FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners approved a conditional use-permit June 4 that will allow a local group of priests to construct a second residence on a property along Woodsong Trail in the southern part of the county.

The request drew some pushback from a group of neighbors who contended the buildings would serve as boarding houses in an area zoned for single family residential.

County officials disagreed.

The Legionaires of Christ is a congregation of priests from Pinecrest Academy and St. Brendan’s Catholic Church. The group is seeking to construct a residence for five priests to add to the five-person home already on the property.

Bruce Carlisle, president of North Georgia Land and a Pinecrest Academy parent, said the group is trying find a place to gather its two communities of priests.

Matthew Dominick, a lawyer representing a nearby property owner, argued the homes would be acting as boarding houses, and that use is prohibited under the county’s unified development code for the site’s zoning. He stated the “proper” way to allow for boarding houses on the property would be to seek a rezoning.

“The fact these are very good people does not get around the fact this zoning does not allow for this use,” Dominick said. “This is a classic definition a boarding house under the UDC.”

Fr. Daniel Brandenburg, a member of the Legionaires, said the characterization of a boarding house “doesn’t correspond with the reality of what we are.” He said the community of priests consider themselves a family, not employees of the church.

Commissioners accepted the argument.

Chairwoman Laura Semanson said boarding houses have “transiency,” and the group of priests would have consistent residents. She added that the men are a “brotherhood in Christ.”

District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper agreed, stating the brotherhood fits her definition of family.

The second home was also deemed permissible by county officials.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said because commissioners had previous enacted a UDC modification, he believed the use was permitted on the site.

Planning and Community Development Director Tom Brown said the county’s unified code outlines that a single-family home can include up to five non-related persons living in the same residence and “operating as a family unit.”

“I would classify this as a single-family activity, not a boarding house,” Brown said.

District 2 Commissioner Dennis Brown said he was convinced the use is legal and approving the additional home is beneficial for the community.

The board unanimously passed the motion to approve the use-permit.

Not all in opposition cited zoning or legal reasons for their stance. One neighboring property owner said she was sure the Legionaires are “great people,” but she did not want another community nearby her property.

“This is beside my house, this is in my neighborhood, and I just want to protect it as best I can with the same protections that we had when we bought that house and bought that property 30 years ago,” she said. “I want to be a good neighbor, but I don’t want to feel intruded upon. I don’t want a whole village there.”

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