By Valerie Baldowski
Officials with the Henry County Planning and Zoning Department held a town hall meeting with residents Thursday to discuss a proposed, new ordinance to regulate personal-care homes within the proposed Unified Land Development Code (ULDC.)
The forum, which drew about 50 attendees, was held in the Community Room of the Henry County Administration Building in McDonough. It sought residents' input in developing a new ordinance which could take into account differences between traditional nursing homes and personal-care homes, which might appeal to different clients.
The current county ordinance has the same regulations for both types of businesses.
Jeremy Gilbert, a planner with the Planning and Zoning Department, opened the forum with an overview on what officials are considering. "What is being proposed is that we're going to separate out the different types of care homes," said Gilbert.
Currently, the county ordinance states that a care home, whether it is a personal-care home, nursing home or assisted living facility, must have a minimum lot size of three acres, Gilbert explained. They are permitted in an Office-Industrial (OI) zoning district. They are also allowed in a Residential-Agricultural (RA) district, with an approved Conditional Use and subject to the land district's standards.
Under the proposed measure, each of those facilities would have a two-acre minimum lot requirement, rather than a 3-acre requirement. Personal-care homes would be allowed in all residential zoning districts, and an approved conditional use would be required to have more than three clients in the facility.
Home occupation personal-care homes would be limited to no more than three clients needing care and supervision, and state licenses would be required for all personal-care homes.
Gilbert reassured the residents, some of whom operate personal-care homes, that a decision on the proposed ordinance will not be made for some time. "We're not saying that this is something the board will adopt," he said. "We don't know. This is a living, breathing document that can be changed."
In addition to Gilbert, other officials at the meeting included Chief Planner Stacey Jordan, Planning and Zoning Department Division Director Michael Harris, and Department Director Ray Gibson.
The meeting offered residents a chance to ask questions and address their concerns to the Planning and Zoning Department officials. Some asked for clarification of certain points in the proposed ordinance, while others took exception to the three-client limit and the two-acre minimum site requirement for the facilities.
Still others questioned the licensing process for personal care homes in general.
"It's a regulated activity," Harris answered. "It's mandated that the care that they are given be regulated."
Several residents, however, spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance. "I'm all about solutions," said Babbie Spain. "You have the power to make a change."
Spain said she believes the county has made some progress in its regulation of personal-care homes, but needs to continue moving forward.
The forum was the second town hall meeting on personal-care homes. The first was in December 2008. Judging from the questions asked in Thursday's meeting, Gibson said the proposal still needs some tweaking. "I think there's still some issues outstanding that we need to look at as a department," he said.
Gibson added that, overall, he felt both forums were productive. The proposed Unified Land Development Code will go to the Zoning Advisory Board on May 14 for a recommendation, and to the Board of Commissioners for final adoption on May 19, he said.