HOT NEWS ... HOT NEWS ... HOT NEWS
Today is indeed a joyous occasion for the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church in Norcross, Georgia! On October 16, 2013 Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, the archbishop of the Diocese of Atlanta, signed the decree elevating the Mission to become the Parish of the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs. Since its founding over two decades ago, the parish has experienced explosive growth from a modest congregation of 30 families to over 1200 registered families today. The history of the parish is storied and rich as the history of her people. It is a history filled with tribulation and triumph, from the first effort to acquire and build up the existing facility to the present fundraising effort to build a new grander church able to accommodate the growing needs of the new parish.
One notable chapter in the parish’s rich history, an experience still fresh in the memories of many, was the epic struggle against the waste transfer station next door. The idea of building a waste transfer station next to a thriving church was both absurd and repulsive. How could anyone even conceive such a vile plan? Furthermore, how could any elected officials back such an irresponsible, abhorrent proposal? Unfortunately, these and many other incredulous things did actually take place right here in this very parish.
Some time in mid-November 2008, the then mission received an official notice informing that Mahaffey Pickens Tucker, LLP, acting as agent for Lancaster Enterprise, owner of the adjacent 9-acre property, had submitted a request to have its zoning changed from light industrial M1 to heavy industrial M2. Accompanying this request was an application to construct a waste transfer station on the same site. The news created an immediate shockwave, creating an overpowering atmosphere of fear and anxiety for everyone in the mission. Was this possible? Can the neighbor really put a waste transfer station within steps of the sanctuary? Immediately, Father Francis Tran, the mission’s Administrator convened an emergency meeting with the Pastoral Council and a group of advisors to find a response to the crisis. Very quickly, a gamut of potential solutions was considered ranging from an amicable compromise to all out opposition. Subsequently, several meetings were held with representatives of Lancaster Enterprise but to no avail. In the end, collectively we concluded that the only viable option was to fight the rezoning application. The mission would have taken its case to the Board of Commissioners to block the senseless project.
We were informed that the waste transfer station application was previously denied by the County Planning Staff because it was “incompatible with existing land use plan.” On November 25, 2008 our mission filed an official request with Ms. Lorraine Green, the reigning Commissioner of District 1, as well as with the four remaining members of the Board of Commissioners asking them to strike down the rezoning application. In the next public hearing by the Gwinnett County Planning Commission on December 3, 2008 over 600 members and supporters of the mission came as a show of opposition. Our supporters included representatives of the Archdiocese of Atlanta Ms. Patricia Chivers and Mr. Dennis Kelly and numerous business leaders and owners of nearby properties. These businesses would also be severely impacted by the proposed waste transfer station. During the hearing, representatives from our church Mr. CC Nguyen and Father Francis Tran addressed the Commission to share the concerns of our members. Mr. Dennis Kelly - Archdiocese representative and Mr. Allen Anderson - representative for the property owners in the area, also expressed their objection to the proposed waste transfer station. At the conclusion of the public hearing, members of the Planning Commission voted unanimously against the rezoning request. The opposition effort had gotten off to a good start, and all that remained was the official vote by the Board of Commissioners.
Historically, as a matter of protocol, the Board of Commissioners has always sided with the Planning Commission, especially when there’s a clear majority as in this case. While awaiting the official vote, representatives of the mission and those from the neighboring businesses continued to lobby against the waste transfer station. The day of the vote finally arrived on December 16, 2008. One after another, Mrs. Ai Thao Nguyen, Father Tran, representatives of the Archdiocese and business leaders addressed the BOC. All implored one thing, a vote to deny the waste transfer station. In an unexpected turn of events, the BOC voted 2-2 before the surprised and confused crowd of 800 mission members and supporters. Missing in attendance that night was Ms. Lorainne Green who had just lost her seat in the election just weeks before. As a result, the BOC decided to postpone the decision until the February 3, 2009 meeting, when it expected to be joined by the newly elected District 1 Commissioner. The deciding vote would now rest with the newest Commissioner, Mrs. Shirley Lasseter.
After the split vote, the fight to block the waste transfer station intensified. Father Francis Tran took the next decisive move and formally created a special task force and named it the Church Defender Task Force to handle the crisis. Its objective was to protect the church by blocking the waste transfer station. Father Francis Tran appointed Mr. CC Nguyen to lead the task force. He was also joined by a small team which included Mr. Thanh B. Bui, Mr. David Pham, Mr. Tom Toan Vu and Mr. Son D. Nguyen. In the ensuing months, the entire mission and the newly formed task force rallied around the new cause, to defeat the waste transfer station. This was shaping up to be a fight for our survival. Never before had our community experienced unity and conviction as strong and steadfast as at this critical time! It could be likened to the unity and patriotism demonstrated by the American people soon after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. The task force quickly developed a comprehensive campaign aimed at swaying the third and deciding vote, a campaign which would include an email petition, a lobbying effort at nearby churches and a drive to collect signatures of supporters. Impressed with the enthusiasm of the mission, Archbishop Gregory issued a memorandum appealing for help from other Catholic parishes in Gwinnett County. With the consent of each Pastor, the task force gathered then sent teams of delegates to all 12 Catholic parishes in Gwinnett County to spread the word on our struggle and to enlist their support. Our strategy was to amplify our voice through the public opinion. Everyone in the audience was encouraged to contact their Commissioner and to sign a petition opposing the waste transfer station. The outpour of support was simply amazing. We received more than 10,000 individually signed petitions, all of which was promptly packaged and delivered to the office of newly elected Commissioner Shirley Lasseter. Simultaneously, the online campaign kicked into high gears. Thousands of online signatures would be generated. The “Email the Commissioners” campaign was next, and that too produced thousands of emails daily to the Commissioners while simultaneously caused their phones to ring off the hook. One weekend before the deciding vote, a special Eucharist adoration event was organized when hundreds of supporters came to our church to hold a 12-hour prayer vigil. Local media outlets also joined the event in force. Consequently, Mr. P.A. (abbreviation for identity-concealment purpose) was present in the crowd that night, a gentleman who later turned out to be a pivotal character. We learned that Mr. PA was a strong supporter of former Commissioner Lorainne Green who also possessed certain insights to corrupted behaviors committed directly or indirectly related to the waste transfer station and other recent land purchase transactions. In subsequent months, Mr. P.A. would provide many important pieces of information related to the abuse of power committed by various elected officials. On January 15, 2009 Archbishop Gregory sent a formal memorandum to Chairman Charles Bannister to object the waste transfer station.
The day of the fateful vote would come eventually. On February 3, 2009 our members and supporters turned out in force one more time to the Board of Commissioners’ business session. Over 1300 people, old and young, jammed the auditorium and several overflow rooms, everyone carrying an orange sign with a giant “NO” printed in the middle, an unambiguous protest of the waste transfer station. At one point in the meeting, the orange signs were raised overhead all at once like a choreographed dance. The sea of people with the orange “NO” signs held high overhead created a memorable sight, a powerful image of solidarity from the church and our supporters. The signs held high in the air for a long time began to move, creating a pronounced rattling throughout the auditorium. At one point, Chairman Bannister suspended the proceedings to request everyone to silence the rattling! In reality, the rattling was never intentional but was simply a manifestation of the raw emotions experienced by all while witnessing the theatrics of greed being played out before their eyes. As this was a business meeting, no public comment was permitted. With all 5 commissioners now present, the vote was casted one by one, and the final count was 3-2 favoring the waste transfer station! The two nay votes came from Commissioners Mike Beaudreau and Bert Nasuti while the three yea votes were casted by Chairman Bannister, Commissioners Lasseter and Kenerly. The waste transfer station can now move forward.
Despite the setback, Father Tran, the task force and the entire congregation never wavered in their commitment to protect our church, and the effort to block the waste transfer station continued on. With strengthened resolve, we began the process to seek legal counsel. Several law firms were interviewed by the task force, and ultimately, Kazmarek Geiger & Laseter LLP was selected with lead counsel Edward “Skip” Kazmarek and his assistant Kimberly Hale chosen to represent the mission. On March 3, 2009 Archbishop William D. Gregory announced that a suit has been filed by the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Mission Church against Gwinnett County and Lancaster Enterprises to block the proposed solid waste operation. The suit alleges that Gwinnett County’s action was a “manifest abuse” of its zoning power. Encouraged by widespread support including the financial support of nearby businesses, our mission stepped up to lead the fight against the unjust development.
God’s blessings were abundantly evident throughout this ordeal. At every turn, He was blessing our work, lifting our spirit and guiding us step by step through the crisis. Inside our church, He blessed the mission with a steely sense of unity and an unyielding faith in his providence. He also sent help from those outside of our church. A remarkable gift was a reporter from the Gwinnett Daily Post named Mr. Jamie Ward. Jamie was unfamiliar with the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Mission but came to know about our struggle with waste transfer station through his mother. Jamie and his mother both were parishioners of St. Monica, one of the 12 Catholic parishes in Gwinnett County. Upon learning about our plight through one of the delegate teams, Jamie’s mother immediately signed the petition and also encouraged her son to do likewise. Jamie did just that, and when the BOC voted to allow the waste transfer station to move forward, Jamie called Mr. CC Nguyen to offer his sympathy. Mr. Nguyen recalled Jamie saying “Is there anything I can do to help you with this fight?” After discovering that Jamie was a journalist, Mr. Nguyen suggested to Jamie “You, sir, have the power of the pen. You need to write the truth.” In truth, the facts surrounding this particular decision were shady at best, but no one had any concrete evidence of malfeasance, even among the ranks of journalists like Jamie. Consequently, after a period of collaboration, the task force connected Jamie with other knowledgeable sources such as Mr. P.A. Jamie went on to interview Mr. P.A. numerous times and based on these interviews published several articles exposing the suspicious nature of this case. As the expose continued, the task force continued to forward these articles to the main newspaper in Atlanta, The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Unfortunately for Jamie, under pressure by the Commissioners and their political allies, The Gwinnett Daily Post terminated his employment. As he had so kindly done for us before, we reached out to Jamie to thank him for his courage and for what he had done. In classic Jamie’s fashion, he replied “Don’t worry my friend! It is the right thing to do, and it not only for the church but also for County of Gwinnett.” Once Jamie’s writing ceased, the AJC picked up the cause and continued bringing to light many other shady dealings committed by the likes of Charles Bannister, Shirley Lasseter and Kevin Kenerly. These three individuals pushed the waste transfer station with their votes, and it later turned out that all three had committed fraud and abuse of power in some form. As the facts came to light, Chairman Bannister abruptly resigned his post in a political deal to avoid indictment. Commissioners Kevin Kenerly and Shirley Lasseter would later be indicted and convicted of bribery. They would eventually be removed from office and forced to serve time in prison. On other fronts, we received support from many others like Mrs. Sabrina Smith – Founder of the Gwinnett Citizens for Responsible Government, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, they and others have been relentlessly working to expose the injustice within the county government.
