attorney Don Comer said Thomas' request was not improper.

"They can always ask the authority that made the decision to reconsider," Comer said.

However, Commission Chairman Crandle Bray, who voted against Greene's petition along with Commissioner Gerald Matthews, said Griswell or one of the other two commissioners who voted for the petition, Carl Rhodenizer and Virginia Gray, would have to request the reconsideration. They are not expected to do so, Bray said.

Gray could not be reached for comment but Rhodenizer said he hasn't changed his mind about the petition and Griswell said that he hasn't either.

"I think it was a good appropriate zoning for that piece of property," Griswell said. "I didn't see anything wrong with it then and I don't see anything wrong with it now."

Greene also said many of the neighbors who initially protested the building of the church have now had a change of heart.

"After the meeting they said they were going to come to church and help us out," Greene said.

But one of those neighbors, Bob Lynch, said he doesn't know of anybody who has changed his or her mind about the church. Lynch said he was not completely disappointed to hear that the request for a reconsideration would probably fail.

"We felt good about it from the standpoint in that they need to look at what's going on," Lynch said. "We elected not to go the lawsuit way. We knew we could go into the courts and stymie things up but we want the commissioners to examine itself."