The decision to place a moratorium on group homes in Snellville came after CHRIS Home Properties, LLC, requested a zoning variance for the group home for foster children at 2552 Poplar Street.
CHRIS Homes requested that the house be given a Conditional Use Permit during the last scheduled Planning Commission meeting. They also requested a variance from an ordinance that requires a group home to sit on at least one acre of land. The property on Poplar Street sits on a little over half an acre.
The submission of the application comes after a Feb. 27, 2012, decision that requires group homes of this type to obtain a Conditional Use Permit to operate. To date, the group home operating as CHRIS Kids, Inc., does not have such a permit approved, nor have they obtained an approved Occupational Tax Certificate (business license) from the city.
CHRIS Kids has been in operation for 22 years and is a home for at risk youth through the age of 18. The children living in the home have been in and out of foster homes, according to CHRIS Kids CEO Kath Colbenson, and have behavioral and emotional problems stemming from physical and sexual abuse, neglect and trauama.
Colbenson said during the planning commission meeting that there have been several success stories, including the kids going on to college, getting adopted or being re-unified with their original families.
The problem, though, is the high level of incidence reports filed with the Snellville Police Department related to the group home. According to Snellville Police, a total of 64 calls for service were made since 2008.
From March 1, 2011 through May 31, 2012, there were 36 calls for service requiring 22 incident reports.
Most of the calls generated from inside the home. Around 55% of the calls were state mandated, (the state mandates that police are called when a child walks out of eyesight or violates a condition of probation if they are on probation), 20% were medical related, 15% were for altercations and 5% were calls made by the kids because they were angry about something.
City Planner Jon Davis and Police Chief Roy Whitehead met with the COO of CHRIS Kids, Cindy Simpson, to “address the calls for service generating from the group home,” according to Planning Commission meeting notes.
Simpson indicated that staffing changes have been made at the group home to eliminate the need for police services.
Several neighboring residents spoke out in opposition to the zoning variance, citing issues like safety and the cost to the city. One neighbor, Curtis Aker, stated that the kids have a blatant disregard for authority. Donna Aker, his wife and a public school teacher at South Gwinnett High, expressed concern that there is not enough staff present in the home and that discipline is questionable.
Another concerned neighbor, Betty Yates, spoke in opposition, stating that kids from the home roam the neighborhood without supervision.
On the other hand, it “seems illogical to have a home for troubled children and not have some trouble,” according to neighbor Robert Thompson, who has lived on the same street as the group home since 2001.
“All the negatives tonight have to do with fear of what might happen and not actual events,” he said. “The need for the home outweighs the emotional problems and fears within the community.”
Cindy Simpson, of Covington, agreed. She stated that there are four boys in the home between the ages of 12-14, and that there are 8,000 children in the Georgia Foster Care program. Simpson became a foster parent and ended up adopting six teenage boys.
“What CHRIS Homes does on a daily basis is moving toward reducing the number of kids in the State’s Foster Care program,” she said.
In conclusion, Mr. Davis stated that since the application fails to meet the minimum standards of the ordinance and has been troubled with public safety issues, the Department of Planning and Development recommended denial of the application.
The moratorium was put in place to allow the city time to review their zoning laws. The city will no longer accept applications or issue permits for assisted living facilities, community living arrangements, personal care homes, or group homes in the City of Snellville effective immediately through March 31, 2013.
This will also effect the request for a variance from the zoning ordinance for the United Cerebral Palsy of Georgia community living arrangement at 2379 Radbury Lane.