Indeed, this was God’s house and He had guided us step by step through the crisis. Those who had intimate knowledge of the waste transfer station ordeal directly experienced His hands at work. It was plain to see that everything that had happened was no coincidence and was nothing short of divine intervention. He, not chance, had guided us to our benefactors like Mr. Jamie Ward, Mr. P.A., Mrs. Sabrina Smith, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, Mr. Steve Ramey and many other friends and supporters. Our ultimate success began with the encouragement of the Archbishop, the outpour of support by other Catholic parishes and the passionate support of many friends and allies who came to give advices as well as fight along side with us like Congressman Joseph Cao of Louisiana, Congressman Mike Honda from California, Ms. Piyachat Terrel Piyachat - the National Program Manager for the White House Initiative for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Father Vien Nguyen from Mary the Queen of Vietnam in New Orleans. Even within Gwinnett, Commissioner Mike Beaudreau had stepped in to help behind the scene on many occasions. It was Commissioner Beaudreau who directly intervened and singlehandedly saved our church annual fall festival in 2009 when it was threatened by political theater. Inside the archdiocese, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, Mr. Brad Wilson - CFO, Mrs. Patricia Chivers – Director of Communication, Mr. Dennis Kelly CCSI, Monsignor Francis Phuong Pham – Pastor of Our Lady of Vietnam, our former Administrator Father Peter Vu and our current Administrator Father Francis Tran, the HVM Pastoral Council and members of the task force worked tirelessly to protect the mission.
The fight against the waste transfer station would carry on for two long years. By the grace of God, our mission successfully blocked the project and prevented even a single brick from being laid for this unjust project. In December 2010, the two sides had reached a deal. Considering the future needs for the growing congregation, Father Tran, with the full support of the Pastoral Council, sought and obtained the approval of the Archdiocese to purchase the property, putting an end to any prospect of a waste transfer station. In a matter of weeks, the purchase transaction was completed, and the focus immediately shifted to building our future church on this very site!
The goodness of God was felt not only by members of our church but also by those directly involved on the opposing side. The example came amazingly from Mr. JC White himself, the owner of Lancaster Enterprise. After giving up on the plan to build what would have been a very lucrative waste transfer station, he not only agreed to resale the property to the church at a reasonable price but also became a friend and benefactor. After the sale, Mr. White donated a sizeable sum of money to pay for site cleanup as well as to repaint the graffiti, as a parting present to the mission.
Through all the ordeals of the 2-year battle, we all witnessed the power of prayers and the strength when we all act as one. God’s providence was the only explanation for how we managed through what everyone saw clearly as “the impossible.” Before the crisis, no one could even dream about the possibility of owning the 9-acre property, let alone the prospect of building a new church that would better accommodate our growth and bring us all closer to Him. The sacrifice made by all involved was for a singular goal, to provide a solid foundation for our next generation, a future generation that will continue to care, to grow and to nurture our beloved church. This sums up the sentiments of Father Tran, the Pastoral Council and everyone who fought the waste transfer station.
As we celebrate our new parish, let’s rejoice and give thanks to the Lord for the abundant blessings: “May God, through the intercession of our Mother Mary, Saint Joseph and the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs, continue to bless and guide our beloved parish!”
Winter of 2013 – the Task Force
PS: All relevant information and news clips from this epic struggle against the waste transfer station have been archived in the following website: http://holyvietnamesemartyrsmission.weebly.com/
A letter from David Pham
A lot has transpired in the last 3 ½ years. Charles Bannister abruptly resigned on Friday, October 8, 2010. Kevin Kennerly was indicted on October 20, 2010 for bribery. Today we receive news that Shirley Lasseter abruptly resigned her seat and plead guilty, also for bribery. This latest development accounts for all 3 votes in favor of the controversial waste station. I can’t say that I am happy to hear the news. Actually, the whole thing leaves me with a deep sense of sadness. I think this feeling comes partly from the regret that an incredible of resources was wasted that could have been better used for something more constructive, more noble. It also makes me reflect on the destructive consequences left in the wake by greed, the ease with which we succumb to temptations and sins, the notion of karma, etc. Anyway, I don’t think this is a moment of celebration, but we should pray for Mrs. Lasseter and those involved below.
Gwinnett Commissioner, son plead guilty to taking bribe
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Lasseter and her son, John Fanning, pleaded guilty today in federal court in a bribery scheme.
The bribe, a federal prosecutor said, involved Lasseter's vote to approve a zoning project they had been told was being purchased with proceeds from illegal drug sales.
Lasseter; Fanning, a member of Gwinnett's Zoning Board of Appeals; and a third co-defendant, Hall County businessman Carl Cain, entered their pleas before U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell. Fanning and Cain also pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine.
Prosecutors disclosed today that all three defendants are cooperating with federal and Gwinnett County authorities in other ongoing, unspecified investigations.
"Your Honor, I truthfully regret, I took a bribe," Lasseter said. "I am very ashamed I did something like that to embarrass not only myself and my constituents but also the commissioners in Gwinnett County."
Pannell then asked, "You did if for the money?"
"Yes sir," she answered
During the guilty plea hearing, Assistant U.S. District Attorney Douglas Gilfillan, also disclosed that Lassetter and her son tried to enlist an undercover FBI agent posing as a businessman to secure bribes to get her vote and to approve the privatization of the Gwinnett County airport.
According to a federal complaint unsealed today, Lasseter accepted $35,000 in bribes last year for her vote and influence involving a development on Boggs Road.
The complaint indicates that conversations between the defendants and the undercover agent , described only as "Person A," were secretly recorded.
The three defendants met with the undercover agent at a Gwinnett hotel on June 15, 2011, the complaint said. Before the meeting, undercover agent was told by Cain that Lasseter was in financial distress and needed $1,500.
When Lasseter arrived, the undercover agent took her aside, told her he understood she needed money and gave her $1,500 in cash, the complaint said. The undercover agent also told the commissioner he was happy to help her in the future because he would later need her vote, the complaint said.
"You've got my vote," Lasseter responded, according to the document.
On July 1, Cain, who is described in the complaint as being involved in the trucking business and being an "associate" of Lasseter's, told the undercover agent that Lasseter wanted $35,000 in exchange for her vote on the Boggs Road project.
Almost three weeks later, Lasseter, Fanning and Cain attended a social function with the undercover agent in South Florida, during which the witness gave Lasseter $9,000 in cash as a partial payment for the $35,000 bribe, the complaint said.
When he handed over the cash to Lasseter, the complaint said, he asked, "We're good?"
"We're great," Lasseter replied, according to the complaint.
In August, Lasseter received the final $26,000 payoff from the undercover agent at an Atlanta hotel. During that meeting Lasseter and Fanning each counted the dollars, "roll by roll," Gilfillan said. Before the undercover agent left, he told Lasseter and Fanning that he was laundering money for drug traffickers and that some of that money was being used to pay for the Boggs Road project, Gilfillan said.
Lasseter, a Republican, was first elected to the Board of Commissioners in 2008. She previously served as mayor of Duluth for 14 years and is a former teacher with the Gwinnett and DeKalb school systems.
When the undercover agent later asked Fanning whether he was willing to become involved in illegal money laundering, Fanning replied, "I'm totally on board. ... I don't mind doing any of this and I've definitely done things under the table before my whole life. I mean, I got no problems doing stuff like this. That's how we all get by," the complaint said.
In September, the complaint said, Fanning and Cain flew to the New York area to assist in collecting what they thought would be a multiple-kilogram shipment of cocaine. They spent the night in New York and flew back with "four kilograms of purported cocaine," and Fanning and Cain each took possession of two kilograms of the substance so they could deliver it to a prospective buyer, the complaint said.
Kenerly files for bankruptcy
Gwinnett County News 6:44 p.m. Monday, December 5, 2011
The filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Georgia comes 14 months after Kenerly was indicted on charges related to bribery and influencing votes on rezonings while he was a commissioner. Until he stepped down Nov. 16, 2010, Kenerly was the county's longest-serving commissioner, having held his seat for 16 years.
Kenerly reported assets of less than $50,000 and debts of about $3.5 million. He could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
The debts listed on his bankruptcy filing include $1.6 million on a Chateau Elan mansion in Braselton and $5,722 for unpaid condo association dues at a Myrtle Beach vacation home.
Kenerly's house in Chateau Elan is custom designed with nine bedrooms and 12 bathrooms, and is currently listed for sale for $2.8 million. The house is nestled on the sixth hole of the Legends Championship Golf Course in a gated resort community.
Kenerly also has outstanding balances on three vehicles all purchased in 2009: $8,292 for an Acura RDX, $35,414 for a GMC Yukon, $23,811 for a Ford F-150.
Atlanta bankruptcy attorney Scott Riddle said that Chapter 11 bankruptcy is used for individuals with a high net worth and a lot of assets, because Chapter 13 bankruptcy has debt limits. Individuals who file on the first Monday of the month, as Kenerly did, are usually trying to avoid having their home foreclosed upon on the second Tuesday of the month, Riddle said.
It was not clear Monday if that was the reason Kenerly filed for bankruptcy.
Kenerly was slapped with criminal charges at the culmination of a 10-month-long investigation conducted by the special purpose grand jury impaneled to look into the county's suspicious park land purchases. The investigation also resulted in the resignation of Commission Chairman Charles Bannister.
The probe began after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a series of stories questioning some of the deals.
The special grand jury found that Gwinnett County commissioners overpaid millions of dollars for some parcels of land in deals that used taxpayer money to benefit commissioners' allies.
By Andria Simmons
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Former Gwinnett County Commissioner Kevin Kenerly sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Monday, court records show.
Published: March 3, 2011
At the conclusion of Mass a traditional ceremony of lighting incense to God, the Blessed Mother, the saints, the Holy Vietnamese martyrs and ancestors takes place as part of the Vietnamese New Year. In doing so the congregation calls upon their guidance and protection throughout the New Year. Kneeling before the altar are (foreground to background) Tao Pham, Tam Nguyen and Vincent Nguyen. (Photos by Michael Alexander)
NORCROSS--As many Asian communities throughout the area observed the lunar New Year in February, members of Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church doubly celebrated as their battle against Gwinnett County commissioners and a proposed waste transfer station next to their church finally came to an end.
After two years of town hall meetings, consistently calling and writing to commissioners and fervently praying, the Norcross church was able to purchase the land just south of its campus, halting work on a proposed waste transfer station that would have been clearly visible from church grounds.
