The emotional neighborhood debate over whether to house six priests in a rectory on West Wesley Drive heads to a city zoning review board this month.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta proposes to expand and convert a home at 136 W. Wesley Drive so it can house the priests, who now live in the rectory at the Cathedral of Christ the King on Peachtree Road.
But residents who live near the West Wesley house oppose the plan, saying the archdiocese wants to construct a building that is too large and will be too busy for their neighborhood. One resident compared the rectory to a boarding house.
“This is a very large structure,” lawyer Hakim Hilliard, who is representing residents opposed to the project, told members of the zoning committee of Neighborhood Planning Unit-B during a meeting July 29.
“This is not about the Archdiocese of Atlanta. It’s not about opposition to Christ the King church. It’s not about the Catholic church. It’s about enforcing the requirements of the city of Atlanta.”
Residents have appealed to the Board of Zoning Adjustment the decision by city staff members to issue building permits for the project. The board is scheduled to hear the appeal Aug. 14.
The NPU-B committee meeting on July 29 offered a public airing for both sides. A standing-room-only crowd of more than 50 people filled a meeting room at the Cathedral of St. Philip to listen to debate before members of the neighborhood planning unit that represents the area.
Hilliard argued errors made on plans submitted to city officials led to the erroneous issuance of the building permits for the rectory. “There are too many people here who care about this issue to ignore the fact these errors were made on these plans,” he said.
But lawyer Kathy Zickert, representing the archdiocese, said the permits were proper. “The ultimate issue here is whether a home for six priests requires a special use permit, and it does not,” Zickert said.
Members of the NPU-B board said they believed the debate centered on whether the rectory qualified as a “home” under city law.
The city allows six unrelated people to live together in a residential area, they said. So if the rectory is legally a home, it would be permitted. But neighbors argued it was not a home, but rather an extension of the church, and so required a special permit, committee members said.
Representatives of the archdiocese said the building would be the priests’ home.
“The rectory will be a home for the priests,” Monsignor Francis McNamee, the rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King, told board members. “It will not be an extension for the work of the cathedral. It is our home.”
On Aug. 5, the full board of NPU-B voted 22-1 to send comments to the appeals board, saying the NPU board believed the rectory qualified as a home.
“The Zoning Committee noted and is sensitive to concerns voiced by neighbors who attended the meeting,” the letter says. “Both the applicant and church agree that six unrelated individuals may occupy a single-family residence. Based on the information presented, the consensus of the Zoning Committee is that the structure would qualify as a single-family residence.”
The committee was quick to say it was not voting either for or against the appeal, but simply was offering a comment.
“The Zoning Committee re-emphasizes that these are comments only, and that NPU-B does not rule on or take a position as to whether this appeal should or should not be granted,” the letter says. “Further factual and legal considerations are directed to the BZA hearing.”