COVINGTON, Ga. -- A proposal to build an Islamic cemetery and mosque in rural Newton County is creating a growing controversy.
Major civil rights groups are condemning the county's response to the project.
Now 11Alive’s Chris Hopper is working to get answers from county leaders their reaction.
Documents show Newton County has known about this cemetery and place of worship for the better part of a year.
Those documents show the initial permit was approved more than a year ago and now, the project is on hold due to a five-week moratorium after some major concerns from residents and at least one commissioner.
The heated controversy includes this exchange between Newton County Commissioner John Douglas.
"When did we first learn it was not Avery Community Church?" Douglas asked at a meeting. "That meeting was held a week ago Monday,” county manager Lloyd Kerr responded.
The comments set off an already boisterous crowd at Tuesday night's commissioner's meeting - an insinuation that there may be some other reason why the Islamic group behind this development initially called it Avery Community Church.
"They can call it anything they want to call it,” Douglas said. “But you have to wonder why they picked that name."
Rather than wonder, 11Alive’s Hopper called the imam at al Madd al Islami incorporated - the group listed on the initial permit approved by Newton County.
He had the same story as the attorney who drafted the initial application on his behalf.
"The family that we bought that property from was the Avery family, Mrs. Sarah Avery,” Attorney Phil Johnson said. “The engineer called me and said, ‘what should i put on this?’ and i said avery community church."
The thing is, it doesn't matter what you call it. Temple, synagogue, mosque and church zoning laws in Newton County say that if it's a place of worship, it can be built anywhere.
That's what it's called in the conceptual plan. And another part of the application talks about burial without embalming.
"They suggested that I somehow deceived people and they had just found out that it was a mosque a week ago,” attorney Johnson said. “I decided that's not accurate."
Monday night, locals will get to weigh in at a public hearing to discuss Newton County zoning laws.
And this project will certainly be the focus. But Johnson said it's already preliminarily approved.
Any late changes to the laws won't matter. Commissioners made the decision at Tuesday's meeting to re-evaluate county zoning laws in light of this project.
11Alive asked the county manager Thursday to clarify his answer Tuesday.
He said he wasn't aware of the project because he hadn't seen the documents or inquired about it until he read an article about the proposal in a local newspaper.
So 11Alive tried to catch up with Commissioner Douglas but he didn't respond.