By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published August 8, 2014
ATLANTA—While renovations are underway preparing the home at 136 West Wesley Road to be the rectory of the Cathedral of Christ the King, a neighborhood zoning committee heard two points of view on the project July 29.
After more than an hour of discussion, the zoning committee of Neighborhood Planning Unit-B adjourned its meeting and later gave an advisory comment, agreeing with the position of representatives of the Cathedral that if six priests are living in the rectory, it will still be a single-family use of the property.
An attorney representing a neighbor opposing the renovation contends that the rectory will be an accessory building to the cathedral itself and not a single-family residence, thereby requiring a special use permit.
The comments of the zoning committee are advisory only.
The matter is scheduled to be heard next at an Aug. 14 meeting of the City of Atlanta Board of Zoning Adjustment.
The city of Atlanta has granted a building permit for the renovations to take place. The West Wesley home, where successive archbishops of Atlanta have lived since 1966, is being renovated so the priests currently living on the grounds of the cathedral parish can move to West Wesley, a few blocks away, and the former rectory at the cathedral can be utilized for other parish needs.
Attorney Hakim Hilliard with W. Wright Mitchell, an immediate neighbor and also an attorney, are appealing the issuance of the building permits. In addition to arguing that the rectory would be an ancillary building to the church, and require a special use permit, Hilliard contended that the building permits had not been posted in a timely manner, that some drawings stated the home was zoned R-2A and others R-3, and that the cost of the project had increased since the permits were granted.
A number of people raised their hands when asked if they came to the meeting concerned about the project. About 40 to 50 people crowded the meeting room inside St. Philip’s Episcopal Cathedral on Peachtree Road.
In response, attorney Kathryn Zickert, representing the archdiocese and Christ the King Cathedral, said the statute requires an appeal to the Board of Zoning Adjustment be filed within 30 days. She said they had met with the appellant in March and reviewed the plans for the project on site. The appeal wasn’t filed until June 30, she said.
She said that the rectory would be a residence for the priests and, contrary to points raised at the meeting, would not be used as a counseling center and would not consist of individual locked units, like an apartment building, but would be one home for the six priests.
“Might there be people who stay here occasionally in the one guest room? Yes, the same way we might in our own home,” she said.
She pointed out that in the city of Atlanta by definition up to six unrelated people may live in a home and it is considered a single-family residence.
“You cannot discriminate against them simply because they are priests,” she said.
“The ultimate issue here is whether a home for six priests requires a special use permit, and it does not,” Zickert said.
Bill Murray, chairman of the zoning committee for NPU-B, noted that other religious denominations owned property for residences in the same area, separate from the locations of their churches.
Another committee member said that in her neighborhood six unrelated people who work at the same restaurant also live in one home.
Msgr. Frank McNamee, Cathedral pastor, said, “The rectory for a Catholic priest is his private space. I go there at the end of the day. I eat supper. It is our home. We do not have counseling. Like you, we enjoy that quiet time.”
“It will be a home for the priests. It will not be an extension of the cathedral,” Msgr. McNamee said. “It will be our home.”
The garage that was on the West Wesley property has been taken down and in its place living quarters are being added that will be connected by a breezeway to the original portion of the home.
While that caused concern to some who spoke, Murray pointed out that it was not that different from a mother-in-law suite that could be added to a home.
In its comments following the meeting, the zoning committee said, “The zoning committee noted and is sensitive to concerns voiced by neighbors who attended the meeting. 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.”
“However, 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. Further factual and legal considerations are directed to the BZA hearing,” the comments concluded.
The full Neighborhood Planning Unit-B board met on Tuesday evening, Aug. 5, and confirmed sending a comment letter to the Atlanta Board of Zoning Adjustment that they view the rectory at 136 West Wesley Road as a single-family residence and not as an accessory to the cathedral.
Some Cathedral of Christ the King parishioners want the rectory to stay on the Peachtree Road campus of the cathedral, and some neighbors don’t want the West Wesley home to become a rectory, Bill Murray, chairman of NPU-B zoning committee, said in a telephone interview Aug. 7. But those considerations don’t address “the issues at hand.”
“We see it absolutely meets all the residence requirements and will be used as a residence and not as an accessory to the church,” Murray said.
The NPU did not have to make a comment, “but we felt both sides appeared before that board wanting the NPU to make a comment,” he said.
On its website, the Board of Zoning Adjustment said it takes into consideration the recommendation of the Neighborhood Planning Unit.
Murray also commented that “there’s a lot of misinformation or old information” regarding the rectory. For example, he said, people in the neighborhood feared that if the rooms where each of the six priests will live were equipped with kitchenettes, the property could be turned into rental units in the future if it was ever sold.
“They (the kitchenettes) had been removed, and the proper plans and change orders had been filed, but a lot of people didn’t know that,” he said.
Regarding whether submitted plans said the property was zoned R-3 or R-2A, Murray said, “All documents filed with the city of Atlanta reflected R-2A.”
“In our mind … the clear issue was, was it a residence or a church accessory structure, and we felt it was a residence,” he said.