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County ordered to grant day care permit to Ebenezer

Rockdale County has agreed to a consent order to grant Ebenezer United Methodist Church a special-use permit to operate a full-time day care program at the church on Stanton Road.

CONYERS — Rockdale County has agreed to a consent order to grant Ebenezer United Methodist Church a special-use permit to operate a full-time day care program at the church on Stanton Road.

Chief Superior Court Judge David B. Irwin issued the order Friday. Irwin ordered the county to issue the permit within three business days of the order and pay $6,000 of the church’s attorney fees and all filing fees associated with the action.

Ebenezer UMC filed the appeal after the Rockdale Board of Commissioners voted at its April 8 meeting to deny the permit application for the church at 2533 Stanton Road. The county subsequently granted a similar special-use permit last week to Conyers Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Old Salem Road.

Ebenezer UMC, which has operated a partial-day preschool at its church campus for 26 years, filed its lawsuit earlier this month. In its appeal, Ebenezer UMC claimed that during the Board of Commissioners discussion of the permit request on April 8, “none of the required standards and criteria applicable by law to issuance of the special-use permit … was identified as being deficient or out of compliance. No evidence whatsoever was contained in the record or discussed by defendants that in any way justified a denial of the special-use permit for the subject property based upon the standards and criteria” of the county’s Unified Development Code.

Post 1 Commissioner Oz Nesbitt and Chairman Richard Oden voted against granting Ebenezer the special-use permit on April 8; Post 2 Commissioner JaNice Van Ness, who owns a day care business, abstained due to a conflict of interest. Rockdale County and all three commissioners as well as Planning Director Marshall Walker were named in the complaint in their official capacities.

Although no one spoke in opposition to the church’s request at two public hearings and both the Conyers-Rockdale Planning Commission and the county’s planning staff had recommended approval of the permit with no conditions, Nesbitt and Oden said they wanted to maintain a “balance” between non-profit and for-profit day care providers in the county. Nesbitt said he had been contacted by owners of similar businesses who were opposed to the permit.

According to to a press release from the county issued Friday evening, “If the BOC would have been able to reverse their vote in April, they would have … However, the only legal way in which to address the issue once the vote was taken was through appeal, with the county then consenting to the order.”