BY ASHLEY FIELDING
GAINESVILLE — Gainesville’s Planning and Appeals Board voted ‘yes’ on two items of business Tuesday, including a request to build a group home.
Once again, the board dealt with the subject of group homes in the city. This time, the request came from Chris Cooley on behalf of the Turning Point Residential Recovery Program. Cooley applied for a special-use permit to build a group residence for 24 men at 1216 Erskin Ave.
Cooley told the board that after the recent issues with group homes in Gainesville, he and the director of the program had put a lot of thought into where to build the group home.
Cooley said they considered general business zoning, but those areas seemed better suited for shopping centers. The R-II zoning seemed just right, because the location would make it easier for the residents of the group home to get around town, he said.
"I think this is the right fit for the area," Cooley said.
But as with most zoning issues dealing with group homes, some neighborhood residents were at the meeting to dispute the request.
Brandon Pierce of Mountain Crest Place owns some of the apartments adjacent to the property Cooley has proposed to develop.
"Just imagine that building with 24 men smoking cigarettes on the porch and trying to recover from drug addictions," Pierce told the board. "That’s what I’m concerned with."
Jackie Cooper of Ponderosa Farm Road spoke to the board on behalf of his mother, who owns property adjacent to the proposed group home. He listed several objections, including his opinion that the proposed 0.34-acre tract is too small to house 24 men Cooper said he felt the existence of a group home would lower property values and that it is too close to a house with several small children.
"As sorry as we are for these recovering alcoholics, drug addicts or whatever," Cooper said. "These men didn’t get in this condition from singing too loud in Sunday school."
Cooley responded to the opposition, and said that the house would only be where the men would go to sleep and relax.
Cooley told the board that the men would be living under tight controls, and no sex offenders or people with a violent criminal history allowed in the home.
Board member Floyd Baldwin made a motion to recommend approval of the permit to the Gainesville City Council, and board member Joe Diaz seconded the motion. All members but chairman Dean Dadisman voted to recommend approval.
The matter will next go before the City Council, which meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Georgia Mountains Center. The council has final approval of the special-use permit request.
After the meeting, Dadisman said he wasn’t strongly opposed to the permit, but he thought that the 0.34-acre tract was too small for 24 people to live.
"That might be a little bit crowded," Dadisman said.
The planning and appeals board also voted to approve a variance request from Greg Loyd to change the sign height requirement on the land he owns at 2205 Old Hamilton Place.
Loyd said the sloping topography of the land facing Jesse Jewell Parkway makes it difficult to comply with the city’s sign-height ordinance and still have a sign that is visible from Jesse Jewell Parkway.
Gainesville ordinance requires that signs be no higher than 15 feet tall. Loyd requested that the board allow a 25-foot tall sign on his property.
"At 15 feet," Loyd said. "You can only see three feet of sign from the road."
Jim Syfan of Clarks Bridge Road owns property across from and adjacent to Loyd’s property. Syfan said he had spent a significant amount of money on his property and plans to develop it, and he did not want to have a sign that would obstruct the view of his investment.
However, he said if the sign was not going to cause a problem with the view of his property, then he did not have a problem with it being taller.
"In my opinion, it’s not going to block any properties off Jesse Jewell," Gainesville’s senior planner Matt Tate advised the board.
The board voted to approve the variance with only board member Doyle Johnson voting against the variance.
The planning and appeals board has final say over variances in Gainesville, and appeals of their decisions must be taken up through the court system.