Five weeks after turning down Ebenezer United Methodist Church’s special-use permit to allow a full-time daycare program, the Rockdale Board of Commissioners approved a new daycare for Conyers Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
The board’s approval on May 13 for the Seventh-Day Adventist has come under scrutiny. The commissioners denied Ebenezer’s request saying they were worried that too many church daycares would negatively impact other daycares already in operation in the county.
This week, however, Commissioner Oz Nesbit said he approved the Seventh Day Adventist’s request because it had the support of the community. Nesbitt and Board Chairman Richard Oden voted on both churches’ requests while Commissioner JaNice Van Ness abstained from voting. Van Ness abstained to avoid a conflict of interest because she is the owner and operator of a daycare business and private school in Rockdale.
“Leaders of Seventh-Day Adventist had worked with the surrounding community residents to allay their concerns about noise and other issues and were able to find a workable, reasonable and feasible solution, which involved planting an evergreen buffer,” said Nesbitt. “You've elected us to make tough decisions. This is one of those tough decisions. I hope in all that I'm saying, you understand whereas I support the faith based community, this is one of those decisions to support free enterprise and those folks who are creating jobs.”
Oden said he did not want to comment due to ongoing litigation.
Ebenezer has filed a lawsuit against the county appealing the denial of a special-use permit that would have allowed the church to operate a full-day childcare program at the church. There was no opposition to their request and although the planning board gave its approval, the board of commissioners still denied the permit.
“The Board of Commissioners made an off-the-wall decision to deny us and their reasoning didn’t make any sense,” said Paige Roberts, who serves as church administrator. “We wanted to extend the daycare to simply address the needs of our community and our working parents. They don’t understand why they should have to find a place for their children when we have the space and staff here. We, as a church staff, don’t understand it either.”
The special-use permit would have allowed the church to operate the daycare from 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. with 75 students. The daycare currently operates from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. with 41 kids.
Rockdale County and all three commissioners as well as Planning Director Marshall Walker are named in the complaint. Conyers attorney Robert Zoeckler is representing Ebenezer UMC.
Roberts says no one from county government has reached out to them and their decision has left church members in a state of disappointment and disbelief.
“All we can do now for the most part is wait. We are going to go ahead and set up the steps for getting a state licensee, but we can’t do much without the permit. We will continue to operate the daycare as we have done for the past 26 years,” said Roberts.
The church’s pastor remains optimistic.
“God will work it out. We will continue to operate in a spirit of excellence,” said Pastor Michael Nickolich. “We will continue to work and serve, and through a lot of prayer, we hope the decision will be reversed.”