Gwinnett County, GA

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Description

In February 2002, the Gwinnett County Municipal Planning Commission unanimously approved a request for a special-use permit by the Georgia Islamic Institute of Religious and Social Sciences (GIIRS) to construct a five-acre cemetery on New Hope Road in Lawrenceville. However, residents' opposition delayed the planning commission's vote multiple times. The project was approved with conditions requiring the Muslim community to reduce the number of burial plots from 1,500 to 1,276, install an eight-foot-tall wooden fence, use wooden caskets for burial and stone or metal grave markers, and establish a maintenance fund. In 2019, the Institute was issued another special-use permit for a second cemetery project after similar community opposition.

Creator

Geneva Cunningham

Year

2002

Proposed Project

The Georgia Institute of Religious Sciences sought a special use permit to rezone 5 acres of land for a 1,500 plot cemetery off of New Hope Road about 3.5 miles away from their mosque in Lawrenceville, GA.

Outcome

After five months of planning commission delays, the Islamic Institute of Religious and Social Sciences was granted a special use permit for the New Hope Cemetery with conditions. These included the reduction from 1,500 plots to 1,276 plots, the insertion of a groundwater monitoring well, an eight-foot-high wooden fence, a minimum of five thousand dollars for land maintenance, and the creation of a $5,000 fund for the cemetery’s landscaping fees.

Narrative

On February 26, 2002, the Gwinnett County Municipal Planning Commission approved the Georgia Islamic Institute of Religious and Social Sciences’ request for a special-use permit to construct the New Hope Cemetery, which is 3.5 miles away from their mosque in Lawrenceville. The Institute was seeking a space nearby to bury their loved ones, considering there was only one other Muslim cemetery in all of Atlanta. In September 2001, the Institute proposed a five-acre cemetery project on land zoned residential. Although a mosque and an educational center had been built by the Institute without opposition, the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks resulted in several public hearing delays. On September 18, the case was slated for review, and five months later, in late February of 2002, the New Hope cemetery was approved unanimously. In order to mediate conflict between the Institute and neighboring opposition, the Gwinnett Commissioners called for certain conditions: a reduction in burial plots, increased focus on the aesthetics, and well water monitoring. In 2019, the Institute returned to the Gwinnett County Commissioners for another special-use permit due to space constraints at the New Hope Cemetery constructed in 2002.

The property in Lawrenceville sits on New Hope Road—a piece of land zoned residential that required a special-use permit for use as a cemetery with a planned 1,500 burial plots. At the public hearings, local community members voiced concerns about specific Muslim burial practices as a health risk and visually displeasing. In its 4-0 decision approving the project, the Gwinnett County Commissioners voted for a scaled-down, 1,276-plot cemetery. Other conditions included in the approval were required wooden caskets, stone and/or metal grave markers, the prohibition of open pits, an eight-foot-tall wooden fence surrounding the area, and a $5,000 minimum budget for land maintenance costs. The Institute obliged, pledging to hire a groundskeeper to maintain the property. The Institute also decided to prohibit graves within 110 feet of the Grayson Oaks residential area. Hafiz A. Ghaffar Khan, the president of the Georgia Islamic Institute, shared that “we are very, very happy” and promised the community would “follow every restriction” (Feagans, 2002, Feb 27). 

On October 31, 2018, the Georgia Islamic Institute of Religious and Social Sciences returned to Gwinnett County Commissioners to construct a 9.877-acre cemetery on unincorporated land zoned residential. The plot sits at the intersection of Berry Hall Road and Harbins Road in Bethlehem, Georgia. The Institute was looking to have about 8,000 burial plots at the proposed site, as they were nearing maximum capacity at the New Hope Cemetery. The Gwinnett Planning Commission recommended approval of the permit with conditions, but Commissioner Tommy Hunter tabled the vote until March 5, 2019, to review issues concerning groundwater monitoring (Yeomans, 2019, Feb 26). Institute representative Mohsin Ashfaque noted the repeated claims on well water were stalling the cemetery’s construction, as the same reasons to halt the construction of the New Hope Cemetery in 2002. Whereas the New Hope Cemetery was close to Tribble Mill Lake, there is no groundwater recharging near the new location on Berry Hall Road. Ashfaque asked that other conditions be waived as well because these would have meant a loss of about 3,000 burial plots. The conditions included the requirement of 100-foot buffers, a decorative fence, and landscaped vegetation.

In 2019, Gwinnett Commissioners ultimately approved the new cemetery with conditions including the construction of a boundary wall around the graves. Despite public opposition to both projects, both New Hope Cemetery and the newly-established cemetery on Berry Hall Road remain in use today.

References

Collection

Citation

Geneva Cunningham, “Gwinnett County, GA,” U.S. Mosque Controversies, accessed August 7, 2022, https://usmc.ecdsomeka.org/items/show/48.

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