Church members came together on New Year’s to show their appreciation for those in the local community, Catholic and otherwise, who helped them in their fight over the last couple of years.
“We are brimming with excitement toward the future,” Father Francis Tran, administrator of the Norcross church, wrote in a letter to supporters. “We have emerged from this experience with a renewed faith in God and a strengthened sense of community. The Lord indeed works in mysterious ways.”
Following a 3-2 vote on Feb. 3, 2009, by Gwinnett County commissioners, the waste station was given the green light to move forward despite the recommendations of the Gwinnett County Planning Department and Planning Commission that the transfer station was not consistent with the neighborhood and its tenants, which included local and national businesses as well as the church.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta, on behalf of Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church, filed a lawsuit against Gwinnett County and Lancaster Enterprises LLC following the decision to rezone the land. The lawsuit was settled out of court in late December 2010 with the agreement that the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church would purchase the land for $2.7 million.
Father Tran is excited about the recent acquisition of the property since the Norcross community continues to grow. With over 1,100 families in the church, Father Tran said it is now much more likely they can consider expanding their facilities with a new church and other buildings. Members see a great need to expand, especially to serve the youth of the community, he said.
Skip Kazmarek, a lawyer who represented the church, spoke at the New Year’s celebration, saying that his experience with Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church has been a highlight of his legal career.
“Representing you … has been one of the great privileges and one of the great honors of my life,” he told the large crowd Feb. 5.
Other guests were recognized, including Dennis Kelly, a project manager for Catholic Construction Services of the archdiocese who has been a supporter of the church.
“We are elated and very happy with the outcome of the lawsuit,” Kelly said. “I want to thank Father Francis and C.C. (Nguyen) because they are the heroes. They are the ones who pushed this thing and made it happen.”
Kelly has grown close to the church members during his involvement over the past two years and felt honored and humbled when Father Tran told him he was truly a member of their community.
C.C. Nguyen, a member of Holy Vietnamese Martyrs, also praised Father Tran for his involvement, from leading the prayer efforts to rallying the community to get involved in the county meetings.
“Every ship needs a captain and he is our captain. We love him dearly and we are grateful for his service,” Nguyen told the crowd.
Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Mission pastoral council member and chairman of the parish Community Life Commission Cong Chinh Nguyen, standing at the podium, recognizes attorneys Kimberley Hale and E.A. Skip Kazmarek for their help in waging a successful legal battle against the proposed solid waste transfer station next to their church. The program took place prior to the mission’s Vietnamese New Year celebration.
The proposed waste transfer station was met with strong opposition from the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs community right from the start. Led by Father Tran, members jammed Gwinnett County meetings in early 2009 as commissioners voted to rezone the nine-acre plot of land adjacent to the church. Holding up large orange signs that read “No,” the members silently showed their disapproval of the proposed waste transfer station. At the New Year’s event, Nguyen held up one of the signs and asked the crowd with a smile, “You guys remember this?”
The festive celebration also included musical performances and dancing to help ring in the New Year, though much of the focus was given to showing thanks for support from local businesses, fellow Catholics and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
Archbishop Gregory “supported our effort from day one, providing guidance and resources,” Father Tran told supporters in his letter. “So did the 12 Catholic parishes and missions throughout Gwinnett County. Many others also provided assistance, including our neighbors, the surrounding businesses, schools and members of the local media. … We’d like to take this opportunity to express a heartfelt thank you to all of you who embraced our cause and fought this valiant fight. The outcome today would simply not be possible without your contribution.”
Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church is a mission of Holy Cross Church in Tucker. Father Richard Tibbetts, pastor of Holy Cross, led the group in a prayer of thanksgiving for the outcome of this long-running battle.
“We thank you God for the gift of this community and for the wonderful things that they have received despite all of their struggles,” he prayed.
“They are still part of us at Holy Cross and are our family. It is so wonderful to celebrate with them this evening,” he said.
Holy Vietnamese Martyrs is continuing fundraising to pay for the land purchase and hopefully to expand its facilities. The site at the corner of Beaver Ruin and Shackleford roads was once a car dealership, but has grown into a thriving Catholic community. The church members continue to ask for prayers as they move forward with grateful hearts.
“Many things once seemed impossible are becoming a reality. God willing, our congregation will build a new glorious church on this very site in the future, hopefully very near future,” Father Tran said.
It is with great joy and pride that we write this letter to inform you that the waste transfer station (WTS) fight is finally over! On January 11, 2011 the Archdiocese of Atlanta and our church, The Holy Martyrs of Vietnam Catholic Church, completed the purchase of the 9-acre property ending a 2-year long fight against the controversial proposal.
From the start, this proposed WTS has garnered a lot of negative publicity. The decision to develop a WTS right next to a vivant, growing church with 4000 members was shortsighted. Just as misguided was the decision by the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners (BOC) to rezone and approve the Special Use Permit, inexplicably paving the way for a WTS right in the middle of an established neighborhood dotted with offices, schools and our church. The BOC’s action is that much more incredulous considering that it violated land use plans (2020 and 2030 Land Use Plans) itself adopted without a clear, compelling public reason. For whatever reasons, the BOC seemed determined to push through this WTS despite having done very little to address the potential health, noise, traffic and other harms that would fall upon the 800 children and hundreds of elderly church members once the WTS becomes operational.
These are the precise issues which our congregation could not accept. We were compelled to act to protect our church from an unjust violation as well as to preserve the decency of our community and simultaneously that of Gwinnett County. In our pursuit, we were joined by countless supporters whose generosity and encouragement gave us strength and further reinforced our conviction, even in the face of an overwhelmingly uphill battle. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory supported our effort from day one, providing guidance and resources. So did the 12 catholic parishes and missions throughout Gwinnett County. Many others also provided assistance, including our neighbors, the surrounding businesses, schools and members of the local media. Help also came from as far away as Washington DC like Congressman Joseph Cao, Congressman Mike Honda, Ms. Piyachat Terrell, EPA AAPI (The Whitehouse Initiative for Asian American and Pacific Islander) and Father Vien The Nguyen from New Orleans. We’d like to take this opportunity to express a heartfelt THANK YOU to all of you who embraced our cause and fought this valiant fight! The outcome today would simply not be possible without your contribution.
In reflection, many things have changed in the last two years. Many new revelation concerning questionable dealings between members of the BOC and developers have been brought to light by the Special Purpose Grand Jury. These findings have brought about immediate changes to our county and the BOC itself. As our county works to rebuild the public trust, we hope that our elected officials currently in office will focus on moving the county’s agenda forward without losing the hard-learned lessons from the past.
As for our congregation, we are brimming with excitement toward the future. We have emerged from this experience with a renewed faith in God and a strengthened sense of community. The Lord indeed works in mysterious ways. Many things once seemed impossible are becoming a reality. God willing, our congregation will build a new glorious church on this very site in the future, hopefully very near future!
Please continue to keep each other in prayers and especially for our fund raising process.
The Holy Martyrs of Vietnam Catholic Church, Norcross Georgia
PS: If you would like to learn more about our long and hard fought battle against the WTS , please visit:
01-17-2011..... source WSBTV http://www.wsbtv.com/video/26303803/index.html
Waste station lawsuit settled
Posted: 8:33 PM Dec 20, 2010
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
NORCROSS — Members of the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Mission have another blessing to celebrate this holiday season.
The congregation is lauding the settlement of nearly 2-year-old lawsuit that will keep a solid waste transfer station from becoming its neighbor.
The Rev. Francis Tuan Tran said the settlement — where the church has agreed to purchase the land next to its Shackleford Road building — is good news for the community.
“The most important thing is we can sit down and help each other resolve the problem,” he said. “The best way to solve the problem is to do the settlement.”
Tran said the Catholic church tries to be a good neighbor, but members of the congregation were taken aback over the development, which would have allowed garbage trucks to funnel waste to the transfer station before being shipped to a landfill.
When commissioners approved the proposal in February of 2009, the church sued.
“Most of the people, they are very happy to see the end of the long battle,” Tran said. “We couldn’t concentrate on our ministry, to educate the people and to pray.”
The church has agreed to pay $2.7 million for the property, a hefty price in a bad economy, and Tran said the deposit is due in a few days. A fundraiser is planned for the future to help make the payments.
“In this economic situation, it is very tough for us to try to raise the money,” he said, adding that is a concern for some members in the flock of 1,100 families.
But the church needs the land for expansion anyway, he said, and it has been a blessing to see the congregation dedicated to growing in its current location.
“It opened for us a lot of possibilities for the future,” Tran said. “We need the space for the youth activities.”
Church set to buy land
Gwinnett Daily Post Article December 15, 2010
LAWRENCEVILLE — Two years after the congregation filled the county courthouse in protest of a waste transfer station next to the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church, the church is poised to buy the land to keep the development away.
Commissioners approved a rezoning Tuesday of the Steve Reynolds Boulevard property to allow for church purposes.
Attorney Lee Tucker, who has represented developer Lancaster Enterprises in a lawsuit filed by the church, said the purchase is part of a proposed settlement that a judge must approve.
Tucker did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking details.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said. “I’m just excited for (the church).”
A message left for the Rev. Francis Tuan Tran was also not returned.
The Special Purpose Grand Jury was empanelled by a vote of the
Superior Court judges on November 9th, 2009. We have been hearing
evidence essentially every other Friday since December, 2009. During that
time we have followed the order which empanelled the Grand Jury and
inquired into the acquisition of land by the Gwinnett County Board of
Commissioners from 2004 until 2009. ............ Read the full report here
Report: Bannister offered resignation to avoid indictment
LAWRENCEVILLE — Charles Bannister asked a grand jury if they would excuse a crime if he resigned from office, a report released Tuesday said. The grand jury presentments: Now available in text or PDF.
Posted: 8:13 AM Oct 26, 2010
Reporter: By Camie Young, Senior Writer
Email Address: email@example.comAWRENCEVILLE — Charles Bannister asked a grand jury if they would excuse a crime if he resigned from office, a report released Tuesday said.
Bannister resigned as chairman of the Board of Commissioners that day, Oct. 8, and the grand jury decided to return a “no bill” of indictment on a charge of perjury — which could have carried a 10-year prison sentence..... Read more ......
By David Wickert
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Gwinnett County News 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister offered to resign if a grand jury declined to indict him for perjury, a report on the jury's work shows.
The special grand jury elected not to indict Bannister in exchange for his resignation rather than let his future depend on the outcome on a criminal trial, Fox 5 television reported. The television station obtained a copy of the grand jury’s report, which a judge has sealed until Nov. 2.
