Business owner suing Riverdale over new rule

By Billy Corriher

After being denied a business license under a new Riverdale law, a disgruntled business owner is suing the Riverdale mayor, city council and several employees.

Nathaniel Hyres, who sought to open a barbershop on Ga. Highway 138, and his landlord, Southpark Development, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday because the council denied Hyres a conditional use permit.

In the petition, the plaintiffs allege that the denial "constitutes a gross abuse of the limited discretion conferred upon (the) defendants by the zoning ordinance of the city of Riverdale and the laws of the state of Georgia."

The plaintiffs said the property was annexed into the city of Riverdale and zoned for general commercial use by the city council on May 22, 2000.

But on Aug. 25, 2003, the petition states, the council passed a law requiring a conditional use permit for certain businesses, including "beauty/barber/nail shops," and Hyres' subsequent application for a business license was denied.

After his request was denied, Hyres asked for a conditional use permit on Jan. 12, 2004, but the council denied the application, the first such application it had considered.

Since Hyres' application was denied, the council has denied another permit for a barbershop and a request for a coin laundry.

Councilman Rick Scoggins would not comment on Hyres' case specifically, but he said the implementation of the conditional use permit rule was part of the city's "visioning process," a plan for growth and development. He said this vision of the city spurred the list of businesses that must apply for a conditional use permit.

Scoggins said the council wanted more of a role in deciding what kinds of businesses are approved.

Scoggins said Riverdale residents have an idea of what kind of businesses they would like to see more of, and he said there are already 39 barber/beauty shops in the 4.5-square-mile city.

Mayor Phaedra Graham vetoed the council's denial of the permit, but Graham's veto was overridden by the council at its Jan. 26 meeting.

Hyres said he believes his application was caught in the "crossfire" between Graham and the council, neither of whom would tell him exactly why his application was denied.

"Each time I seek reasoning behind my denial, the finger is pointed to the other," he said. "I just wanted to get some answers."

Hyres also said that, since the property was zoned before the new conditional use permit rule was passed, his property should be exempt from the rule.

Community Planner Brantley Day said that, even though Hyres had signed a lease for the barbershop, he did not apply for a business license by the time the new conditional use permit rule took effect.

"We base our authority on when you apply for a business license," he said.

Day said the application process for a conditional use permit gives the applicant a chance to argue for their approval.

"The applicant also has the opportunity to present as much evidence in their favor as they can," he said.

Hyres made a presentation to the council, but he said the council did not have any questions to ask him before they denied his request.

Day said the ultimate decision rests with the council.

"That's why they're elected, to make those kinds of decisions," he said.

But Hyres said he was not satisfied with the city's answers and has already invested time and money in opening his business.

"I want to be a productive business owner," he said. "I am losing money each day my business is not open."