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County tightens laws for group homes
Group homes in neighborhoods limited to 4 people
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Newton County residents have consistently spoken out against efforts to open group or personal care homes in their neighborhoods, saying extra traffic and noise will ruin the peaceful nature of their neighborhoods and open the door for future unwanted development.

Over the past several years, county commissioners have generally sided with residents and turned down applications that faced significant resistance. At the May 20 board meeting, the Board of Commissioners changed the county’s law to make it even more difficult to open a group or personal care home in a Newton County neighborhood.

The Board voted 4-0 (Commissioner Nancy Schulz was absent) to change the county’s ordinance to place further restrictions on group homes in residential areas, including:

-- Outlawing group homes from having more than four residents, including the manager

-- Requiring the manager to actually be a resident of the home — putting this use in line with other home occupation businesses

Group homes already require a conditional use permit to locate in residential areas — they’re also allowed in some commercial zonings — but now they’ll have to meet the extra requirements.

If a group home operator wants to have more than four people living in the home and wants the manager to be a non-resident, then the group home must be placed in a commercial setting.

Jenny Carter, with the county attorney’s office, said the change was made because concerns have consistently been raised about the compatibility of larger homes in residential areas. Carter recommended limiting the number of residents to four, based in part on studying other counties’ ordinances and the fact the average household size in Newton County was 2.93 people (based on U.S. Census statistics from 2008 to 2012).

During the public hearing required for an ordinance change, a man spoke in opposition to the change, saying group homes that keep youth often need to have at least six to eight people in order to make a profit. He said the state will only provide so much funding per person.

In addition, the man said forcing group homes to move to commercial areas take children out of residential areas and put them into less appropriate commercial areas.

Group homes serve multiple functions, including housing people with physical or mental disabilities who need help with basic life tasks.

Group home voted down
During the zoning portion of the May 20 meeting, before it had voted on the group home ordinance change, the Board of Commissioners voted down a personal care home proposal.

Leroy Mack was seeking a conditional use permit for a personal care home to have up to five residents along with one resident manager at the 1,900 square-foot home at 110 Roberts Road, off of Brown Bridge Road.

Roberts Road ends in a cul-de-sac and about 30 lots have access to the road.

Multiple Roberts Road’ residents opposed the home, saying they would like for their quiet road to remain completely residential, including Scott Miller, who provided a detail slide show presentation. Miller said the personal care home could lower other residents’ property value and resale ability.

The Board voted 4-0 to deny the request for a conditional use permit.