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Board denies permit for group home

COVINGTON -- County commissioners denied a conditional-use permit for a group home for up to six people on Creekview Boulevard on Tuesday night after more than a dozen residents showed up to protest the petition.

The home was to serve children from 6 to 18 years of age with psychological disabilities, according to applicant Carmen Hosley.

Hosley said the need for good group homes in Newton County is growing, and it is important for children to be within a neighborhood setting so they don't feel as though they are in an institution.

But neighbors who turned out said it could present safety problems and lower their quality of life.

Lisa Faulkner, president of the homeowners association in the subdivision, said the proposal was in violation of the neighborhood covenants.

"If you allow a group home within our neighborhood, it would be setting a precedent that it is OK for people to violate the covenant and run a business in our neighborhood," she said, adding that 50 residents had signed a petition opposing the proposal.

Hosley disputed the idea that the home was a business, noting that it would be a residence for displaced children, but said she would be reimbursed by the state for the care provided there.

Hosley presented commissioners with highlights of a 53-page written program the children would follow, and said they would be well-supervised and not allowed to roam the neighborhood. The 2,400-square-foot home would be equipped with an alarm system, she said, and the children would only be allowed to leave for planned outings.

"I live close, about a 25- minute drive. I'm not in another state or overseas. I plan on being there every day," said Hosley, who lives in Gwinnett County. The children would be supervised by two house parents and other volunteers, she said.

The children would primarily be referred by the Department of Family and Children Services but could also come from the court system, according to Dr. Shunte Howze, who was to be the program consultant for the home. They could spend as little as 72 hours or as long as a year at the residence, depending on their circumstances, she said.

"We don't want a revolving door ... Our goal is to provide stability to those families and children," Howze said.

Amelita Sims, who lives across the street from the facility, said she supported Hosley's proposal. She added that she can't help but make note of the more than 900 pinwheels displayed around town representing reported cases of child abuse and neglect last year.

"Every time I see those, I can't help but wonder what happened to those children," she said.

Sims said she has no problem raising her two sons across the street from a group home and would welcome it as a learning opportunity for her children. Hosley also read a letter from another neighbor who supported the planned home.

But the majority of neighbors in attendance were not supportive.

Chiquita Williams spoke out, saying that though she is a former social services worker, she is not comfortable having such a facility in her neighborhood. Williams said children who live in group homes are often victims of abuse and tend to act out, which can be dangerous for other children.

"I am for group homes, but not in a subdivision," she said.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz made the motion to deny the petition, based on considerations of compatibility with adjacent properties and other properties in the same zoning district and the potential it would create an adverse impact on other properties.

The conditional-use permit was denied by a vote of 3-2, with Commissioners J.C. Henderson and Earnest Simmons in opposition.

"If we don't have a place for the kids to go, where do we put them?" asked Henderson, adding that there aren't enough group homes to meet the demand in Newton County.

Following the meeting, Howze said she was "appalled and shocked" by the decision.

"If it were something like opening a club or selling alcohol I could understand, but we're talking about saving the lives of children," she said.