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Thursday July 30th, 2015 12:11AM

Atlanta residents object to planned priests' home

By The Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) Residents are objecting to the Archdiocese of Atlanta's plans to renovate a house in the city's upscale Buckhead neighborhood so it can be a home for a group of priests in the latest dust-up involving the home.

The dispute involves Atlanta Catholic Archbishop Wilton Gregory's former residence, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Earlier this month, Gregory said he would sell a $2.2 million mansion after parishioners complained it wasn't in line with the tone of austerity Pope Francis has set. Gregory still lives in the mansion but plans to move.

Attorney Hakim Hilliard, who represents some residents near the house, said the planned renovation would create a dormitory for a half-dozen priests in a historic neighborhood zoned for single-family homes. Hilliard said the parish is trying to create a church annex in a neighborhood where such structures are not allowed, and that it should have obtained a special-use permit but did not.

Plans for the project include a chapel, bar, exercise room and other amenities, and the initial estimate for the improvements is $292,000, the Atlanta newspaper reported.

"It's an extravagant project," Hilliard said. "People with big homes have a lot of room, but they don't have chapels in them."

A church lawyer, Kathryn Zickert, says opposition to the renovation amounts to a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and smacks of religious discrimination.

"The city issued the relevant permits appropriately, and any effort to interfere with them will be met by very strong opposition," Zickert wrote Tuesday to Hilliard.

She added that "any further efforts to intimidate or coerce my client in its efforts to provide this home for six priests in my view is a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act."
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