Chabad of Gwinnett’s current home is a nondescript, rented office facing Holcomb Bridge Road in Norcross. Rabbi Yossi Lerman says the 2,000 square-foot space is inadequate for the myriad of services he wants to offer a growing Jewish community.
Two miles away, at the intersection of Spalding Drive and Crooked Creek Road, is a wooded, triangular-shaped acre, which Chabad has owned for a decade and is zoned to permit construction of a planned “Enrichment Center,” a triangular-shaped building with 6,000 square feet on each of two floors.
The estimated cost of that project, which was delayed by a downturn in the economy a decade ago, is $3 million to $4 million. Of that, the Chabad serving Gwinnett and Hall counties has raised about $500,000.
The problem is next door.
In May, Chabad bought an adjacent half-acre residential lot at 5815 Crooked Creek Drive and asked the city of Peachtree Corners to change its zoning to be the same as the larger parcel, permitting construction of a 2,500-square-foot chapel that would straddle the properties.
That half acre is at the center of a simmering zoning dispute that could reach a boil before the issue is resolved.
“This is a very historic moment for us at Chabad of Gwinnett,” Lerman told about 30 people who came to a Jan. 15 meeting to discuss the unexpected obstacle.
Lerman said that Chabad believes there are upwards of 10,000 Jews in Gwinnett County. “We have made a great dent in Gwinnett,” Lerman told the meeting. “Hundreds and hundreds of families have been enriched.”
There are more than a dozen churches and religious institutions within a couple of miles of the Chabad property, which is situated in an area of single-family homes, apartments, an elementary school and an office park.
Peachtree Corners’ planning and zoning staff recommended approval of the rezoning request, provided that Chabad agree to modifications of its plan. But on Oct. 15, the planning commission voted 4-1 not to recommend the project for approval by the city council.
Neighbors opposing the rezoning raised issues of traffic flow and water runoff, and, according to minutes of the meeting, expressed worries about a negative impact on property values, increased noise, and that Chabad’s presence would “change the character of the neighborhood.”
No one from Chabad attended the planning commission meeting, which took place during the holiday of Sukkot. Rather than seek a delay because of Sukkot, Chabad accepted an attorney’s guidance that the rezoning would be approved.
Now Chabad must wait for the March 24 city council meeting and a vote by the mayor and six council members. In the coming weeks, Chabad of Gwinnett plans to seek support from other Chabad centers and the broader Jewish community, and from churches in Peachtree Corners.
Lerman said that Chabad met with Mayor Mike Mason and that he was supportive. Mason told the AJT, “My standard practice is not to make any decision on a zoning case until I hear all the facts and we haven’t held the public hearings yet. In fact, our city attorney cautions us not to prejudge a vote — and discuss it publicly.”
“Our presence has to be there,” Nancy Mears, one of those attending the Chabad meeting, said to applause. “I think perhaps, maybe, they felt emboldened to speak things they would not have spoken had we been there.”
“We need our friends. We need our families. They need to know that there are a lot of people who support this,” said Scott Frank, an intellectual property attorney who is leading the fundraising efforts.
One person who plans to attend and support Chabad is Jim Gaffey, a member of Mary Our Queen Catholic Church, located seven-tenths of a mile from the Chabad property. Gaffey, who attended the Chabad meeting, told the AJT, “I grew up in a very diverse religious community which enriched me in many very positive ways. As a 40-year resident of Peachtree Corners I will be speaking up about my support of the Chabad rezoning application. We have many religious denominations within walking distance of their property. Why not a Chabad?”
There are two other synagogues in Gwinnett County: Congregation Beit Yitzchak in Norcross, founded by Bukharian Jews, and Temple Beth David, a Reform congregation in Snellville.
During the meeting, Lerman was asked whether the Anti-Defamation League should be engaged, the questioner suggesting that anti-Jewish sentiment might have been involved. “We’re talking to anybody and everybody. We don’t know what was in those people’s heads who recommended denial. Our goal here is to make sure there isn’t some sort of social injustice, some impact on our freedom of religion.
“I think it all comes down to the word ‘change’” and recognizing that change can be unsettling for long-time residents, Lerman said. When Chabad of Gwinnett met with some of its anticipated new neighbors, “One of the big lessons we learned from this experience was, they wanted to understand who we were, what we were planning, not only immediately, but in three, five, 10 years from now. What was our long-term vision?” Lerman said.
With or without the rezoning of the adjacent property, Chabad of Gwinnett intends to build its Enrichment Center on the land already zoned for that purpose. “We’re just asking for a little slice and we’ll be just like everybody else here, good neighbors,” Lerman said.
- Dave Schechter
- Local News
- Chabad of Gwinnett
- Gwinnett County
- Holcomb Bridge Road
- Rabbi Yossi Lerman
- Hall County
- Peachtree Corners
- real estate
- Mayor Mike Mason
- Nancy Mears
- City Council
- Peachtree corners City Council
- Jim Gaffey
- Scott Frank
- Mary Our Queen Catholic Church