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City to consider 6-month group home moratorium
Council to review zoning regulations
City of Statesboro seal

A moratorium on zoning variances that let group homes — such as those for people recovering from addiction — exceed single-family occupancy limits appears on the agenda for a first reading at Statesboro City Council’s 9 a.m. Tuesday meeting.

The proposed six-month moratorium, from Oct. 1, 2019, to March 31, 2020, would  allow time for “the review and revision of the zoning and land use regulations as they relate to group housing,” the resolution states. The stated goal is “to find the proper means of protecting the legal rights of group home occupants while preserving the integrity of the City's zoning restrictions.”

District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum suggested the moratorium and regulation review while discussing a group home conditional use variance during the Aug. 20 meeting. 

“The Statesboro zoning ordinance does not address or define group homes, personal care homes or recovery residences or designate an appropriate zoning district for such uses,” City Planner II Owen Dundee had noted from the staff report.

Similar wording has been included in reports for previous variances.

The council unanimously approved the particular variance, which would allow property owner Alicia Barnes Burnsed to operate an “addiction recovery community residence” at 508 East Main Street. But Boyum meanwhile suggested the moratorium to halt action on any further requests until regulations are considered.

“As Owen stated, we don’t have an ordinance that governs these types of facilities, that are by and large being put in residential areas, traditional family-home neighborhoods for the most part,” Boyum said. “These are not going in duplex neighborhoods. They’re not going in multi-family. They’re going in single-family.”

When Boyum asked how many such group homes exist within Statesboro, Dundee said that there may be between 30 and 40. But he noted that this was a “ballpark” estimate not backed by research.

Recovery ‘industry’

“This has gone beyond the scope of a variance,” Boyum said. “This is now an industry within our community that is taking over our single-family neighborhoods. I’m not opposed to these particular facilities on the surface, but in my district in particular, that area around the high school has a bunch of these things.”

Meanwhile, the city’s planning and zoning staff reported, in the 2019-2029 Comprehensive Master Plan presented by City Planner I Justin Williams during the same meeting, that owner-occupied homes constitute less than 20 percent of all residential units in Statesboro, Boyum noted. The statistic was from 2016.

“Ms. Burnsed’s property, that’s an acre property there with nice homes on that lake, and when we start converting the best of what we have into these types of facilities, I just am concerned of what it’s going to do for our traditionally residential neighborhoods,” Boyum said.

He suggested that City Attorney Cain Smith draft a six-month moratorium and that City Manager Charles Penny direct staff members in an economic analysis and an analysis of the impact group homes have on neighborhoods.

“I do agree with Councilman Boyum,” said District 3 Councilman Jeff Yawn.  I think we do need to evaluate and have a better understanding of its long-term meaning.”

Boyum made the motion, seconded by Yawn, to approve Burnsed’s variance. Boyum then made a motion, seconded by District 4 Councilman John Riggs, directing Smith to draft the moratorium. That motion also passed 5-0.

Specific variance

The variance granted Burnsed allows up to 10 adults to share the house, if and when it is operated as an addiction recovery residence. Otherwise, under Statesboro’s zoning rules, houses in R-15 zones may be shared by no more than three unrelated persons. In this case, the residence is a five-bedroom, two-bathroom house on three-fourths of an acre.

An existing group home, under other ownership, is across a pond from the house for which Burnsed was granted the variance, and Dundee said city staff had heard no complaints about the existing home.

“I will say, I have the same concerns as Phil does, so I totally get that,” Burnsed told the council.

She said another person she had talked to who was interested in the use of the house as a group home had inquired at City Hall and was told that up to 21 people could live there.  But Burnsed, whose brother lives next door and whose family owns the surrounding property, wasn’t comfortable with that, she said, so she requested a variance limited to 10 people, which is two per bedroom.

City staff had recommended approval of the variance with conditions, including that the owner must work with the Fire Department to make fire safety standards are met, must not install signs and must keep parking within reasonable standards. The Planning Commission had voted 7-0 to recommend approval with those conditions, which were also adopted by City Council.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

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