Fayette County bans Flat Creek Baptist Church's outdoor event


FAYETTVILLE, Ga. — Two car shows are scheduled in Fayette County on June 3. Both events have been denied county permission to take place.

The first one at the expansive north Fayette mansion of rapper Rick Ross is still scheduled to take place and has created a number of news stories on Atlanta TV news programs.

The second one on the same day you may not have heard that much about: it’s dubbed Cars and Crafts at The Creek on the parking lot behind Flat Creek Baptist Church just northeast of Peachtree City.

Spokespersons for both have said that despite the absence of a county conditional zoning permit, both will go on as scheduled, setting June 3 as a potentially interesting day for law enforcement and zoning compliance officials in Fayette County.

The Rick Ross show will be the second in two years, with last year’s version receiving that zoning permit in advance. Neighbors in nearby residential subdivisions complained after last year’s version that vehicles clogged up streets and intersections.

This year, Ross has reportedly hired a fleet of passenger buses to ferry party-goers from several offsite parking areas onto the grounds of the mansion. That will solve the traffic clog, Ross spokespeople are saying.

The county zoning administrator, Deborah Bell, changed last year’s “Yes” to a “No” for this year.

Down Flat Creek way, the county got involved when it saw a sign facing Flat Creek Trail in front of the church advertising the car show and craft event. A zoning official told the church it needed a permit. On May 17, Administrator Bell said “No” to the permit and thus “No” to the car show and craft bazaar, maybe one of the first times in Fayette’s history that a church has been told it can’t put on an outdoor event on its own property.

Flat Creek Baptist began in a log cabin off Sumner Road in what is now Peachtree City nearly two centuries ago and moved to its current location a few miles northward on Flat Creek Trail in the early years of the 20th century. Virtually everything now built along Flat Creek Trail came after the church was established. It’s likely that even a few outdoor events took place on the church property in the intervening years, all without county sanction.

Senior Pastor Josh Saefkow had some thoughts about the unexpected opposition from the county government.

“Flat Creek Baptist Church has been ministering to the needs of our community for almost 197 years. The church has been in its current location for 110 years and has always strived to have a harmonious relationship with its community leaders,” Saefkow said.

“However, [Fayette County’s] unprecedented decision toward our fellowship is an overreach and abuse of their role. The First Amendment protects us from such decisions, and we cannot help but feel this is a clear violation of our religious liberty,” the pastor said.

“Therefore, I encourage every car lover, craft maker, and supporter of religious freedom to attend our car show on Saturday, June 3rd, at Flat Creek Baptist Church from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

“Rick Ross, you’re welcome as well,” Saefkow said.

Saefkow has served as senior pastor at Flat Creek Baptist since 2016. Last year he was elected to serve as the president of the Georgia Baptist Convention.

The Citizen has contacted County Zoning Administrator Deborah Bell and the five members of the Fayette County Commission for their comments on the church event ban. Their replies will be reported when received.

Here’s the county letter to the church:

May 17, 2023

Flat Creek Baptist Church, Inc. Attn: Mark Ward, Associate Pastor 161 Flat Creek Trail

Fayetteville, GA 30214

Re: Request for Conditional Use approval for Flat Creek Baptist Church

Dear Pastor Ward:

The Fayette County Department of Planning & Zoning has received information regarding conditional use consideration for a car show proposed to be hosted on June 3, 2023 at 161 Flat Creek Trail in Fayetteville, the Flat Creek Baptist Church.

Based on the information provided, staff has determined that the proposed use is not in compliance with the Fayette County Zoning Ordinance.

The subject property is located in Land Lot 39 of the 7th Land District and consists of approximately 8.53 acres. The site is zoned A-R, Agricultural, according to County records and the Official Fayette County Zoning Map.

The use proposed is not a permitted use in the A-R Zoning District as a matter of right. Staff has also determined that the proposed use does not exist in the list of conditional uses in the Fayette County A-R Zoning District.

Should you have any questions or concerns regarding this decision, do not hesitate to let me know.

Deborah L. Bell, RLA Director, Planning & Zoning

CC:Steven Rapson, County Manager

Cal Beverly is editor of The Citizen in Fayetteville, Ga.