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BOC denies group home request
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The Newton County Board of Commissioners continued its historical trend against approving permits for group homes that don’t have full community support.

The BOC voted 3-2, with commissioners Earnest Simmons and J.C. Henderson opposed, to deny a conditional use permit for a group home in the Creekview Heights Subdivision off Kirkland Road. The planning commission also recommended denying the permit.

Petitioner Carmen Hosley, a Snellville resident, gave a detailed presentation of her plans to open the Fantastic Futures group home, including a 53-page program, which she said was written by home group expert Dr. Shute Howze.

"There is a need for good group homes here in Newton County," Hosley said. "We want to go grow with Creekview Heights as it becomes a recognized, reputable community. And it’s important for children to be in a community setting, not outside of a community or neighborhood, because it can begin to feel like an institution."

She said there would be no noticeable difference to the outside of the home and that there was a misconception that group homes were a business that increased crime and decreased home values. Hosley contended that a group home is simply that, a home. She said studies showed that crime rates in group homes were much lower than overall crime rates and that property values did not decrease.

Hosley presented 15 letters of support to the BOC, most of them personal references from around the state and county. Two residents from the neighborhood wrote letters of support, including Amelita Sims, who lives directly across from the proposed group home. Sims said she had no problems raising her two children across home a group home.

"There is a vision around Covington that keep striking me, over 900 cases you guys have had shown by the demonstration of pinwheels. Every time I see this, I can’t help but wonder what happed to these children, because I can’t help but feel a lot of times these children are placed into these positions under no duress of their own, the parents have issues," said Sims. "I think it could actually be a learning opportunity for my children. They’ll learn what a blessing they have with a strong inner family, but they also could be a light to the others … I questioned her (Hosley) very deeply and I feel she wants to run a good, structured group home."

However, the opposition was also strongly represented, led by the president of the Creekview Heights Home Owners’ Association Lisa Faulkner. She presented more than 40 petition signatures opposing the group home and around 15 residents came to Tuesday’s meeting.

Faulkner said residents were concerned by Hosley’s lack of group home experience and the fact she did not live in Covington. However, the most important reason cited was that a group home would violate the neighborhood’s covenant, which specifies that lots can only be used for residential purposes, no business activities.

Group homes used to be much more prevalent in Newton County, but the BOC previously restricted them in 2006. Before the zoning regulations were changed, group homes could be started in any residential area. After the change, certain residential areas required a business owner to apply for a conditional use permit, said Planning Director Marian Eisenberg.

"This change diminished the number of applications dramatically … Going through the public hearing process is just too much trouble for most folks to go through, because opposition is inevitable, said Eisenberg, noting that Newton County was no longer the easiest county to start up a group home.

She said the movement to restrict the placement of group homes was originally started by the sheriff’s office. According to prior articles in The Covington News, several local group homes were the subject of numerous phone calls to the sheriff’s office.

According to a July 2007 article, Newton County had 27 group homes at the time, according to the Georgia Department of Human Resources Office of Regulatory Services. A current search through the DHR Web site yields 11 such institutions in the county, 10 of which are operated by Project Adventure. Covington Zoning Administrator Debbie Dial said there were four group homes in the city limits.

District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz made the motion to deny the CUP; the neighborhood is in her district. District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson said there are not enough homes for kids in the county.

"If we don’t have a place for kids to go, where do we put them, where do they go?" he asked. "Unless we as a board are going to look up or find funds, if we don’t allow these homes in communities, they’re not going to have a place."

• In other BOC news, the county purchased a total organic compound analyzer for the Cornish Creek Water Treatment Facility for the low bid of $24,689. The device will more closely measure organic material and add chemicals to remove organic material if the levels are too high.

On Jan. 20, Newton County Water Resources was given a violation by the Environmental Protection Division because the county’s water contained slightly too much haloacetic acid. This acid can be harmful if levels are high for a sustained period of time. Haloacetic acid is formed when chlorine combines with organic materials.

• The county also approved a $3.57 million bid from Glover Construction Company for the construction of the third solid waste cell at the county landfill. The money will be paid out of the solid waste fund and the county may also get a loan from the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority.

According to the county’s solid waste plan, the third cell will be able to hold 1,552,918 cubic yards of waste. There was 258,000 cubic yards of remaining capacity in the current solid waste area as of April 1, 2008. The landfill takes in an average of 250 tons of solid waste per day. The landfill site is a 217-acre property, of which 88.1 acres are currently used. After construction the landfill is expected to have sufficient capacity for the next decade.