Bannister resigned Oct. 8 after appearing before the grand jury, which has been investigating county land deals.
By David Wickert and Andria Simmons
Gwinnett County News 8:57 p.m. Wednesday, October 20, 2010
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A Gwinnett County grand jury on Wednesday indicted the county's longest-serving commissioner, Kevin Kenerly, on charges of bribery and failure to disclose a financial interest in two properties the county rezoned.
If convicted of all counts, Kenerly faces up to 22 years in prison.
The indictment says that Kenerly “directly or indirectly" accepted or agreed to accept20 payments of $50,000 -- totaling $1 million -- as bribes for arranging for the county commission to buy a piece of unnamed real estate. The deal benefited developer David Jenkins and settled a lawsuit, although specifics about the purchase were not mentioned in the indictment. ............. Read more .....
Gwinnett County News 9:45 p.m. Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Assigned to Judge Jackson 10-B004807-3
State of Georgia versus Kevin Kenerly
Count 1: Bribery (O.C.G.A. 16-10-2)
Grand jurors selected, chosen and sworn for the County of Gwinnett, in the name and behalf of the citizens of Georgia, charge and accuse Kevin Kenerly with the offense of BRIBERY (O.C.G.A. 16-10-2) Read more ........
Bannister resigns as Gwinnett commission chairman
By David Wickert
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister resigned Friday morning as a special grand jury wrapped up a nine-month investigation of county land purchases.
Bannister had been expected to appear before the grand jury Friday. His two attorneys, Mike Bowers and Craig Gillen, issued a statement to reporters outside the grand jury room and did not answer questions.
"It is with deep regret that I announce my immediate resignation as chairman of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners,” Bannister's statement said.
"While I am proud of Gwinnett County government's many accomplishments over the past six years and had hoped to guide more of this board's work to completion, I find myself near the end of an extremely trying year that has placed an undeserved strain on my family and has threatened my own health.
“I believe that stepping down at this time is necessary to preserve my family's well-being and will allow the important business off Gwinnett County to move forward without further distraction."
Even as Bannister resigned, Gwinnett Commissioner Kenerly was meeting with the grand jury. Kenerly smiled and waved to reporters as he entered the grand jury room but did not offer any comment.
The grand jury began its investigation in January after a series of AJC articles drew attention to questionable land deals. Because of inflated appraisals, Gwinnett County taxpayers might have paid millions of dollars more for properties than they were worth, the newspaper reported.
Kenerly championed two of five parkland purchases detailed in the AJC series. Bannister and Commissioners Lorraine Green and Shirley Lasseter advocated other purchases. In each case the commissioners had ties to developers or others involved in the deals.
Bannister has said he appeared before the grand jury twice this summer.
The chairman also testified about the land purchases at a July court hearing on a recall petition against him. The petition was dismissed. In that hearing Bannister said he has never profited from any action taken by the Board of Commissioners.
Kenerly has not said whether he has appeared before the grand jury. In January his attorney objected to a subpoena ordering him to appear and to disclose financial records and information on all limited liability companies in which he served as an officer.
Kenerly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and in court records his attorney called the grand jury proceedings a “fishing expedition.” Porter withdrew the subpoena, saying at the time he “wasn’t prepared to grant Kenerly immunity” and vowing to get the information by other means.
The outcome of the investigation won’t be known until at least Monday, when Superior Court Judge Michael Clark is expected to formally accept the grand jury’s findings.
Porter has said the grand jury has the authority to issue indictments if it finds evidence of criminal acts.
Porter has not said any public officials will be indicted.
By Tim Eberly
Gwinnett County News 8:22 a.m. Sunday, June 13, 2010
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
It’s rare for Gwinnett County’s leaders to approve land rezonings that are opposed by both the county’s planning commission and planning department.
Since 2003, it has happened in only 4 percent of all rezoning cases, records show.
But when the County Commission does go against the recommendations of its planning experts, Gwinnett Commissioner Kevin Kenerly is usually involved.
Read more ..........
Reporter: By Camie Young, Senior Writer
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
LAWRENCEVILLE — A judge ruled that fraud and corruption did not cause commissioners to rezone land next to a church for a solid waste transfer station, throwing out a motion for summary judgment on the controversial case.
In an order earlier this month, Judge Dawson Jackson said attorneys for the church, Holy Vietnamese Martyrs’ Mission Church, “failed to establish” that the failure of a developer to disclose personal campaign contributions constituted fraud or corruption on the part of Gwinnett County.
While laws require that an applicant disclose financial and campaign ties, lawyers have contended that the disclosures were made for White’s company, Lancaster Enterprises, which was the applicant, and were not required for White as an individual.
White had faced misdemeanor charges related to the incident, but Gwinnett’s solicitor dropped the charges earlier this year.
The judge denied a request by the church’s attorneys seeking a deposition of Lancaster attorney Lee Tucker and refused to disqualify the attorney.
Jackson denied a motion by the county and by Lancaster to decide other matters, saying “material issues of fact remain.”
That means the case, which dates back to 2009, will go to trial.
The church’s Son Nguyen said he was pleased that the judge ruled to go to trial on several issues, including abuse of zoning power.
Tucker said he was also excited about the ruling.
“I’m happy we are going to trial, too. It’ll be good to beat ’em and finally be done with it,” he said.
The solid waste transfer station case goes to trial !
Counts I (Abuse of Zoning Power);
Count II (Request for Declaratory Relief);
Count III (Violation of Federal and Georgia Constitutions);
Count IV (Nuisance).
This means we will have our case goes to trial!
We wanted to share our excitement with you since you have been following our case from the very beginning.
Here is the link to the case:
By Patrick Fox
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
6:37 p.m. Friday, April 30, 2010
In its continuing battle to stop construction of a waste transfer station next door, Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Mission is sponsoring a conference on the theme of environmental and social justice Saturday.
Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) will be among the speakers. Representatives from the EPA, the Archdiocese of Atlanta and County Commissioner Mike Beaudreau have committed to attend.
The county commission voted to approve a variance allowing construction of the waste transfer station in February 2008. It placed 33 restrictions on the development to address neighbors' concerns.
County Commissioner Bert Nasuti, who voted against the project along with Beaudreau, said it generated the strongest opposition he has seen in 18 years. At least eight local businesses opposed it, and the Vietnamese church had more than
The archdiocese has since filed suit over the matter.
Saturday's conference is from 3 to 5 p.m. at the church, located at 4545A Timmers Way, near I-85 and Beaver Ruin Road in Norcross.
Reporter: Camie Young
Email Address: email@example.com
LAWRENCEVILLE — Weeks after criminal charges were dropped over failing to disclose campaign contributions, lawyers argued that similar arguments should be dismissed from a rezoning case.
A motions hearing was held Wednesday in the case of a Vietnamese church upset about a decision to allow a solid waste transfer station to be built next door on Shackleford Road.
While Judge Dawson Jackson had some questions about the legal procedure in considering the merits of the zoning and the special-use permit approved to allow the construction, attorneys for Gwinnett County and developer Lancaster Enterprises said allegations of corruption and fraud should be barred from the case.
The allegations were made after Solicitor Rosanna Szabo said she would press misdemeanor charges against Lancaster owner J.C. White.
According to the facts of the case, the applicant for the rezoning, which was law firm Mahaffey Pickens Tucker, disclosed campaign contributions, as did attorney Lee Tucker. Lancaster, as a limited liability corporation, did not make any contributions, although White contributed to the campaigns of Chairman Charles Bannister and
Commissioner Shirley Lasseter.
While some have argued that because White was not named personally in the application he did not have to disclose those contributions, Szabo dropped the charges last month, saying she could not prove intent.
“There is no fraud or corruption in this case,” Assistant County Attorney Van Stephens argued. “White was not the applicant and had no reason to disclose,” he said, adding that commissioners are not bound to disclose contributions in zoning cases, only on elections forms.
But attorney Skip Kazmarek, who represents the church, said the LLC, which had no officers or offices was “a mere shell for the person behind it.”
“We believe that (application) was false and misleading,” he said.
Kazmarek also sought to disqualify Tucker as Lancaster’s attorney because he hoped to put him on the stand to talk about the formation of the company.
Tucker said that would present a hardship for his client and any questions would likely be protected under attorney-client privilege.
“They are trying to find something they can allege was fraudulent. There was no fraud in this case,” he said. “The fact of the matter is the law was complied with, period.”
Jackson said he would consider the arguments before ruling. He is also pondering whether the rezoning decision or special-use permit decision would be considered first.
While the two were ruled on by the Board of Commissioners at the same time, separate laws allow the judge to consider only evidence previously presented at public hearings for one while the other allows new information to be considered.
/* */ /* */ Gwinnett County News 7:03 p.m. Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
7:03 p.m. Tuesday, December 15, 2009 Gwinnett County listed its reasons Tuesday for a rezoning decision in February allowing a waste transfer station on Shackelford Road near I-85.
The rezoning, approved on a 3-2 vote of the county commission, is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta on behalf of the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Mission, which sits just south of the proposed waste station. Lancaster Enterprises LLC, which filed for the rezoning, is proposing a $4-million indoor facility that would allow garbage trucks to release their loads for transfer onto semi-trailers.
The county's planning staff opposed the proposal, saying it was "not consistent" with the recommended land use for the area. The planning commission voted unanimously to deny it as well.
Tuesday's formal action by county commissioners was in response to an order from Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Dawson Jackson seeking an explanation for the county's decision.
Commissioner Shirley Lasseter enumerated the reasons behind the decision. They include: a lack of landfills in the county; the facility's proximity to I-85 in an area uniformly zoned for industrial purposes; endorsements from the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority; more than two dozen conditions attached to the operation of the facility to guard against its impact on neighbors; and a reduction of traffic on the county's surface streets.
The response to the judge's order was approved 3-2. As in the original rezoning, commissioners Lasseter, Kevin Kenerly and Charles Bannister voted in favor. Commissioners Bert Nasuti and Mike Beaudreau dissented.
Cases presented over waste transfer station
By Jamie Ward
Thursday, September 17, 2009
The reason for the hearing was so that Judge Dawson Jackson could hear arguments from the county, the church and from the applicant who was awarded the rezoning - Lancaster Enterprises LLC - to determine if the case should be dismissed.
It's not known when Dawson will issue his ruling.
Attorney Lee Tucker, who represents Lancaster Enterprises LLC, argued that the case should be dismissed because no constitutional objections were presented to the Board of Commissioners prior to the public hearing process. Tucker also argued that because the property is owned by the Archbishop Wilton Gregory, the Holy Vietnamese Martyr's Mission Church and the Reverend Tuan Tran had no standing to sue since they do not own the property.
