Athens --- The Clarke County Board of Adjustments denied a zoning variance
request Tuesday from the leader of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors to waive
all buffer and setback requirements for a Broad Street building adjacent to
a historic neighborhood.
Malachi Z. York, aka Dwight York, who moved with his followers from Brooklyn, N.Y., five years ago to an Egyptian-style community of 400 acres in Putnam County, lists an Athens address on his petition. He wanted to add a second floor that would double the square footage of the one-story brick structure, formerly a toy and novelty story, and use it as a fraternal lodge for his group.
In Brooklyn, York's Muslim-oriented group was known as Ansaru Allah Community; in Putnam County, the group changed its name, garb and ideology, and built numerous Egyptian-style statues and pyramids outside Eatonton. In cities across the country, including Athens, stores offer classes about the group and sell Nuwaubian writings, a blend of philosophies from the Bible, ancient Egyptian polytheism and end-of-the-millennium alien visitation prophecies.
In Athens, York bought the Ideal Amusement building for $285,000 this spring. It sits against the property line of a historic house on Dearing Street, its roof line level with the house's back yard. On its east side is Church Street, a narrow road with a steep incline leading from Dearing to Broad.
Several residents of the Dearing Street neighborhood, where homes date from the 1800s, spoke against granting the variance, saying the lodge would further add to parking, pedestrian and traffic problems. The neighborhood is one block south of Broad Street.
Dearing Street homeowner Farley Richmond, head of the drama department at the University of Georgia, said his street was in "a delicate balance" and any change could cause serious upset. UGA sociology professor Mark Cooney, a neighbor, said the Board of Adjustments would be setting a bad precedent if it granted the variances.
If the board allows a second floor to be built, said Dearing Street resident Walter O'Briant, the Nuwaubians will have to hire a helicopter to reach it because they won't have any rear access to the building.
NAACP member Thomas Oglesby said the response of the residents was racist and that the Nuwaubians have as much right to do business as anyone else. Bernard Foster, who identified himself as a contractor on the building, tried to assuage the concerns of the residents, even as he chided them for "prejudging" the Nuwaubians. He said the lodge wouldn't have rowdy activity or disturb the people living behind it. It would, he said, simply be a place where "we could go as members of a fraternal organization and do the things we do in unity."
After the unanimous decision to deny the variance, Foster said he doesn't know whether York will use the building as a lodge without expanding it or find a different location.
In Putnam County, Nuwaubian followers staged a rally at the courthouse in Eatonton Tuesday afternoon, upset that the names of some followers were taken off voter registration rolls. A sheriff's spokesman said the rally seemed peaceful.