August 17, 2016
The Mosque issue was NOT on the meeting agenda. However, Comm. John Douglas, whose district this area is in, had the mosque issued put on the agenda and moved to the first item on the agenda.
I attended the Newton County BOC meeting last night. They hold their meetings in the courtroom, and it was packed to capacity. In addition, people were still downstairs, and people were standing outside wanting to get in. Most everyone was there about the proposed mosque and Islamic compound on Hwy 162 near County Line Rd.
The Mosque issue was NOT on the meeting agenda. However, Comm. John Douglas, whose district this area is in, had the mosque issued put on the agenda and moved to the first item on the agenda. He wanted to discuss the Newton County Zoning ordinance and the treatment of places of worship. At this time in Newton County, there is no special zoning required or even notification to the public when a “place of worship” buys land and builds on the property.
Lloyd Kerr, County Manager, gave his report, which mostly was an “update” on the proposed mosque development. He read a prepared statement. Read statement here: 08.16.16MosqueStatement. Here are some of the things Mr. Kerr told the BOC:
- The planning department met with an attorney about the sale in June 2015.
- There was a 2nd meeting for staff and owners about use.
- Zoning does not require public notice or public hearings on places of worship.
- Said no one withheld any information the from public.
- No plans have been submitted, as of today, by applicant.
- As a county, we do understand the concerns of a development of this size on surrounding neighbors.
Comm. Nancy Shultz asked about the cemetery involved. Mr. Kerr said there had to be fencing around it and a minimum of 10 acres. He also said there could be “Green burial”–no casket, no vault, no embalming; there could just be placement of the body in a grave, and said a cemetery had to be 150′ from a public water supply.
Comm. Douglas then asked about the following, which people had contacted him about:
Call to prayer–limit on noise—Mr. Kerr said a call to prayer is issued 5 times per day through public address system. If it exceeds limits, and if someone files complaint, then the Sheriff would attend to that complaint and measure volume.
Congestion with school on Hwy 162—the transportation engineer would look at the project and determine what would have to be done.
Other concerns.–CUP–Conditional Use Permit—there would have to be 2 public hearings–but only for the School.
Comm. John Douglas then made the following comments. He was opposed to excessive development, many times; this isn’t the first time. He stated the different times. He has tried to make a point to keep the district rural with low crime, lack of traffic and congestion. This is what the people want that live there. Then Comm. Douglas asked questions of Lloyd Kerr, who answered.
- When did this project come to Zoning? June 2015.
- What was it called when it was brought to Zoning? Avery Community Church & Cemetery.
- Who brought it to us under that name? Attorney Phil Johnson brought it.
- When did we learn this was not a community church? A week ago yesterday.
- Who was at that meeting? The Engineer who was putting together the plan, called office the Wednesday before that. Last Monday the Zoning admin, the Engineer, the traffic engineer, landscape architect, fire chief, and buyer’s representative met.
Comm. Douglas continued with the following comments. As a BOC we must ask if our procedures are sufficient for big campus places of worship. “We have to have good planning practices for the health, safety and welfare of Newton County residents.”
He then made a motion that there would be a moratorium and no application to be accepted for next 5 weeks for land permits, building permits, or anything for places of worship. This moratorium would last until the 9/20/16 meeting; at that time they would consider new ordinances or extension of the moratorium.
Comm. Douglas also wanted to conduct public hearing and let people speak to them. “We owe it to people to hear them,” he said. In order to accommodate everyone and to insure everyone that wants to speak can be there, the motion was made to hold the public hearing at Sharp Stadium. The hearing will start at 6:30PM on Monday 8/22/16. Levie Maddox 2nd the motion and added that this needed to be publicized quickly to citizens. He also suggested extending an invitation to the agent of buyer so they can see the “welcoming or not” of the people of Newton County. This motion was passed 5-Ø.
Monday, 8/22/16 at 6:30pm. Sharp Stadium. Public hearing on Mosque and compound on Hwy 162.
Citizens, be informed and stay informed! Only by being informed can the citizens understand what is being done and talked about, and then press our officials to make good decisions for everyone in Jasper County. That is our goal with the Taxdogs blog.