Dunwoody City Council voted 4-to-2 on Jan. 26 to require a special land-use permit for operators of personal care homes housing less than four people in single-family residential areas.
The code was amended to include one to four person personal care homes, where the code draft under consideration previously only required a SLUP only for more than four people.
Residents involved with a legal battle over a Manget Way facility voiced concerns about how the code is worded.
Alyson Wooten said the issue with the Center for Discovery business on Manget Way wasn’t with the number of residents. She said the issue was more closely related to how daycare facilities are regulated in terms of operating hours and parking. Mark Collins, who lives on Manget Way, agreed with Wooten’s request for special land-use permits.
“Had we been notified, there may have been a different outcome,” Collins said. He added that the burden was placed on the neighbors, and with a special land-use permit, the burden would be on the potential business operator.
But Dunwoody Homeowner Association President Robert Wittenstein said people with special needs have as much right to live together as anyone else, and that he opposed the SLUP because that would be an unnecessary burden to put on people.
He quoted the Bible verse “Thou shalt not put a stumbling block before the blind” and compared the special land-use permit process to a stumbling block.
None of the residents who spoke said they oppose the idea of disabled people living together in Dunwoody and having their personal needs met. What neighbors say they want is to be notified when they have a right to appeal a potential business operating in a residential neighborhood. They want to be able to hear from the potential operator what kind of impact the business will have in their community.
Many who spoke asked council members to amend the code to add the special land-use permit so that future operators would have to contact residents and make their business plans known. That way the community could voice its opposition to things like multiple cars coming and going from a location or ask about business hours and possible noise.
Bruce Lindemann said the individuals who need assistance with daily living skills work as well as participate in community activities. He said he opposes the types of business designed for people to move in, get treated and move out.
“These folks don’t get better,” he said, referring to members of the community such as his daughter, Carla, who graduated from Dunwoody High School and continues to be part of her Dunwoody community.
Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch said she is still concerned the language in the city code puts the city at risk for Fair Housing Act violations.
Councilman Terry Nall said a SLUP is only way council members can find out if a proposed commercial business will be an issue with neighborhood. He said the process wouldn’t apply to community living arrangement, only to business endeavors.
“We’ve got to be careful about overreacting,” Councilman Doug Thompson said. “We’ve tightened up ordinances and I caution you not to go too far.”
Thompson said the Manget Way situation would not be decided by how the council votes on updating the ordinance, and he feels comfortable with having one to four person operations staying “by right,” meaning they wouldn’t have to come before the community nor the community development director for a special land use permit.
Mayor Mike Davis agreed with Thompson. “We do have a tendency to knee-jerk our way through these things,” he said.
The SLUP was approved 4-to-2 with council members Thompson and Deutsch voting against the changes. Councilman John Heneghan was not present.
Community Development Director Steve Foote worked with city staff, the mayor and the council to create a code requiring notice be sent to neighbors before the permit could be issued.
Lindemann, who spoke at previous meetings on behalf of his daughter Carla Lindemann, thanked Foote for his work. Lindemann said he felt like Foote had often been a “whipping boy” during the arduous process of updating the city’s code.