Concern over Muslim cemetery leads to moratorium in Cobb

No more new cemeteries in Cobb County, at least for now.

The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to place a moratorium on cemetery permits until April 1, giving the county time to amend local laws in response to concerns over a cemetery being constructed by the East Cobb Islamic Center off Macland Road in South Cobb. The Macland Road cemetery, which will not be affected retroactively by the moratorium, is the first new cemetery to be constructed in Cobb in more than 20 years, and its first cemetery for Muslims.

“During the time of this moratorium, staff will be researching national best practices as it relates to the regulation of cemetery uses, as well as looking at some local examples here in metro Atlanta,” Community Development Director Dana Johnson said.

The center received a permit for the 12.6-acre cemetery without a public hearing after meeting the minimum requirements, including at least ten acres of land and a plan for parking and landscaping.

About a dozen neighbors turned out Tuesday with signs protesting the cemetery, with several speakers citing concerns over its possible effect on property values.

“We’re a welcoming community … we want things to look nice, though,” said Bonnie Phillips, who lives nearby. Phillips said she was concerned about long-term maintenance and upkeep of a non-profit cemetery.

“I think this process can be changed and should be changed,” South Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid said. “Regardless if this was a cemetery or not, with a development of this magnitude and scope, there should have been some understanding that this was going to have some very broad and significant community impact.”

Abdul Amer, speaking by phone on behalf of the East Cobb Islamic Center, said it was appropriate for the county to reconsider its rules for cemeteries. He said he respects the concerns of neighbors, but noted that he has been subjected to questions about Islamic burial practices, hinting at an underlying unease that goes beyond zoning.

“There are more and more Muslims—professionals, doctors, engineers and business owners—that are serving the community in Cobb County and have made Cobb County their home and obviously they’re building institutions to be able to practice their religion,” Amer said. “I think there are a lot of positive things that neighbors get out of it. If this is some other development, for example a subdivision, they will not leave a 50-foot tree buffer for them.”

Amer estimated the cemetery would accommodate several thousand plots, but less than the 10,000 being cited by opponents. Until now, most Muslims in Cobb have buried their loved ones in a Muslim cemetery in Lovejoy, south of Atlanta, he said.