A national nonprofit legal group has taken up the cause of a Cherokee County addiction ministry that this month lost its zoning battle with county government to continue operating a transitional housing facility in southeast Cherokee County.
The American Center for Law and Justice has filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on behalf of Vision Warriors Church, Inc., 1709 Old Country Place, Woodstock.
Earlier this month following a four-hour public hearing, commissioners unanimously voted to deny a zoning appeal to allow Vision Warriors to continue operating. Vision Warriors officials have said they provide housing for between 20 to 30 men in addiction recovery, vocational training and spiritual guidance through twice-weekly religious services.
County commissioners in April denied special use permits that would have allowed Vision Warriors’ operation to continue. An appeal of that decision at the public hearing this month upheld the ruling that the ministry violates the zoning of the nearly seven acres it sits on.
Commission Chairman Harry Johnston said at the hearing that Vision Warriors appears to be a shelter rather than a church. Commissioner Raymond Gunnin said he believes the mission of Vision Warriors is noble, but would be better carried out elsewhere. Commissioners voted unanimously to deny the appeal.
Vision Warriors purchased the property in December 2017 from a ministry called Happy Acres, which provided temporary housing to missionaries and operated on the land with county approval from 1982 until 2017, when it was purchased by Vision Warriors.
The federal lawsuit alleges the county is discriminating against the residents of Vision Warriors because they are recovering from substance abuse, something the ACLJ said is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Vision Warriors’ use of the property is practically identical to that of Happy Acres, which was approved by the county year after year,” the lawsuit states. “The only difference is the type of residents served by Vision Warriors — i.e. disabled individuals struggling to overcome addiction.”
The 30-page complaint sues Cherokee County government and members of the board of commissioners individually. It alleges that, following public pressure, the county ruled that an approval for the ministry to operate by a former county planning and zoning employee was issued in error. The suit also said the county has purposely amended its zoning regulations to make it more difficult for Vision Warriors to legally operate at the location.
The suit asks for an injunction to allow Vision Warriors to continue to operate until the suit is adjudicated. It also seeks $300,000 in damages.
“It is our hope that this much needed ministry will not be hindered any further in carrying out its faith-based mission,” ACLJ attorney Abigail Southerland said in a blog post this month. “I visited the property myself last week and met with the members that Vision Warriors is currently ministering to. It is an impressive organization. Vision Warriors is bringing life and hope to the hopeless. It has changed countless lives and restored families and marriages. We will vigorously fight in court to see that its lifechanging mission continues to operate unhindered by discrimination.”
The Vision Warriors facility began operating during late 2017 and opposition to it surfaced a few months later. Area residents have said previously that they did not know that the property had been sold or that it was being used as transitional housing.
At a community meeting in 2018 two women said they had been yelled at by Vision Warriors residents as they walked in the neighborhood. Others have reported that Vision Warriors residents had knocked on their doors uninvited.
No hearings have been scheduled in the lawsuit, and the county, as of Tuesday afternoon, had not filed an answer.
Read the complaint here: