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City Council denies permit for group home

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- The Covington City Council unanimously denied a special-use permit to locate a group home for mentally and physically handicapped adults in a residential subdivision at its May 2 meeting.

Neighborhood residents protested the home proposed for 9117 Sterling Lake Circle, stating they are protected by a covenant that prohibits any type of business from operating there. The city is not bound by a neighborhood covenant but is only required to make sure the application meets all the ordinance requirements, according to Senior Planner Scott Gaither. Planning staff determined it did.

But the council agreed with neighbors who worried about having such a facility in a residential area. Their chief concerns were how to make sure residents would not leave the facility and wander the neighborhood, whether they would be cared for by qualified staff, how an emergency situation would be handled and the effect on property values.

Residents would have been at the home from 3:30 p.m. to around 7 or 8 in the morning, when they would leave to go to a day treatment center in Lithonia. Gaither said the state would be responsible for inspecting and regulating the facility.

Applicant Sandra Browner of KES Inc. said she runs five licensed homes in the DeKalb, Stone Mountain and Lithonia area. She said her facilities are staffed around the clock.

She requested a maximum occupancy of four residents, and one to two staff members. The number of staff members on duty would depend on the needs of residents, she said. Clients would include individuals with Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy and other similar issues, she said, adding that they would be "medically fragile" and "not violent."

But Tammy Fields, a member of the neighborhood homeowner's association, said the home would be a violation of the neighborhood's covenants, noting that Browner never requested permission from the association as required.

"Our covenants have been our savior in keeping the community going," she said.

After the council's vote not to allow the special use, Mayor Kim Carter wished Browner luck.

"Unfortunately Ms. Browner and the folks she serves tend to be underserved. Changes in state law have made it difficult for them to find a place to live and they do need a nice place to live," she said.