Church attorney Skip Kazmarek made allegtions of corruption. He alleged campaign contribution laws were broken by the applicant because the man behind Lancaster Enterprises LLC - Flowery Branch resident J. C. White - didn't disclose his contributions made to Chairman Charles Bannister and Commissioner Shirley Lasseter.
White has since been charged by the Gwinnett County Solicitor's Office for that alleged violation and an October court date has been set.
Kazmarek also alleged that Jay Mikolinski had signed the rezoning application as the "manager of the owner of Lancaster Enterprises" while also not disclosing his contributions that were made. Kazmarek then went on to say that when White was being deposed, he said there were no owners or managers at Lancaster.
In another twist, the church is trying to have Tucker removed from the case as the attorney so that he can testify as to what he knew about the make up of Lancaster Enterprises.
Developers' donations questioned
Campaign contributions land men in hot water
By Jamie Ward
9/4/2009 12:01:00 AM
Both individuals - Mark Gary and James C. White - failed to disclose their contributions greater than $250 made to Chairman Charles Bannister and Commissioner Shirley Lasseter in violation of the Official Code of Georgia 36-67A-3, according to the charges filed by Gwinnett County Solicitor Rosanna Szabo.
Both Gary and White had applied for rezonings in the county as limited liability companies, and their cases were eventually approved by the Board of Commissioners.
Gary is also a District 1 planning commissioner appointed by Lasseter. He was cited with four counts in two separate rezoning applications for the $2,000 donations he made separately to Lasseter and Bannister.
White was cited with two counts for his one rezoning application for the $4,300 in donations he made to Bannister and for the $3,000 he gave to Lasseter.
In White's case, he applied for a rezoning as Lancaster Enterprises LLC and was approved for a 39,200-square-foot waste transfer station to be built on Shackleford Road near Beaver Ruin Road and Interstate 85. Both Bannister and Lasseter voted in favor of White's controversial project even after it had been recommended for denial by the county's planning department, planning commission and the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District.
Additionally, thousands of Vietnamese church members packed the public hearing process to oppose the waste transfer station going in next to their place of worship - The Holy Vietnamese Martyrs' Mission Catholic Church. The church and the archdiocese of Atlanta is currently suing Gwinnett County over that rezoning decision.
In Gary's case, he was approved for another waste transfer station as Transfer East LLC to be built on Winder Highway near the intersection of Ga. Highway 316. Both Bannister and Lasseter voted to approve that project, too.
Where things might get interesting for the county now involves Gary's two other counts, those for an assisted senior living facility project that has yet to be voted on by the Board of Commissioners. In this case, Gary applied for the rezoning as Noble Village at Spalding LLC. The case was tabled until Sept. 15 and Commissioners Bert Nasuti and Kevin Kenerly have said they will not vote on it because of what might be considered a conflict of interest. That leaves Bannister, Lasseter and Mike Beaudreau as the remaining commissioners eligible to vote, but Bannister and Lasseter are both named in the charging documents as the elected political officials who received donations from Gary that he is now charged with failing to disclose.
"Although these allegations do not apply to the county or any member of the Board of Commissioners, the county is in the process of obtaining and reviewing the accusations issued by the Solicitor," said county attorney Van Stephens in an e-mail to the Daily Post. "While the accusations are pending, previous rezoning actions will stand as approved by the Board of Commissioners. Pending rezoning applications will proceed in accordance with state and local law."
In a May 3 story which appeared in the Daily Post, Gary said he didn't have to disclose his contributions because they were made by him the individual and not the LLC which had applied for the rezoning.
If White and Gary are convicted, the maximum penalty is $1,000 fine and 12 months in jail, although Gwinnett County solicitor Szabo pointed out that "under the circumstances presented in these cases, a sentence of jail time is highly unlikely." She also said there is no minimum penalty.
Political contributions at heart of lawsuit
Church filing: Applicant didn't disclose donations to Bannister, Lasseter
7/21/2009 12:01:00 AM
By Jamie Ward
The lawsuit stems from a controversial February rezoning approved by the Board of the Commissioners by a vote of 3-2.
In that decision, Chairman Charles Bannister and Commissioners Shirley Lasseter and Kevin Kenerly voted to approve a garbage transfer station next to the church on Shackleford Road, despite the recommendations for denial made by the county's planning department, planning commission and the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District.
In the amended lawsuit filed in Superior Court, the church claims the applicant in the rezoning - Lancaster Enterprises LLC, which is owned by J.C. White - failed to disclose his campaign contributions made to both Bannister and Lasseter as required in the two-year time period necessary under Georgia's Campaign Contributions Disclosure Law.
The lawsuit further states White's daughter, Jodie Rosser, also made contributions to the two in that time period and was then appointed by Bannister to Gwinnett's Zoning Board of Appeals. Finally, the lawsuit claims Bannister and Lasseter violated two sections of Gwinnett's Code of Ethics by participating in the vote and not disclosing their financial or personal interests in the rezoning matter.
"Commissioners Charles Bannister and Shirley Lasseter had a direct or indirect personal and financial interest in the outcome of the zoning," the lawsuit states. "Acting on these interests was a fraudulent and corrupt practice that infected the rezoning vote."
The amended lawsuit also sets the stage to determine the intent of Georgia's campaign contribution disclosure law.
In a letter obtained by the Daily Post and sent to the church's attorney Monday by Mahaffey Pickens Tucker - the law firm representing White - it called the latest allegations "abusive litigation" and said the law requires that only the applicant for rezoning disclose campaign contributions. It further states the definition of applicant means "any person who applies for a rezoning action and any attorney or other person representing or acting on behalf of a person who applies for a rezoning action."
The letter goes on to say that Mahaffey Pickens Tucker disclosed its contributions made to commissioners and that Lancaster didn't have to because no contributions were made in Lancaster's name.
"To put it mildly, my client did not do anything wrong and the church's allegations otherwise are in bad faith," said White's attorney, Lee Tucker Jr., in an e-mail to the Post.
In an April e-mail to the Post, Tucker confirmed that White was the only owner of Lancaster Enterprises LLC. Campaign contribution disclosure reports indicate he, not Lancaster Enterprises, made contributions to Bannister totaling $4,300 and to Lasseter totaling $3,000 within two years of his application for the trash transfer station.
State Sen. Renee Unterman said in a May article in the Post that based on her research conducted with the secretary of state's office, LLCs were included in the definitions that define Georgia's campaign contribution disclosure law.
Gwinnett County's Solicitor Office opened a file looking into this matter in May but has yet to reach a conclusion. It is also investigating another rezoning that saw Planning Commissioner Mark Gary do something similar.
In that case, Gary applied successfully as Transfer East LLC for a rezoning to build a different trash transfer station. On his application, his individual contributions made to Lasseter and Bannister were not disclosed.
Gary has another case coming before the planning commission today, this time as Noble Village at Spalding LLC. He did not disclose his campaign contributions on this application, either
Gwinnett commissioners under fire over trash stations
By Tim Eberly
Saturday, May 23, 2009
After a decade in the trash business, Steve Edwards thought he knew what kind of site would work for a waste transfer station.
Gwinnett County planners thought so, too.
Three times they signed off on his company’s requests for rezoning, only to have the Gwinnett County Commissioners reject each plan.
The developers of the two transfer stations the commission eventually did approve had something Edwards’ company didn’t: personal and political connections to county commissioners.
Neither developer has any experience with solid waste, but both were linked to commissioners through family members, friendships, political appointments and campaign contributions.
The string of waste transfer projects — six in all — has generated much controversy, including two lawsuits filed against the county over the past five years.
Trash is big business in Gwinnett, which has a privatized collection system. Twenty-three trash companies picked up more than 1.3 million tons of trash last year.
Waste transfer stations offer trash haulers a local spot to dump trash instead of more distant landfills.
Edwards’ employer, Advanced Disposal Services, tried to get the county’s approval for a transfer station in 2004, 2006 and 2007. Each of the three locations had varying degrees of industrial activity but all needed to be rezoned from light to heavy industrial use.
The planning staff favored all three proposals, the first because it was on a road with “intense industrial and commercial” uses, according to county records. The second had “light and heavy industrial uses” nearby. The third was “bordered by industrial zoning on all sides.”
The commissioners rejected all three, saying they were not suited for such an intense industrial use.
Over the next year and a half, as residential real estate market sputtered, the waste transfer business attracted the attention of three developers. Two of the plans they proposed were approved.
It was a notable string of votes for the commission. Of the six, five went against the advice of the planning staff. Overall, the commission has followed the recommendations of planning staff and the planning commission on 92 percent of all projects since 2007.
The first residential developer was J.C. White, a 69-year-old homebuilder from Flowery Branch. White’s partner is Jay Mikolinskiof Suwanee, on the project. White owns the 9-acre tract; Mikolinski plans to develop the $4 million transfer station.
The property, off Interstate 85 and Beaver Ruin Road, sits near the mouth of an office park dotted with buildings bearing names like Gwinnett Corporate Center. It’s a 1-1/2 mile stretch of road where one is more likely to pass sedans than garbage trucks.
The original plan for the land was a mixed-use development with upscale condos, shops and restaurants. But that changed when the real estate market soured.
The county’s planning staff opposed White’s proposal for a transfer station, saying it was “not consistent” with the recommended land use for the area, records show. The planning commission voted unanimously to deny the plan.
Of all the projects, it has the most complicated web of political connections.
White describes Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charles Bannister as a friend, though Bannister called White an acquaintance.
White’s daughter, Jodie Rosser, helped Bannister on his 2008 re-election campaign. Rosser, a real estate attorney, also serves as Bannister’s appointee on the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals. Rosser set up the project’s company and helped her father buy the land.
Bannister wasn’t the only commissioner with ties to the project. White’s real-estate broker on the $2.2 million land deal was Theresa Kenerly, a cousin of Gwinnett Commissioner Kevin Kenerly. She has worked as his campaign chair and treasurer for all four of his elections.
Theresa Kenerly made a commission, but said she did not remember how much. She also said she does not believe she told her cousin.
Kevin Kenerly, who voted in favor of the project, said he did not know about his cousin’s involvement.
Both White and Mikolinski, or companies associated with them, have contributed to the campaigns of county commissioners, including both to Bannister and Kenerly.
Most of the money went from White to Bannister. White, his wife and his companies contributed a total of $11,300 to Bannister’s election campaigns in 2004 and 2008.
White said that his contributions were not meant to influence votes. “If you don’t participate in government, you deserve whatever kind of government you get.”
County Commissioner Bert Nasuti, who voted against the project, said it generated the strongest opposition he has seen in 18 years. At least eight local businesses opposed it, saying the transfer station did not belong in the area.
