ZBA

ZBA chair Gerri Penn (L) listens as Bill McCahan (2nd left) makes the motion to reverse a city zoning decision. To McCahan’s left are Joe Tuttle and Rick Otness.

When the Dunwoody Zoning Board of Appeals voted last week to accept the appeal of residents on Manget Way in a zoning certification case, it surely set off a legal challenge in DeKalb County Superior Court.

The hard fact is that Center for Discovery spent $1.2 million to buy a home there and re-fit it as a treatment center for adolescent girls with eating disorders. Staff has been hired and is being trained. Potential revenues are being lost.

The company has an investment. It also can’t gain the necessary state license if it doesn’t have the city’s zoning approval.

So it was no surprise that Josh Belinfante, the Atlanta attorney for the company, was quick to answer a question about a suit.

“You bet,” he said.

In about 90 minutes of discussion, the fault lines of the Zoning Board (ZBA) were drawn. The majority of four was made up with people with extensive experience with the Dunwoody Homeowners’ Association. That group had presented the ZBA with two resolutions voted unanimously to oppose the classification of the treatment facility as a personal care home under city zoning ordinances.

The three negative votes were cast by board members with little to no experience in neighborhood matters. Rick Otness hung his opposition to the neighborhood on law. He was echoed by Kristen Wescott on her belief that the “law is black and white.” Arde Bastien followed suit.

He said the appeal “was boggling my mind,” while saying such personal care homes abound in the state, the county and the nation.

The majority sided with the neighbors. Bill McCahan introduced the resolution and it was seconded by Ed Godshall. Their argument was that the facility didn’t meet the definition by the city or the state of a personal care home. Each also argued that the neighbors were never involved in the decision.

Joe Tuttle, while seeming to argue for the company, voted for the appeal.

ZBA Chair Gerri Penn made a factual case against the administrative decision, noting that citizens cannot be expected to appeal a decision they knew nothing about.

She also said that the facility would involve tutors for the girls in treatment. “Tutors going to and from a home require a special land use permit,” she said, pointing to a case involving an in-home violin teacher.

One of the contentious points of the zoning case has been the number of personnel to accomplish what Center for Discovery seeks. Opponents base their opposition to the personal care home designation on the doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and staff needed to maintain a home for six adolescent girls.

“I drove that neighborhood,” Penn said. “Their staffing numbers indicate 18 vehicle trips a day, at a minimum,” she said.

The Center for Discovery’s chief arguments were two: that the homeowners hadn’t appealed in the 30-day window in the city code and that they meeting the definition of a personal care home, even though those homes in the city’s code are for adults.

The majority voting for the appeal and against the company all noted that the neighbors could not appeal the city’s decision until they learned of it. And that came after 30 days had passed.

Center for Discovery purchased the home in the name of Dunwoody DV, LLC and obtained a confidentiality agreement from the Realtor, according to neighbors.

Had it not been for a sprinkler installer found to have been working without a permit, the neighbors would not have known the city had authorized the facility.

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