The Hoschton City Council approved a funeral home’s rezoning request on Monday to move its business to a former church building — which will now be in the city’s downtown overlay district.
The council rezoned a 0.73-acre parcel on the former Hoschton First Baptist Church property on Ga. Hwy. 53 to allow Lawson Funeral Home to relocate its business. The funeral home currently operates on First Street in Hoschton.
Owner James Lawson asked that the former church property be rezoned from residential to commercial. His request only deals with a metal building that Hoschton First Baptist Church once used as its family life center and later held worship services.
But the C-2 zoning classification brought concerns from council members about what could be allowed on the property — should Lawson no longer operate his funeral home.
“All I’m asking is, do we protect the City of Hoschton now — or take our chances later,” said council member Jim Cleveland during the council’s Thursday work session.
Hoschton’s C-2 zoning district includes a wide range of commercial businesses — such as gas stations, shopping centers, Laundromats and medical clinics. It also includes all uses permitted in its C-1 zoning district.
While the city council generally favored Lawson’s proposal, its members questioned if they could limit potential future uses on the property.
“If there are certain intensive uses that you are concerned about, that are in your C-2 (zoning district) that you would not want to see in that location, a better thing to do would be to rezone it to C-2, conditional to … ‘you cannot use it for these types of things,’” advised city attorney Thomas Mitchell.
Instead, the council opted to expand its downtown development overlay district to include the 0.73-acre former church property. The overlay district’s boundaries already included a neighboring parcel.
Hoschton’s downtown development overlay district runs along Ga. Hwy. 53 from the Braselton town limits to Peachtree Road.
An overlay district is an additional “layer” of zoning regulations for new commercial developments in a specified area that include more stringent standards on architectural design and landscaping. Jackson County and Braselton also have their own overlay districts.
Council member Sandie Romer said Thursday that she didn’t favor the idea of expanding Hoschton’s downtown overlay district, which she said is too restrictive.
James Lawson said he was fine with bringing the property into the overlay district and following its more rigorous standards. He said his only plans for the exterior of the metal building is the installation of a portico.
At its current location, Lawson Funeral Home is running out of room, its owner told the city council.
The almost 24,000 square-foot metal building at the former Hoschton First Baptist Church already includes seating for up to 205 people, Lawson said. It also has plenty of parking.
“This is the perfect fit for us,” he said.
Lawson plans to buy the former Hoschton First Baptist Church property. The ex-church left the property late last year when it merged with the former Zion Baptist Church in Braselton. The combined churches are now called Northeast Church and meet in Zion Baptist’s property on Cherry Drive in Braselton.
Lawson recently told the Hoschton Planning Commission he plans to keep Hoschton First Baptist Church’s former sanctuary to allow another church to potentially occupy it. The planning commission heard from several people in favor of Lawson’s request, including a trustee from Northeast Church — which wants to sell the land to Lawson.
In other business, the Hoschton City Council:
•amended its water leak procedure to refine billing amounts when customers have a water leak. The changes come after former council member Rosemary Bagwell questioned the city’s policy on charges stemming from water leaks after one of her investment properties recently experienced a leak. She learned about the leak three days after it started. Since the policy was last revamped several years ago, Hoschton no longer uses it own well water and purchases water from the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority. The amended policy takes into account if leaks occur inside or outside a building and if the customer also has sewer service. Bagwell asked that the city look at devising a system to notify customers sooner when a leak is suspected.