A nearby 4,000-member Vietnamese Catholic church came out in force. Members packed the commisson’s chamber during hearings, begging the board to deny the request over concerns about traffic, noise and odor.
The project, however, was approved, with the votes of Bannister, Kenerly and Lasseter. The commissioners placed 33 restrictions on the development to address neighbors’ concerns.
“It’s baffling,” said the church’s attorney, Edward “Skip” Kazmarek. “On its face, it would seem to be a violation of every recognized principal of planning and zoning that I can think of.”
Bannister said he thought the project was in the best interests of the county. He said he didn’t even know it was White’s until after he voted for it.
Bannister, Kenerly and Lasseter all cited the light industrial zoning of surrounding property as the main reason they supported the project, though the most of the existing businesses are not industrial, nor is the county’s long-term plan for the area.
Bannister and Kenerly also pointed to one other nearby industrial business, a rock quarry. The quarry is not in the office park — it’s off Beaver Ruin Road — and is not visible to passing motorists.
Bannister said the restrictions, such as the requirement that the dumping of trash occur inside the building, would help the facility fit in with the office park. “The building will look like any other building — maybe even better,” he said.
A month after the board’s vote, the Catholic church filed a lawsuit against the county and White’s company, stating that the board “abused its zoning power” and accused the county of “spot zoning.” It has asked for a judge to review the case.
Advanced Disposal also sued the county, alleging commissioners “abused their discretion” and had “no substantial evidence to support its decision” to reject its first project, court documents show. The lawsuit has not been resolved.
The second successful transfer station project, southwest of Dacula, met with less controversy but was pushed by a politically connected developer.
Mark Gary’s Lawrenceville-based development firm Gary Holding Group specializes in housing developments for senior citizens.
Gary described Lasseter as a family friend; his wife grew up across the street from her. He worked on her 2008 election, campaigning door to door and holding a fund-raiser for her at his home. He donated $2,000 each to the campaigns of Lasseter and Bannister in 2007.
Gary submitted his transfer station request in October 2008. Lasseter appointed him to the planning commission five days after taking office in January.
The land Gary plans to build the $4 million transfer station on was already zoned for heavy industrial use — a rare find in Gwinnett. It required only a special-use permit. Located off Winder Highway, the property is on a dead end road that also includes a Home Depot distribution center.
The planning staff gave the project its blessing. The planning commission could not vote to recommend it because three members, including Gary, abstained.
On April 28, the board of commissioners voted 3-1 to approve the project. Lasseter, Bannister and Nasuti voted for it.
Kenerly abstained, saying his mother resides in a senior living facility owned by Gary.
Though her connection to Gary was closer, Lasseter said she did not stand to benefit from the project and never considered abstaining. She said she handled it the same way as she does all decisions.
“I don’t look at personalities. I look at projects,” she said. “I don’t look at it as Mark Gary’s. I look at it as the project that is up in that area and I weigh it on its merits.”
That same day, the board also rejected another transfer station proposal. Commissioners cited concerns that the trash would attract birds to a nearby airport, creating a hazard for the planes.
Developer Eric Johansen’s plan had the approval of the planning staff and commission. Johansen, a partner with Norcross-based development firm Inland Group, had connections, too. But not to current commissioners; he had supported candidates who ran against Bannister and Lasseter.
Johansen served on the planning commission from 2005 to 2008 as the appointee of then-Commissioner Lorraine Green, who ran for chairman but lost to Bannister.
Johansen also worked on the 2008 campaign of Carole Hassell, who ran against and lost to Lasseter.
Johansen said he was disappointed the vote didn’t go his way, but wouldn’t comment on whether he believed politics played a role.
Bannister and Lasseter both said they treat all requests equally.
“Anybody who contributes to my campaign, anyone who is my friend, anyone who is an enemy, will get the same result, if it is in the best interests of Gwinnett County,” Bannister said.
Advanced Disposal, meanwhile, has moved on. After spending at least $300,000 on the three projects and legal fees, it recently began leasing a transfer station near Lawrenceville, said Edwards.”I thought we had three great locations for transfer stations,” Edwards said. “When it came down to it, it didn’t go our way….The [vote] that counts is the one by the Board of Commissioners. And we didn’t get that one.”
J.C. White’s transfer station project — The commission voted 3-2 to approve it on Feb. 3. Commissionsers Charles Bannister, Kevin Kenerly and Shirley Lasseter voted for it; Mike Beaudreau and Bert Nasuti voted against.
Mark Gary’s transfer station project — The commission voted 3-1 to approve it on April 28. Bannister, Lasseter and Nasuti voted for it; Beaudreau voted against it. Kenerly abstained.
How We Got The Story
The story grew from a tip about political connections involving one of the controversial waste transfer stations.
While reporting on that project, the AJC began looking at two similar projects of other developers with political ties, as well as three earlier transfer station projects put forth by a garbage company.
The AJC reviewed the planning department’s files for all six projects, interviewed all five county commmissioners, the developers and other involved parties, reviewed campaign contribution documents dating back to 2004, retrieved property records, obtained documents from two related lawsuits and viewed video footage of recent and past commission hearings.
HOT NEWS ABOUT THE UNETHICAL GWINNETT COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
Laws for disclosure in debate
Applicants not revealing campaign contributions
By Jamie Ward
Sunday, May 03, 2009
LAWRENCEVILLE - A Georgia law intended to have rezoning applicants disclose campaign contributions to local political officials appears to have been broken on two recent rezoning cases approved by the Board of Commissioners.
In both cases, the applicants didn't disclose campaign contributions because they were made individually and not by the limited liability company formed by the applicant.
The latest incident involves applicant Lancaster Enterprises LLC, owned by builder James C. White of Flowery Branch. Lancaster Enterprises requested rezoning to allow a 39,200-square-foot solid waste transfer station on Shackelford Road near Interstate 85. The site is next door to a Vietnamese Catholic Church and a high-tech health care firm in a business park light industry zoning.
White failed to disclose contributions in the amount of $4,300 to Chairman Charles Bannister and $3,000 to Commissioner Shirley Lasseter. He applied for the rezoning as the limited liability company known as Lancaster Enterprises.
In February, Bannister, Lasseter and Commissioner Kevin Kenerly voted to approve the station. Commissioners Bert Nasuti and Mike Beaudreau voted against it.
Gwinnett County and Lancaster are now being sued over that decision after the county's own planning department, planning commission and the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District opposed the project. Commercial property owners and thousands of Vietnamese church members also opposed the rezoning. In its lawsuit, the Archdiocese of Atlanta called the decision a "spot zoning."
Georgia Code section 36-67A says that applicants applying for rezoning includes the person or the attorney representing them and that a business entity means any "corporation, partnership, limited partnership, firm, enterprise, franchise association or trust." The law further states that applicants who've made campaign contributions greater than $250 within a two-year time period disclose those on the application. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor offense.
In an e-mail obtained by the Daily Post, a senate research staffer working on behalf of state Sen. Renee Unterman said officials with the Secretary of State's office interpreted the law to apply to LLCs.
"Their best guess is that LLCs are covered by this wording. The term 'enterprise' should cover any form of business not specifically mentioned," the e-mail reads. "It would be surprising if a city or county construed this otherwise."
This is the second recent case related to garbage transfer stations where the practice of nondisclosure by LLCs and the individuals who formed them has occurred.
In the case on Alcovy Industrial Boulevard that the board approved Tuesday night, its applicant Transfer East LLC or Planning Commissioner Mark Gary also failed to disclose contributions of $2,000 apiece to Bannister and Lasseter.
Gary said he didn't have to make his contributions public because the application was made by the LLC and not him as an individual.
"I know this sounds like a technicality but I didn't fail to disclose because I wasn't supposed to," he said. "If someone would have said I need to disclose, I would have."
He did confirm Transfer East LLC was the limited liability company he formed.
Both Bannister and Lasseter voted to approve Gary's project, which passed by a vote of 3-1.
Commissioner Kevin Kenerly didn't vote on Gary's request because he placed his mother in an assisted living facility owned by Gary and didn't want there to be any "appearance of impropriety." Lasseter appointed Gary when she took office in January.
Sen. Unterman said if one individual forms an LLC and then applies for a zoning or special-use permit, political contributions still should be disclosed.
"It's the whole point of the law," Unterman said. "It's not to hide behind a piece of paper and your attorneys."
Unterman said she has no problem with individuals forming LLCs for legitimate business reasons, but was against the practice if it was to mask your identity from the public.
"Businesses should be proud of the work they are doing in the community and the public has a right to know who is doing what," she said. "When I was a commissioner, I always did the research to see who was behind building what because I wanted to see if they were doing it for economic reasons but also to see if it was for the good of the community."
Unterman said a possible solution to the problem is for the county to go beyond the intent of the law by including language on its zoning applications that states all individuals associated with a project should disclose their campaign contributions.
"The Board of Commissioners can require transparency," she said. "If I owned a business and wanted to fit in with the community and be successful, I'd go beyond the intent of the law."
In another twist to Lancaster's case, attorney Lee Tucker Jr. said the reason JEM Land Development had advertising signs on the proposed site of the project before and after the zoning request was granted was because it had an agreement with Lancaster to purchase the land. Tucker said the lawsuit by the church put that deal on hold.
According to the Secretary of State's Web site, JEM Land Development's address is listed as 2001 Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road, which is the same address that Lancaster listed as its address with the same office in 2008. JEM's owners - James and Elisa Mikolinski - together with their business donated $4,800 to Bannister's re-election campaign in the two-year timespan required for campaign contribution disclosures.
Tucker, in an e-mail to the Daily Post, said the Mikolinskis had no financial interests in Lancaster Enterprises.
Chairman Bannister said he wasn't aware that White was involved with Lancaster or that Gary was involved with the station on Alcovy Industrial Boulevard. For the Alcovy site, he said Gary wasn't the applicant, Transfer East LLC was. He also said his treasurer handles all financial transactions involving political donors.
"I don't go back and check on my disclosures and I don't make decisions based on who contributes," he said.
Lasseter did not respond to attempts to reach her for comment.
**** Please click here to add your comments on this issue ****
Related Links: Our view: Some skirt spirit of full disclosure
Our view: Some skirt spirit of full disclosure
Sunday, May 03, 2009
The purpose of the law is simple: If you have a matter to be voted on by an elected official and you contributed to that elected official's campaign, you need to be up front and honest about it and let the public know.
But some are bypassing the intent via a distorted interpretation of Georgia's disclosure law. In at least two recent cases in Gwinnett, applicants in rezoning hearings did not disclose political contributions to county commissioners who later voted to approve the requests.
