COVINGTON - Woody and Donna Grainger have operated their family business, Grainger Construction and Custom Cabinets, from their home at 737 Ga. Highway 212 for the past 13 years. In 2000, they added an accessory structure behind the home to be used as a cabinet shop.
Recently, staff with the Newton County Planning and Development Department discovered the shop was illegal because it does not conform with the county zoning ordinance.
According to the ordinance, an accessory structure with a Home Occupation Use can be no more than 1,000 square feet. The Graingers shop is 2,700 square feet.
In order to get their business license renewed, the Graingers had to apply for a conditional-use permit to continue to use the shop and a variance to increase the allowable size of the structure.
Donna Grainger said she and her husband went through all the proper permitting channels when they constructed the building.
"We did everything right from day one, getting permitted. We did everything right and legal," she said, adding that they were never aware of the size requirement.
"A mistake was made years ago. (The county) let us put up a bigger building," she said.
Woody Grainger said he has obtained a business license without incident since the shop was built, and doesn't understand why the issue suddenly came up this year.
Scott Sirotkin with Newton County Planning and Development said the accessory structure was permitted by the county with the stipulation that it could not be used for a business without the necessary zoning. He said he did not know why it was just discovered that the Graingers were not in compliance with the ordinance.
The cabinet shop is located 200 yards away from the road and is accessible by way of a paved driveway lined with trees and is screened from public view, according to a Planning and Development staff report.
The Graingers said they've had no complaints from neighbors about any aspect of the business, which was started by Donna's father 45 years ago.
To prove their point, they asked neighbors, friends and customers to sign a petition requesting the Board of Commissioners grant the conditional use and variance.
Former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland even wrote a letter calling for community action.
"Grainger Construction legally built this structure utilizing all the appropriate building permits, inspections and building codes. It was built with full knowledge and permission of the county," Cleland's letter states. "In such times of economic uncertainties and hardships, it is unfortunate to see any business close. It is more tragic to see it close due to a technicality that slipped through the cracks."
More than 1,000 people signed the petition - so many the Graingers didn't even submit all the names to the board.
There was a lot riding on the board's decision for the Graingers. Though the cabinet shop is a small portion of their business - the majority comes from the construction side - they could have lost the entire business if the permit and variance had not been approved, Woody Grainger said.
"It's more than a business. It's my home. If I lose one, I lose both," he said during the Tuesday night hearing.
District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing pointed out the outpouring of support from the community when making his motion to approve the request.
The petition was unanimously approved.