By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published March 3, 2011
As many Asian communities throughout the area observed the lunar New Year in February, members of Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church doubly celebrated as their battle against Gwinnett County commissioners and a proposed waste transfer station next to their church finally came to an end.
After two years of town hall meetings, consistently calling and writing to commissioners and fervently praying, the Norcross church was able to purchase the land just south of its campus, halting work on a proposed waste transfer station that would have been clearly visible from church grounds.
Church members came together on New Year’s to show their appreciation for those in the local community, Catholic and otherwise, who helped them in their fight over the last couple of years.
“We are brimming with excitement toward the future,” Father Francis Tran, administrator of the Norcross church, wrote in a letter to supporters. “We have emerged from this experience with a renewed faith in God and a strengthened sense of community. The Lord indeed works in mysterious ways.”
Following a 3-2 vote on Feb. 3, 2009, by Gwinnett County commissioners, the waste station was given the green light to move forward despite the recommendations of the Gwinnett County Planning Department and Planning Commission that the transfer station was not consistent with the neighborhood and its tenants, which included local and national businesses as well as the church.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta, on behalf of Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church, filed a lawsuit against Gwinnett County and Lancaster Enterprises LLC following the decision to rezone the land. The lawsuit was settled out of court in late December 2010 with the agreement that the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church would purchase the land for $2.7 million.
Father Tran is excited about the recent acquisition of the property since the Norcross community continues to grow. With over 1,100 families in the church, Father Tran said it is now much more likely they can consider expanding their facilities with a new church and other buildings. Members see a great need to expand, especially to serve the youth of the community, he said.
Skip Kazmarek, a lawyer who represented the church, spoke at the New Year’s celebration, saying that his experience with Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church has been a highlight of his legal career.
“Representing you … has been one of the great privileges and one of the great honors of my life,” he told the large crowd Feb. 5.
Other guests were recognized, including Dennis Kelly, a project manager for Catholic Construction Services of the archdiocese who has been a supporter of the church.
“We are elated and very happy with the outcome of the lawsuit,” Kelly said. “I want to thank Father Francis and C.C. (Nguyen) because they are the heroes. They are the ones who pushed this thing and made it happen.”
Kelly has grown close to the church members during his involvement over the past two years and felt honored and humbled when Father Tran told him he was truly a member of their community.
C.C. Nguyen, a member of Holy Vietnamese Martyrs, also praised Father Tran for his involvement, from leading the prayer efforts to rallying the community to get involved in the county meetings.
“Every ship needs a captain and he is our captain. We love him dearly and we are grateful for his service,” Nguyen told the crowd.
The proposed waste transfer station was met with strong opposition from the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs community right from the start. Led by Father Tran, members jammed Gwinnett County meetings in early 2009 as commissioners voted to rezone the nine-acre plot of land adjacent to the church. Holding up large orange signs that read “No,” the members silently showed their disapproval of the proposed waste transfer station. At the New Year’s event, Nguyen held up one of the signs and asked the crowd with a smile, “You guys remember this?”
The festive celebration also included musical performances and dancing to help ring in the New Year, though much of the focus was given to showing thanks for support from local businesses, fellow Catholics and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
Archbishop Gregory “supported our effort from day one, providing guidance and resources,” Father Tran told supporters in his letter. “So did the 12 Catholic parishes and missions throughout Gwinnett County. Many others also provided assistance, including our neighbors, the surrounding businesses, schools and members of the local media. … We’d like to take this opportunity to express a heartfelt thank you to all of you who embraced our cause and fought this valiant fight. The outcome today would simply not be possible without your contribution.”
Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church is a mission of Holy Cross Church in Tucker. Father Richard Tibbetts, pastor of Holy Cross, led the group in a prayer of thanksgiving for the outcome of this long-running battle.
“We thank you God for the gift of this community and for the wonderful things that they have received despite all of their struggles,” he prayed.
“They are still part of us at Holy Cross and are our family. It is so wonderful to celebrate with them this evening,” he said.
Holy Vietnamese Martyrs is continuing fundraising to pay for the land purchase and hopefully to expand its facilities. The site at the corner of Beaver Ruin and Shackleford roads was once a car dealership, but has grown into a thriving Catholic community. The church members continue to ask for prayers as they move forward with grateful hearts.
“Many things once seemed impossible are becoming a reality. God willing, our congregation will build a new glorious church on this very site in the future, hopefully very near future,” Father Tran said.