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Planning board OKs familys request
Homeowner moved into building without seeking permit first
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Gainesville’s planning board on Tuesday backed a family that turned a building on Thompson Bridge Road zoned for an office and industrial use into their home without permission.

After being cited in February, the owner of the home, Pam Abernathy, applied for the required permit that would allow the family to live legally in the house at 1745 Thompson Bridge Road.

The family includes a single mother, a grandmother and six adopted special-needs children.

The planning board voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend the City Council grant the permit. The council will make the final decision in May.

While all said they were supportive of the family, there were some neighbors who said they did not agree with the way the family sought permission.

Bill Morrison, a Honeysuckle Lane resident, said the family’s zoning request was reminiscent of previous zoning requests from group-home owners.

Most recently, an owner of a group home for recovering addicts was denied a request for a special-use permit after he was found to be operating the group home in a residentially zoned area without the needed permit. Once the Park Street group homeowner was cited, he applied for the needed special-use permit. That request was denied.

Morrison, whose optometry office is in the same neighborhood as the group home, spoke against that request when it came before the board earlier this year.

And on Tuesday, he said he was “100 percent in favor” of the family’s request on Thompson Bridge Road, but was bothered by the family’s approach. Other residents made similar comments.

“I wish that they had not used this backdoor approach,” Morrison said. “... If they’re going to break the rules right now, what are they going to do in the future?”

Morrison said the approach had put the surrounding neighbors in an awkward position as well as the planning board.

“I don’t think that’s right,” Morrison said. “You don’t hide behind children to get your way.”

Morrison asked the board not to give the request a “rubber stamp” of approval.

While the board has voted to recommend that the City Council deny other applications in the past in which the applicant acted first and asked for permission later, board member Doyle Johnson said the request on Thompson Bridge Road was different.

“I wouldn’t put this issue even in the same hemisphere as the others,” Johnson said after the vote.

Johnson also addressed Morrison’s criticism that the family had broken city rules.

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve broken rules in the past I didn’t even know about,” Johnson said.

As he made a motion that the board recommend approval, Vice Chairman Joe Diaz said the family’s mistake seemed to be neighbors’ only criticism. The board, he said, had to weigh all the merits of the application.
“I just don’t think the good outweighs the bad,” Diaz said.

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