Applicants - and their attorneys - believe they have legally skirted the law's intent by forming limited liability companies. They rationalize that the contributions come from individuals and the rezoning requests come from corporations, therefore, the public no longer needs to be privy to that information even though the individual and the owner are one and the same.
The law doesn't specifically mention LLCs but does state that corporations, partnerships, limited partnerships, firms, enterprises, franchise associations and trusts are all obligated to disclose. The secretary of state's office says the law's wording covers LLCs, and legislators agree that the point of law is to prevent applicants from hiding behind a piece of paper.
But some of these applicants would rather keep it a secret.
To go to these lengths to avoid disclosure raises more eyebrows than if the contributions had been disclosed in the first place. Our first question is, "Why are they trying to hide?"
Let's boil it down: Putting semantics aside, these petitioners knew the purpose of the law and chose to ignore it. They'd prefer people not connect the dots from contribution to vote. Why? Because if people made that connection, it might look as if they were greasing the skids.
Business like this should be conducted in an open, transparent environment.
Shame on the applicants for contriving this subterfuge.
Shame on those elected officials who have played along.
We'd like to see these dodges prosecuted and publicized. Even though violations only climb to the misdemeanor level, some examples will curtail future occurrences.
People aren't supposed to be greasing the skids, but it happens. And when it does, we think the public should know about it. So did the authors of Georgia state law. It's time these political contributors agree.
The unsigned editorials reflect the opinion of the Gwinnett Daily Post. Columns, letters to the editor and cartoons reflect the opinions of the individuals who penned them. It is the policy of the Gwinnett Daily Post to correct all errors of fact. Corrections usually run on Page 4A.
Related Links: Laws for disclosure in debate
OTHER RELATED ARTICLES
Company files response in waste transfer station suit
By Jamie Ward
Friday, April 24, 2009
LAWRENCEVILLE - The applicant who prevailed in a controversial rezoning case that would place a solid waste transfer station between a Norcross Catholic church and a health care company has filed its answers to the church's lawsuit in Superior Court.
Lancaster Enterprises' attorney Lee Tucker Jr. said his client - builder James C. White of Flowery Branch - will seek a hearing to have the case dismissed.
Tucker confirmed that White was the only person with a financial interest in Lancaster Enterprises LLC and county deed records show he purchased the subject property in January 2006 for a little less than $2.2 million.
The Holy Vietnamese Martyrs' Mission Church, located on Shackleford Road at Beaver Ruin Road, sued Lancaster Enterprises LLC and Gwinnett County following the controversial rezoning, calling the move a "spot zoning." It was approved by the Board of Commissioners by a 3-2 vote on Feb. 3.
The county's planning department, planning commission and the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District all were against the proposed solid waste transfer station. Hundreds of Vietnamese church members attended both public hearings to oppose the project, too, as did neighboring business and commercial property owners. The Archdiocese of Atlanta also had thousands of its members sign petitions urging the board to reject the project.
District 1 Commissioner Shirley Lasseter included 34 conditions for the trash transfer station to abide by in approving the project, and Chairman Charles Bannister and Commissioner Kevin Kenerly agreed.
In Lancaster's response, they claim that the church's constitutional objections were not filed in a timely fashion and presented on behalf of the church, not the archdiocese. Because the archdiocese didn't file the objections, it does not have the right to challenge the decision of the board in this land-use matter, the document states.
Furthermore, the response says, because the church is an "unincorporated association of the Archdiocese of Atlanta," it is neither a legal entity nor the owner of adjacent property and, as such, has no standing to bring the complaint.
"The plaintiff in the present case is analogous to a civic association or home-owners association, who does not have standing to challenge a zoning decision unless it is joined with some natural person who has an ownership interest in adjoining property," the document reads.
Fox 5 Atlanta interview Archbishop Wilton Gregory about church law suit to stop Waste Transfer Station next to church **
The Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters interview at the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Mission **
Fox 5 Atlanta interview at the February 3, 2009 Gwinnett county BOC decision on Waste Transfer Station next to our church **
** Note: Videos were captured and recorded by Vinh Nguyen AKA Ohdaddad from the internet, HVMM is not responsible for any information or content of these video clips
New! New! New!
Archdiocese of Atlanta and Holy Vietnamese Martyrs’
Mission Church File Suit to Block Waste Operation.
Atlanta Archdiocese Mar 3, 2009
Atlanta, GA: March 3, 2009: Archbishop William D. Gregory announced today that a suit has been filed by the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Holy Martyrs Vietnamese Mission Church against Gwinnett County and Lancaster Enterprises to block a proposed solid waste operation next to the church in Norcross, Georgia. Archbishop Gregory said that the Archdiocese regretted having to file a legal action, but felt that all attempts to work with the County had been fruitless. “Everyone involved in this process—the local church, the community, the surrounding businesses—agrees that the Shackleford Road site is a terrible location for this operation,.” He explained, “There’s simply no rational reason for the Commission’s action.” .... read more .... click here.
New! New! New!
Archdiocese, Mission Filed Suit To Block Waste Station. The Georgia Bulletin Mar. 09, 2009
ATLANTA—A suit has been filed by the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Mission Church against Gwinnett County and Lancaster Enterprises to block a proposed solid waste operation next to the church in Norcross.
On Feb. 3, Gwinnett County commissioners voted 3-2 to approve a rezoning and special use permits allowing the solid waste transfer station to be built, even though the county Planning Department and Planning Commission had recommended that the requests be denied.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said that the archdiocese regretted having to file a legal action but felt that all attempts to work with the county had been fruitless. ..... read more ... complete story
New! New! New!
Suit Filed to Keep Dump Away From Church. MyFoxAtlanta.com Mar. 04, 2009
GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. (MyFOX ATLANTA) - The Archdiocese of Atlanta has jumped into the fight to block a waste transfer station. A lawsuit has been filed over the building of a garbage dump next to a church in Norcross. The fight has been going on for months, church members collected petitions and held prayer vigils but that didn't work and now there's a legal battle. "We do not think that the Gwinnett County Commission truly considered the full impact on the people who live nearby and those who worship at the church," said Archbishop Wilton Gregory. ..... Read the complete story and watch the video: click here
New! New! New!
Archdiocese Sues Gwinnett Over Waste Facility. AJC Mar. 03, 2009
The Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta said Tuesday that it is suing Gwinnett County over its decision to allow a waste transfer station to be built next to one of its churches in Norcross.
The lawsuit accuses Gwinnett County of abusing its authority in approving rezoning for the site on Shackleford Road adjacent to Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Mission.
The lawsuit, which also names the land’s owners, Lancaster Enterprises, also argues the transfer station would amount to a nuisance prohibited under Georgia law. ..... read more here
Georgia county approves waste station next to church
By Stephen O'Kane
Lawrenceville, Ga., Feb 14, 2009 / 08:31 pm (CNA).- After long months of debate and hopeful prayer, thousands of Catholics received bitter news as Gwinnett County, Georgia commissioners voted early this month to rezone land to allow a solid waste transfer station to be built in the city of Norcross, adjacent to Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church.
The rezoning and special use permits were passed by a 3-2 vote.
Both the Gwinnett County Planning Department and Planning Commission had recommended that the requests be denied.
As newly elected District 1 Commissioner Shirley Lasseter made a motion for approval, and while she read aloud 34 conditions that would be placed on the development, nearly the entire auditorium was filled with church members and supporters holding large orange signs that said "NO."
Lasseter paused and addressed the crowd, asserting that the conditions were added to help the community adjacent to the site. They include an 81-truck maximum per day, no deliveries to the waste transfer station on Sundays, and all transfer and sorting activity to be completed indoors.
Other commissioners voting in favor were Charles Bannister, chairman, and Kevin Kenerly, District 4. Bert Nasuti, District 2, and Mike Beaudreau, District 3, voted against the proposal.
After the vote, several members of the Vietnamese community stormed out of the auditorium, some shouting comments as they left. Outside in the hall, the crowd was audibly upset as they discussed their disappointment. Many began chanting, "No trash, no trash."
Dennis Kelly, project manager for Catholic Construction Services, Inc., called the decision "disappointing," especially since the first meeting in November ended with the recommendation by county planners to deny the requests for rezoning and a special use permit.
"They ignored their own employees and appointees and made their own decision," Kelly said of the commissioners.
Father Francis Tuan Tran, administrator of the Norcross mission church, which ministers to nearly 900 families, addressed the press after the vote and echoed the frustration that many expressed.
"I am very, very disappointed," he said, but he added that this is not the end of their fight.
Father Tran said the community would use all of the resources at their disposal to continue their "difficult" fight against the project. He said legal action was one of the options being considered.
He also thanked nearby business owners, the media and members of surrounding communities that supported the church throughout this ordeal, as well as the office of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
Parishioners who attended the meeting were very vocal in their distaste for the vote.
"I think it is shameful," said a flustered Q.T. Nguyen, a member of Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church since it began in 2003. "If the station was next to Mr. Bannister’s house, he would think differently."
"How can we have a waste station right next to the house of God?" he asked aloud.
Chi Nguyen, a parishioner for four years, expressed her concern about the health of the children at the church.
"We believe in the child’s future," she said.
Surrounding business owners were also present and equally distraught.
Blake Dexter, who owns nearly 1.2 million square feet of office and industrial space near the proposed waste transfer station, underlined that the decision went against the recommendations of county planning professionals.
He fears that the Fortune 100 and international companies who currently occupy the space will consider leaving the property if a waste transfer station is built next door.
Dexter also said that he was concerned that the proposition was motioned for approval by the District 1 commissioner because he felt she did not have time to review the issue.
Lasseter just joined the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners in January.
The public debate began last November when Father Tran brought more than 600 people with him to a planning hearing to voice their opposition to the proposition. The meeting ended with a recommendation by county planners to deny the requests for rezoning and a special use permit.
The developer, Lancaster Enterprises, represented by the Mahaffey, Pickens, Tucker law firm, plans to construct two buildings on the nine-acre property. The company claims the buildings will look like office buildings and that all operations will be conducted inside.
However, Holy Vietnamese Martyrs parishioners, as well as surrounding business owners, expressed their concern about air pollution, dangerous truck traffic and increased noise levels that are sure to accompany a solid waste transfer station.
A public hearing on the proposition to rezone the land was held in December before county commissioners. More than 1,000 protestors showed up, filling the auditorium and the halls outside only to learn that the decision would be tabled until Feb. 3.
Father Tran and the church community knew there had to be some action taken, so he and several parishioners reached out to the surrounding Catholic community in other Gwinnett County parishes.
The mission formed 10 groups to visit neighboring Gwinnett County churches to share information.
"This idea actually originated from a comment I overheard that there are approximately 24,000 Catholic families who live in Gwinnett County," said C. C. Nguyen, a parish leader who arranged the visitations.
