Dragon Hills Retreat STAR Grove, a well known campground and retreat center that many Atlanta area groups host activities and events at year round, has been struggling with the Carroll County Board of Commissioners. Dragon Hills has applied for a conditional-use permit for the Church of the Spiral Tree that is operated from the property. However, the Carroll County BOC did not approve their request at the Jan. 26th meeting.
According to the article in the Times-Georgian, the Carroll County BOC requires a majority decision of 4 votes against or for an issue before anything can be done. The latest vote of 3 against, 2 for does not fulfill this requirement, so the permit is neither approved nor denied. Applicants for the permit claim that the decision was based on discrimination against non-Christian faiths, citing the amount of discussion during the BOC meeting about the activities and specifics of faith that take place at Dragon Hills.
But the BOC members that voted against approving the permit claim that their decisions were based solely on the fact that storage units on the property are being used as temporary housing, which violates zoning laws in Carroll County. Part of the reason the applicants applied for the conditional-use permit was to allow these storage units to continue to be used in that manner, as part of the church's activities.
Zoning Administrator Artegus Newell is hoping to work out this issue without requiring the applicants to readdress the board. According to Newell, if the retreat center simply stops using the storage units for temporary housing, the need for a conditional-use permit is gone. This means that Dragon Hills could take the easier course and replace or retire the storage units for only their zoned usage, instead of trying to continue to use them as housing.
But whether this turns into a long drawn out battle over Constitutional Rights and discrimination versus zoning laws or not remains to be seen. The Dragon Hills retreat center is located near Bowden, which is a very small town west of Atlanta. With Pagans still occasionally struggling to gain acceptance and equal treatment in Atlanta itself, it's certainly probable that there is some misunderstanding and intolerant behavior in a small town towards Pagans. However, it's unclear whether it's discrimination or simply a strict adherence to zoning laws in this case.
For more information, read the Times-Georgian article on the BOC decision here.