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Turner Letter - 07/10/09

Although I can sympathize with Ms. Hyde in her support to change a county law that would best serve her interests, I sympathize more with the balance of the county residents that currently enjoy the ability to have a say in what happens in their neighborhood.

As I drive through the metro areas of Atlanta and Decatur, I see "Applications" placards posted for any change to the make-up of an existing neighborhood. "Building Permit Pending" and "Public Hearing for Zoning Change" as well as the "Request for Variance" signs that are posted in front of the properties that seek a change from their existing appearance or use. It is a necessary fact of life. If you want a change that may affect your neighbors, you apply for the privilege to do so.

Having read through the 42 pages of In-Home Day Care requirements found via the DHR, it is no small effort to meet the state of Georgia requirements for a Home Day/Personal Care Facility. The effort and cash involved to obtain this privilege should not be taken lightly.

There are a few issues found in this document. One item deals with variances and exemptions that would allow the day care facility to request a waiver of inspection should certain physical conditions exist. The day care facility could also find itself as an "accredited" member of an organization that regulates its membership by their "code of ethics." It appears that with these provisions, it may be possible for a home facility to avoid inspections. Although this is not a land use issue, we must be reminded that the same style of waivers and variances due a lack of manpower put Blakely, Ga., in the national spotlight of shame for salmonella-laced peanut products this past year.

Although the cap of day care clients is six, it's necessary to address that not all septic tanks are created nor maintained equally. Six new persons, plus the domiciled residents plus facility staff may not pass the required inspection of the system. The upgrade to tank size or field length would not be a small expense to the applicant.

To my understanding, each home day/personal care facility would allow up to six day users ... or the prospect of 12 vehicle trips per day; curb parking and the like. Enforcing the proposed "detrimental to adjacent properties as a result of traffic, noise, light, refuse, parking or other activities" language may be a hardship for the neighborhood in trying to prove a nuisance if the only acceptable complainant is the immediate next door neighbors.

As a former member of the Planning Commission, I can only offer to Ms. Hyde that she may find it in her best interest to go through the public hearing process. I can assure you that the general public does not take kindly to land uses that appear overnight that they feel may affect their property or lifestyle ... whether actual or perceived.

Meeting the requirements of "Chapter 290-9-11 Rules and Regulations for Adult Day Care Centers" will mean updating home safety; the fees involved; and time spent in applying to the state of Georgia. In addition, the expense of a new septic system is an investment that you should not want to jeopardize by any misunderstanding with neighbors.

Unhappy neighbors and neighborhoods can pose a problem to your investment by many angles of attack. The public hearing and special use permit make the most sense to a) protect your proposed investment in effort, time, cash outlay and property improvements for your proposal; b) protect your neighbors ... if b) isn't given the weight it deserves, you can expect a) to be in jeopardy at every opportunity by snubbed neighbors.

Another issue that should be considered will be the various homeowner associations, covenants and by-laws that forbid such land use within their subdivision. Rewriting the single-family land use ordinance to allow home day care without a special-use permit may very well null the covenants that are based around the single-family land use ordinance. Your neighbors bought into the protection of these covenants and by-laws. Rewriting this single-family ordinance will essentially make lawful a land use that is presently unlawful without meeting the public notice and hearing requirements of a special use permit.

As my good wife Susan and I have cared for my elderly mother for the past 15 years in our home, I truly do appreciate Ms. Hyde's situation. And like her, we have always worked out of our home in order to be on hand for my mother. As much as I can appreciate the situation, Ms. Hyde's proposal is not borne of hardship and her support to do away with the special use permit given her proposal is less than altruistic in regards to the balance of the county neighborhoods. My opinion would be that the hardship will be upon the neighbors that will find day care facilities springing up within their subdivisions without an opportunity to express their concerns or support.

A public hearing and special use permit allow Hyde the opportunity to bring a proposal to the entire neighborhood ... both pro and con. I have seen mob-rule at the beginning of a heated Planning Commission hearing turn around once the parties began to openly discuss the merits and the concerns. I have seen goals achieved with the give and take of the public hearing along with mutual agreements and conditions that are of record and then forwarded up the hill to the Board of Commissioners for approval.

Anything less than a public hearing for a special use permit is telling your neighbors that no one cares about the lifestyle that single-family land use allows without fear of public commerce taking place next door. Whether there are real or perceived losses in value, problems in marketing, issues of disclosure or lifestyle change; these are the valid questions that each neighbor determines from the credibility of the applicant. Obtaining a state license should never be confused with neighborhood credibility. The neighborhood peace is at stake. Each neighbor should have the privilege for public input that these applicant-supported revisions appear to take away.

For the Board of Commissioners to do an end-run around the public hearing phase of any land use change will be granting a blanket Administrative Variance to all similar proposals without concern for existing neighborhoods

Dan Turner is a resident of Conyers and a former chairman of the Rockdale County Planning Commission. He is president of Daniel Turner Builders Inc.