A proposal to allow a Martinez assisted living home to treat young disabled people and substance abuse patients was met with stiff opposition from neighbors at a Columbia County Planning Commission meeting Thursday.
Ultimately, board members agreed to reject the request, and the matter goes to the county commission for a final decision at their July 17 meeting.
The owners of Assisted Living Care LLC had sought to amend the Special-1 zoning of their facility on Marshall Street to allow for the construction of a fourth care building and allow for the treatment of substance abuse, severe physical deficiencies and developmental disorders in young people.
Under their current S-1 zoning, the facility is permitted only to care for the elderly, according to a county document. The owners sought more specific language to allow for additional types of treatment and pointed out that elderly substance abuse patients are not prohibited at the facility.
Many neighbors told planning commissioners about their fears are of drug addicts and alcoholics posing a threat to their homes and children.
"This is a residential neighborhood, our children play in the streets ... I don't necessarily think I'd feel safe for my children playing there knowing a criminal was living on my street," said neighbor Veronica Payne.
Bill Williams, an Augusta lawyer representing the care home, said all patients at the home would seek treatment of their own will and would not be doing so because of a court order.
"This is not a place where judges are going to sentence people. It's not part of the justice system," he said.
Managing partner Mary Georgia Mohr offered few specifics about the care home's plans, but told planning commissioners substance abuse care would take place both on and off-site. She said the home had no plans to fence in the property, but would if it would make neighbors more comfortable.
"I can appreciate the concerns of the neighbors," she said. "It's a delicate issue, but I guess it's a fear of the unknown."
Planning Director Jeff Browning told the zoning board that it was the opinion of the county attorney that substance abusers in treatment and sober at least 28 days can be considered a protected class under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act and could not be discriminated against.
In making a motion to disapprove of the zoning amendment, planning commissioner Tony Atkins said he was uncomfortable with the lack of specifics about the type of care to be provided.
"This is probably the most unusual case we've had in two years," he said of his time on the planning commission.
In other business, planning commissioners disapproved of a request to rezone 5.21 acres at 477 Furys Ferry Road from Professional-1 and Residential-3 to Residential-3a. The request would have allowed duplexes on the parcel.
That vote by the planning commission also will go before the county commission for consideration July 17.
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