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Divided Johns Creek City Council votes to expand synagogue

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — After a long and arduous discussion on plans to expand Chabad of North Fulton, a synagogue and Jewish community center, the Johns Creek City Council approved special permits and zoning variances to jumpstart development.

The City Council came to its decision in its third motion in a 4-2 vote at its Nov. 28 meeting, amending the city’s zoning map. Councilmembers Stacy Skinner and Dilip Tunki cast the dissenting votes; Councilwoman Erin Elwood was absent from the vote.

The proposed site plans call for three new special permits and four variances across three parcels, two of them acquired in recent years. Development would include constructing an 8,000-square-foot parsonage house, a two-story 15,000-square-foot gym, an outdoor basketball court, three recreational fields, expansion of the existing daycare play field and three gazebos.

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A map shows the proposed site plans for Chabad of North Fulton, which includes an 8,000-square-foot parsonage house, a two-story 15,000-square-foot gym, an outdoor basketball court, three recreational fields, expansion of the existing daycare play field and three gazebos.

Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz, the Chabad of North Fulton director, spoke on behalf of the organization to explain Chabad’s need to expand, which primarily rests on the lack of outdoor space for its successful, long-running, five-week summer day camp.

Sound barrier

City staff recommended the application with conditions, such as no lighting or loudspeakers on the recreational fields, as well as denial of one variance, which would allow encroachment of a new 46,200-square-foot recreational field into a 50-foot buffer and 10-foot improvement setback.

While Minkowicz said he accepts the light restrictions on the fields, the loudspeakers would only be used five weeks of the year in the summer.

But what stifled swift decision-making is denial of the variance. The field, as planned, would impede on the buffer, which acts like a noise barrier to surrounding neighborhoods, Johns Creek Community Development Director Ben Song said.

Minkowicz emphasized the positive relationships he’s developed with the surrounding residential areas, including the one he lives in. He also noted that the president of a homeowners association in one of the nearby neighborhoods has voiced his support.

Councilman Chris Coughlin explained his decision to allow encroachment, harkening to the city’s commitment to health and wellness, and said the intent of the buffer won’t be impacted because of the encroachment’s limited space.

“You know, it’s for the kids,” Coughlin said.

Skinner, who voted against the measure, had fears over setting a precedent for future zoning applications. But Councilman Larry DiBiase said the vote wouldn’t set a precedent because it pertains to an individual parcel.

While city staff and the Planning Commission recommended denial of the related variance, the City Council ultimately decided to allow encroachment but with a condition to add a sound mitigation fence along the recreational field.

Skinner said the fence would not only impose undue expense, but also said the fence would not be truly effective in mitigating sound.

“This is a rec field. This isn't a professional soccer field or football field,” Skinner said.


Also at the meeting, the City Council recognized the Johns Creek Arts Center. Mayor John Bradberry read a proclamation, loaded with the center’s achievements and its features, which define its important role in the community.

“I see that you’ve done so much,” Bradberry said halfway during the proclamation, eliciting laughs from the packed chamber.

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The council also recognized Diwali festival volunteers. There were around 20 volunteers present for the meeting, whose names were read individually, but that was only a fraction of all who helped with the first city-sponsored Diwali festival in Georgia.

For their efforts to improve the intersection at Brumbelow Road and Tuckerbrook Lane, Johns Creek Public Works Director Chris Haggard, Transportation Engineer and Project Manager Matt Simpson and Ben Clopper, Michael Baker International project engineer, stepped up for an award given by the Georgia Partnership for Transportation Quality.

During the public comment portion of the City Council meeting, Public Safety Foundation Chairman David Rich presented a $7,700 check raised for the foundation through a cricket tournament. He then said someone came forward and donated more, unveiling an additional personal check for $8,000.

Special events

Preceding the City Council meeting, councilmembers discussed a potential framework for planning special events at the work session.

Councilman DiBiase formulated a series of questions regarding the process, motivated by the Diwali festival, which didn’t follow the traditional process for planning and executing special events. His goal was, in part, to build consensus around the council’s appropriate role in soliciting sponsorships.

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The council also heard comments from Johns Creek Volunteer Coordinator Stacey Gross about two upcoming events, spearheaded by the newly seated Arts, Culture & Entertainment (ACE) committee.

Because Lunar New Year is one of the most important celebrations of the year among East and Southeast Asian cultures, the city plans for a Lunar Day celebration in January at Newtown Park. ACE anticipates using the Mark Burkhalter Amphitheater, where performances could take place on stage with heaters added for warmth. There will also be culturally relevant music, food and activities, according to the memo.

The second special event on the docket, Daffodil Days, is a week-long celebration in March intended to recognize a story of “hope, strength, survivorship and community support.” Pioneered by Johns Creek Beautification, the Daffodils4Hope program is a community-wide daffodil planting campaign that raises awareness for cancer survivors.

Reach Amber Perry at 770-847-8334. Follow her on Twitter @ambermarieperry