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Buckhead Residents Fight $3M Church Rectory Project

Peachtree Heights West residents oppose efforts by the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Cathedral of Christ the King to build a Rectory for priests in the midst of Peachtree Heights West, a neighborhood zoned for single family use.

136 West Wesley Road. Courtesy Google Maps
136 West Wesley Road. Courtesy Google Maps
Editor's Note: The following is a press release from concerned residents of Peachtree Heights West, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. In 2006, the Cultural Landscape Foundation named Peachtree Heights West an “at risk” neighborhood due to the demolition of the original houses and their subsequent replacement by houses two and three times the size of the original structures.


Many Buckhead residents oppose efforts by the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Cathedral of Christ the King to build a Rectory for priests in the midst of Peachtree Heights West, a neighborhood zoned for single family use. 

The construction plans call for a 2,978 sq. ft., two-story dormitory with four bedroom suites in the location of the current garage on the property located at 136 West Wesley Road. The dormitory will include an exercise room and library. The plans also call for a substantial renovation to the existing single family home on the property. 

The main house will include an additional three bedrooms, an expansive kitchen, two eating areas, a chapel, a large priests’ den complete with a full bar with bottle shelves and mirror and a library. Connected by an open breezeway, the overall project will include seven bedrooms, each with walk-in closets, private bathrooms and separate living rooms with alcoves containing sinks and under the counter refrigerators. There will also be one additional bathroom in the basement where an office and laundry area will be located.  According to public statements by Christ the King officials, the Rectory will house Father Frank McNamee and six (6) priests. 

Christ the King purchased the property at 136 West Wesley Road, which previously served as the home of Archbishop Wilton Gregory, from the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta at a cost of just over $1.9 Million. Regarding the cost of the renovations, Sam Fraundorf, Chairman of the Finance Council at the Cathedral of Christ the King, stated in an April 3, 2014 article that appeared in The Georgia Bulletin, an official publication of the Atlanta Catholic Archdiocese, as follows: “We have been using a number of $1 Million to address demolition, building, update and repairs on the existing portion of the house. We recently had to change contractors, moving from a residential to commercial contractor, which may impact those numbers. However, we continue with that as the best estimate at this point.”  

The total cost of the project is estimated to be at least $3 Million. During the planning process with the City of Atlanta Office of Buildings, the Church changed the description of the project from a renovation to Christ the King Rectory to an addition to a single family home.

Many Christ the King parishioners have been openly critical of the plan to spend this money to build a new Rectory. Susan Euart, a longtime parishioner at Christ the King stated: “This money that was given to Christ the King could have been better spent on the school and to needy individuals in our parish.  The current Rectory located on the Christ the King campus is fine for the priests’ needs. If it needs to be renovated, I believe the parishioners would support this expenditure. We want our priests to live comfortably and well.”

Christ the King lifelong parishioner, Bill Murray, who also serves as the Zoning Chair of Neighborhood Planning Unit B, which encompasses Peachtree Heights West, stated: “I am concerned about the lack of timely communication between the Church and the parishioners regarding this project. If the issuance of this building permit is appealed to the Board of Zoning Adjustment, it will come before NPU B for review and comment.”

Dozens of Peachtree Heights West residents, once they learned of the Rectory plans, also objected to the construction project and many have made unsolicited offers of financial assistance in fighting the proposed development. 

One Peachtree Heights West resident, Wright Mitchell, stated: “We have enjoyed having Archbishop Gregory as a neighbor for many years and we were sorry to see him leave. It was our hope that he would return to 136 West Wesley and take up residence in the house where the Atlanta Archbishops have resided for decades. The proposed construction of a Rectory on the property, however, is inconsistent with the single family character of our wonderful neighborhood and the Church should have applied for a special use permit. The special use permitting process, which requires an impact analysis and a review by the relevant Neighborhood Planning Unit, exists to make sure that the integrity of our historic neighborhoods and landscapes is considered when analyzing whether this sort of development is warranted.”

A group of Peachtree Heights West residents have retained noted zoning and land use attorney Hakim Hilliard to review the legality of the planned construction project, parking facility and renovations. Mr. Hilliard has worked as an assistant city attorney with the City of Atlanta and he also staffed the Atlanta Board of Zoning Adjustment and Zoning Review Board on issues related to land use and zoning. 

Now in private practice, Mr. Hilliard has concluded that “the Rectory is an accessory structure of the Christ the King Church and the broad scope and institutional nature of the planned renovations, which the Church described to City officials as an addition to a single-family home, anticipate a use of land that exceeds what is permitted in this single-family neighborhood without a special permit.” Mr. Hilliard has also identified other problems with the building plans that subject the project to legal challenge.

In response to this argument, an attorney for the Catholic Archdiocese/Christ the King Cathedral, Kathryn Zickert, stated in an April 16, 2014 letter to Mr. Hilliard that his clients were attempting to “intimidate or coerce” the Catholic Archdiocese/Christ the King in its efforts to provide a home for the priests in violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act. The letter also accused Mr. Hilliard’s clients of engaging in religious discrimination.

Mr. Hilliard’s clients and other residents of Peachtree Heights West intend to oppose this incompatible construction in their neighborhood. Additionally, many members of Christ the King Church also intend to oppose the construction on the grounds that it constitutes an unwise use of church funds.

Peachtree Heights West, developed in 1910, is the only known suburb designed by the illustrious New York architectural firm of Carrere and Hastings. Many nationally and locally noted landscape architects and residential architects designed its homes and gardens. Peachtree Heights West was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. In 2006, the Cultural Landscape Foundation named Peachtree Heights West an “at risk” neighborhood due to the demolition of the original houses and their subsequent replacement by houses two and three times the size of the original structures.

Atlanta residents who are concerned about this potential violation of zoning laws and the resulting damage to the historic fabric of Peachtree Heights West can contact protectphw@gmail.com for more information.


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