Bulloch County commissioners voted Tuesday to appeal a judge's order that a previous denial of conditional use be reversed.
Commissioners voted on June 4, 2013, to deny a conditional use request from Kimberly Williams to open a personal care home at her Ponderosa Road, Portal address. Although Bulloch County Planning and Zoning recommended approval of the request, citizens living near the home expressed concerns about a nearby pond and dangerous road conditions.
Bulloch County staff attorney Jeff Akins said the appeal is expected to be filed today with the Georgia Court of Appeals.
After the 3-2 vote during the June 4, 2013 meeting denying the request, Williams filed an appeal with the Bulloch County Superior Court July 3, 2013, according to records from the Bulloch County Clerk of Courts office. She is represented by attorneys Michael J. Classens of Statesboro and R.H. Reeves III of Millen, according to records filed.
Bulloch County Superior Court Judge Gates Peed ruled that the Board of Commissioners' decision be overturned, according to records filed July 23 of this year.
"Significantly," Peed wrote in the order, "the members of the (Board of Commissioners) neither questioned nor commented on the finding of the (Planning and Zoning Commission) staff, but voted 3-2 to deny the application with no expressed rationale for the decision."
Peed found that the "decision of the (Board of Commissioners) had no objective support, that the BOC abused its discretion and exercised its power in an arbitrary and capricious manner."
He ordered that the commissioners' decision to deny the request be reversed. The order also states that the conversion of the home from a single family dwelling in an Ag 5 zone should be "in progress within six months of approval."
During the Tuesday Bulloch County Commissioners meeting, attorney Steve Rushing spoke, representing Ponderosa Road property owners including Tyler Finch and Greg Anderson.
"A good judge can make a bad decision," Rushing said, reiterating concerns that residents of a personal care home could stray and fall into ponds on Finch's and Anderson's property. He also said the conditions of Ponderosa Road, a dirt road, as well as the location being so far from a hospital, could translate into safety issues.
"This board has a right to make an independent decision," he said.
Commissioner Roy Thompson, who noted that he had voted to deny the request twice, made a motion to appeal Peed's ruling. He and commissioners Carolyn Ethridge, Walter Gibson and Robert Rushing voted in favor of the motion, while commissioners Ray Mosley and Anthony Simmons opposed the motion.
"We heard the facts from both sides and I still think the right decision was made," Thompson said.
Simmons pointed out that the bad road conditions on Ponderosa Road - sometimes impassable during rainy weather and bumpy with the "washboard effect" during dry conditions - pose a problem for all residents of the area, not just potential residents of the personal care home. He said Williams was approved for the home by the state.
Williams provided the Statesboro Herald with a copy of a personal care home permit authorized by the Georgia Department of Community Health, dated June 20, 2014. The permit allows six residents of the home. She was not immediately available for comment Thursday.
Finch said Thursday that he believes having a personal care home so close to his property could be a liability. His pond is 150 feet from the Williams' property line, he said.
"I don't feel like, as a community, it is a good thing," he said. "It is too far out (about 20 miles from East Georgia Regional Medical Center), and I think zoning laws should be changed to keep (personal care homes) closer to town."
Should a resident of the personal care home stray from the Williams property and fall into his pond, or that of neighbors Greg and Julie Anderson, it could "be a big liability" to the pond owners, Finch said.
Greg Anderson declined to comment Thursday, citing pending litigation as reasons he did not wish to speak on the matter at this time. Both he and Finch attended the Tuesday commission meeting.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.