"How can we ask all of our brothers and sisters in Christ to help us with our fight in protecting our church and our archdiocese’s property from the proposed solid waste transfer station," he asked.
The groups spoke at Masses and also handed out flyers with information on how others could help, including an online petition.
Nearly 10,000 Catholics signed or verbally agreed to join in a petition supporting the stance of Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church, while others directly called or e-mailed the commissioners.
The Vietnamese church community also held a prayer vigil on Saturday, Jan. 31, from noon until midnight. Catholics from surrounding parishes, including St. John Neumann Church, Lilburn, and St. Patrick Church, Norcross, attended the vigil to pray for the community and a good outcome.
However, despite the obvious opposition voiced over and over by thousands of Gwinnett residents, Catholic and otherwise, the proposal was passed.
According to Father Tran, the story does not end here. He said they will use "every available resource" to fight the approval, adding that there is current discussion about bringing legal action against Gwinnett County.
Pat Chivers, communications director for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, said the Environmental Protection Agency would also be contacted, since that federal agency has to approve construction of this type of facility.
Printed with permission from the Georgia Bulletin, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Gwinnett Approve Waste Station Next To Church. The Georgia Bulletin Feb. 05, 2009
Commissioner OK Station, Church Upset with waste transfer decision. Gwinnett Daily Post Feb. 04, 2009
Waste Transfer Site Heavy on Norcross. AJC Feb. 07, 2009
Garbage Wars. WORLD Magazine Feb. 04, 2009
Gwinnett OKs Waste Station Near Church. AJC.com Feb. 03, 2009
Gwinnett OKs Waste Station Near Church. Atlanta PBS Station Feb. 03, 2009
Church Hold Vigil , Trash Plant Opposed. AJC.com Feb. 01, 2009
Mission Ask Other Parishes For Support on Rezoning Issue. The Georgia Bulletin Jan. 22, 2009
At Hearing, 1,000 Oppose Waste Transfer Station. The Georgia Bulletin Jan. 01, 2009
War over waste - Church fights proposal for neighboring waste transfer station. Gwinnett Daily Post Jan 19, 2009.
Catholics fighting waste plant: Commissioner insulted us. AJC.com Jan. 06, 2009
Gwinnett officials advice 'no' vote on waste station. AJC.com Dec. 04, 2008
Residents say no to transfer station. Gwinnett Daily Post Dec. 04, 2008
Wrap up of December Commission public hearing. Gwinnett Buzz Dec. 22, 2008
Church members were angered when Commissioner Kevin Kenerly said . WSB News January 7, 2009
NEW! NEW! NEW!
Suit Filed to Keep Dump Away From Church. MyFoxAtlanta.com Mar. 04, 2009
NEW! NEW! NEW!
Gwinnett Give OK to Waste Dump Near Church. Fox 5 News, Feb 03, 2009
Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Decision on Feb. 3, 2009 . Gwinnett TV, Feb 03, 2009
Gwinnett Give OK to Waste Dump Near Church. Fox 5 News, Feb 03, 2009
Church Members Protest Proposed Waste Station. CBSAtlanta.com, Feb. 01, 2009
Norcross Church Fights to Keep Trash Dump From Opening Next Door. Fox 5 News, January 31, 2009
Church Members Pray Against Waste Transfer Station. CBSAtlanta.com, January 31, 2009
Opposition For Waste Transfer Facility Next to Gwinnett Church. WSBTV channel 2, January 27, 2009
Gwinnett county Board of commissioners December 16, 2008 Public Hearing. Gwinnett TV23
Church Goers protest. Fox 5 news
Gwinnett Church To Trash Company: You Stink. CBS46.com Atlanta TV news
Learn the truth about Solid Waste Transfer Station.
News in Vietnamese (Tin Tức Tiếng Việt):
Cộng Ðồng Công Giáo Tại Norcross Atlanta Phản Ðối Kế Hoạch Xây Bãi Ðổ Rác Cạnh Nhà Thờ. SBTN, 1/11/009.
Cộng Ðồng Người Việt Ở Atlanta Chống Ðối Kế Hoạch Xây Bãi Rác. SBTN, 11/30/2008
NEW! NEW! NEW!
Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Resolution on RZC 09-003 Feb 20, 2009
DENIAL RECOMMENDATION from the Gwinnett County Department of Planning and Development Rezoning Analysis
Letter from the Archbishop to the Gwinnett County Commissioners Chairman
The Petition Letter from the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs’ Mission
Public hearing speech on December 3, 2008
Public hearing speech on December 16, 2008
Appeal speech to all Gwinnett County parishes
Appeal speech to all Gwinnett County parishes in Spanish
ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer
Published: August 17, 2006
NORCROSS—A community that met for over 10 years at Holy Cross Church in Atlanta finally has a place to call its own.
The dedication of Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Mission was a collision of colors, culture and faith, as Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory inaugurated their new worship space.
The dedication began outside of the church under a massive tent June 10. A large stage held a statue of the Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Lavang, patroness of the mission.
As a gong echoed in the air, the members of the Sacred Heart Guild, dressed in striking blue gowns, came forward offering incense to Mary, in typical Vietnamese tradition. They were followed by the young people of the church, who brought forth bouquets, dancing as they, one by one, laid the flowers at the feet of the statue.
To officially begin the dedication, the priests, including Father Peter Duc Vu, administrator of the mission, and Archbishop Gregory walked to the doors of the church. There, Archbishop Gregory was given the key to the church and the plans for construction.
“Father Peter, will you please open the doors of the church,” Archbishop Gregory asked the administrator.
Immediately, a loud roar of applause sounded through the crowd as balloons were released into the sky.
The Mass was a true bilingual event, with most of the music and readings given in Vietnamese and Archbishop Gregory offering his own words in English.
In his homily he spoke of the joy the members of the mission were experiencing.
“Every Catholic community looks forward to the day when they can have their own place in which to worship God,” he said. “That day has dawned for the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs community, and I welcome it and applaud all of your hard and generous efforts to make it possible.”
“Your proud Vietnamese culture and deep Faith are clearly evident in this new venture and in the name of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, I congratulate this most recent accomplishment.”
Archbishop Gregory spoke of the importance of churches, which are the places in which some of the most important events in a person’s life take place. But he reminded the people that it is not the building that makes its occupants holy.
“The people make the building sacred—you the people of the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs are the source of the sacredness of this new church building,” he said. “It is your Catholic Faith, your dignity as God’s sons and daughters, your dedication to the Church’s teaching and moral vision that really consecrates this new space.”
A church dedication is a time to recall the importance of one’s own role in God’s kingdom, he said.
“When a new church building is dedicated like we are [doing] this evening, it is a great and proud moment for all those whose generosity made it possible for this happy day to take place,” the archbishop said. “Such a dedication is also an important opportunity for the people of a community to remind themselves and rededicate themselves to being the holy Temple of God’s Presence each day of their lives.”
The archbishop’s homily was then translated and read in Vietnamese.
The church, which sits on Timmers Way in Norcross, is the site of a former Chevrolet dealership. A large worship space seats as many as 675 people, while 10 classrooms are available to serve the over 500 children enrolled in religious education in the parish. Two social halls and office space are also part of the new church. The approximately $1.4 million project was designed by architect Khiet Nguyen and built by Arcon Construction.
Father Vu was clearly overwhelmed at the Mass by his new church and the many contributions that his parishioners made. Over 800 families attend the mission.
“Whatever you have done to help build this church is an example of sharing and of praising God,” he said to them at the dedication. “My deepest thanks to my people here. All of you make me very proud of this day. All of you are the key to this church and have made this project come true. I share with all of you the joy I see on your faces, and I’m so thankful to God for all he has given to this community.”
In addition to the members of the mission that attended the dedication, many parishioners from Holy Cross Church were there, including the pastor, Father Patrick Kingery.
Gerry Burns and Jim Petrie are parishioners at Holy Cross and said they wanted to come to the dedication to support Father Vu, their former parochial vicar.
“Father Peter has been a friend to us for a long time. He was present at the hospital when my wife died. I really just wanted to come and support him,” Petrie said.
Burns said he was captivated by the Vietnamese traditions that were infused into the Mass.
“The pageantry was just unbelievable,” he said.
Father Vu said he felt very supported by the people of Holy Cross, where he and the Vietnamese community had been gathering since 1996.
“They always supported me when I served them, and I wanted to invite all of them to come to the dedication. I was so happy that so many of them came,” he said.
Kim Huong Vu wears many hats at the mission. She is a member of the pastoral council, director of religious education and the bookkeeper. After the dedication Mass, she was busy handing out boxed dinners to guests and making sure the rest of the evening, which included live music and dancing, went smoothly.
“We’re so excited. It seems like it’s been forever,” she said. “This is a milestone for us.”
Father Vu said that they now hold four weekend Masses—one Saturday vigil Mass and three on Sunday. He said the flexibility of having their own space to meet is especially nice for the community.
“We’re just so excited and happy to have our own church,” he said. “We have good people and a good location. We hope to be here at least 50 more years.”
Thank you letter:
HOLY VIETNAMESE MARTYRS’ MISSION ♦ HỌ ĐẠO CÁC THÁNH TỬ ĐẠO VIỆT NAM
4545-A TIMMERS WAY ♦ NORCROSS, GA 30093 ♦ (770) 921-0077 ♦ FAX (770) 921-0510
January 21, 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Please accept our sincere gratitude for your prayers and support in opposing the proposed Solid Waste Transfer Station. The outpour of encouragement and support from all of you was simply wonderful! Your kind words and deeds have blessed us with refreshed spirit and renewed energy to defend our Archdiocese and our Church.
As noted in the appeal, the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners will finalize their decision on this matter at the next board meeting on Tuesday, February 3. Until that time, our entire congregation is committed to keeping the public focus squarely on this matter. Please continue to pray and support our cause by:
1. Continue to call and email the Board of Commissioners to object the Solid Waste Transfer Station. Please also tap into your contact list and circulate our online petition (note that they do not have to be a resident of Gwinnett County to send email). Our website address is www.cacthanhtudaovn.org.
2. Join us for the 12-hour Prayer Vigil at our Church on Saturday, January 31 from noon to midnight. We are located at 4545-A Timmers Way – Norcross, GA 30093. Members of the local media will be present to cover the event.
3. Be present at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Building (75 Langley Drive – Lawrenceville, GA 30045) on Tuesday, February 3 at 1:00 PM for the Board of Commissioners’ meeting. We hope to get several thousand to attend this meeting to show our solidarity in defending our Archdiocese and our Church.
Thank you again for your continued support!
Sincerely yours in Christ,