By Ralph Ellis
The Dunwoody Zoning Board of Appeals decided June 3 to postpone a decision on an eating disorders treatment facility that wants to operate in a Dunwoody residential neighborhood.
The board will take up the question again on June 16.
The Center for Discovery (CFD), a California-based company, spent about $1 million on a house and property at 1364 Manget Way for the eating disorders treatment center. Up to six teenaged girls would live there while being treated, the CFD says.
Residents of the neighborhood, with support from the Dunwoody Homeowners Association, are fighting to stop the center. They’re worried about traffic, and complain the city green-lighted the center without telling them.
About 120 people showed up for the Tuesday night meeting, most of them opponents of the facility. Many wore stickers that said, “I support the Manget Way neighbors.”
The zoning board of appeals must first decide whether it’s even going to discuss the situation.
City planner Rebecca Keefer signed a zoning confirmation letter Jan. 13, and ordinances say the residents’ appeal should have been filed within 30 days. But they didn’t file until April 22.
Linda Dunlavy, lawyer for some of the homeowners, said they had no idea the eating disorders center was in the works. The city didn’t tell anybody, and CFD didn’t post signs or notify people in the neighborhood, she said.
She said the zoning board of appeals is entitled to consider “the totality of the circumstances,” and that the clock should start from the time residents heard about plans for the facility.
But Josh Belinfante, local lawyer for CFD, said there’s no gray area. “The ordinance provides no exception,” he said.
Some board members seemed conflicted. Vice chairman Ardy Bastien wondered, “What gives us the right to decide beyond the 30 days?”
Chairwoman Gerri Penn said she had “a real problem with expecting people to appeal the unknown.”
“I find it impossible to appeal in 30 days if they don’t know about it,” she said.
If the zoning board of appeals decides to hear the appeal, the next question will be whether the city correctly classified the eating disorders facility.
Keefer’s zoning confirmation letter says it’s a personal care home, which is allowed in a residential neighborhood.
Dr. Craig Brown, CEO of CFD, said doctors and nurses would periodically visit the center but would not stay there 24/7, though psychologists would.
“They’re not there for medical treatment,” Brown said of the patients. “They’re there for psychological stabilization.”
Dunlavy contends the city made a bad decision, and that the facility should actually be classified as a medical treatment facility, which zoning laws don’t allow in residential areas.
“She [Keefer] merely relied on the claims of the Center for Discovery,” Dunlavy said. “This is not a personal care home. This is a commercial business. This is a medical facility.”
No matter what the zoning board of appeals decides, the next step in the battle may be Superior Court, since any decision cannot be appealed to the city council.
Up to six girls between the ages of 11 and 18 would stay in the eating disorders center and and receive 24-hour care. The typical treatment duration runs between 45 and 90 days, the CFD said.
Brown said this would be CFD’s first operation in Georgia.
Other eating disorders centers are also located in upscale neighborhoods, he said, because that’s where the problem is usually found.