Vows of poverty and chastity. Dedicated to God and helping others.
Sounds like neighbors most folks would boast of, right?
But not when there are roughly a dozen of them, and they've converted a 5,000-square-foot house into a dormitory at the center of your subdivision, said Janie van Reenen of Peachtree Corners.
Van Reenen and other residents of the River Valley Estates neighborhood are fighting a special-use permit request that would allow members of a Catholic religious order to continue using the house on Gunnin Road as an office and dormitory.
The case is scheduled to be heard Wednesday by the Planning Commission, but both sides expect the commission to delay a vote for a month or two so negotiations can continue.
The consecrated women of the order Regnum Christi have quietly moved into the lushly landscaped neighborhood off Spalding Drive. Members of the order generally work in schools, retreat centers and missions.
Other than the unusually large number of trash cans that would appear curbside, there were few signs that the house was a dormitory, van Reenen said. But when word got out earlier this year, residents of River Valley Estates complained to the county, and the Catholic order was forced to apply for the special-use permit.
Neighbors also learned of plans for an 8,000-square-foot addition that would allow the dormitory to house 25 women.
That, van Reenen said, would change the character of the tidy neighborhood dotted with two-story houses, sprawling ranch homes and split-levels.
"It would look more like a school or a hotel rather than a single-family residence," she said.
Residents organized a petition drive against the proposal and collected 453 signatures, including one from at least one member of each of the 120 households in River Valley Estates.
Jack Wilson, an attorney for the women, said his clients are looking for ways to address the neighbors' concerns. He said the county considers this a unique case, so it wouldn't set the precedent that neighborhoods around Peachtree Corners fear.
Besides, Wilson said, these are model neighbors.
"The vow of . . . poverty is something you don't get every day," Wilson said. "It's just a limited group of women that I don't think would be bad neighbors at all."
Van Reenen said the character of her nun-like neighbors isn't at issue.
"They're lovely ladies," she said. "The question is not whether they're nice people.
The question is whether dormitories and offices are consistent with the neighborhood. And they're not."