Federal law may prevent homeowners in Country Club Hills and Brynwood subdivisions from blocking two personal-care homes from opening in the area even though the homes violate local zoning laws.
More than 200 people jammed the barbecue pit at Julian Smith Casino on Monday evening to challenge Augusta commissioners and City Attorney Jim Wall to find a way to enforce local rules prohibiting the homes -- which they termed businesses -- from operating in a single-family dwelling zone. They were largely disappointed in the response.
"The argument about it being a business has been made in the courts, and by and large, it has been rejected in the courts," Mr. Wall said.
The homes are for cerebral palsy patients, one on Edgewood Drive in the Country Club Hills area and one on Sussex Drive in the Brynwood subdivision.
The U.S. Fair Housing Act prohibits using disabilities as a criteria for blocking a person from moving into a neighborhood or asking them to leave, Mr. Wall said.
Therefore, even though the homes violate the local and state ordinances, there is little the Augusta-Richmond County government can do now that the homes are there, he said.
They can sue, but "the trend is these cases often are not very winnable," said Lori D'Alessio, an assistant for Mr. Wall.
The Edgewood Drive home, which officials said has four residents, opened without asking for a special exception to the zoning law that prohibits more than two unrelated people living there, said George Patty, planning engineer.
"It violates the law as it's written right now, yes," Mr. Patty said. "We intend to enforce the law. We don't think we can prevail."
That only served to anger the citizens more, with several shouting questions about how a personal-care home already known to have broken local rules can be allowed to stay open thanks to a federal law. Mr. Wall tried to answer.
"Think back to the '60s, think back to when some other people tried to move into a neighborhood and people didn't want them," Mr. Wall said. "That was another type of discrimination ..."
John Purvis immediately stood and chastised Mr. Wall, saying the attorney was bordering on being offensive and was missing the point.
"Black families, handicapped families, gay families -- I don't care," Mr. Purvis said. "What I object to is a business moving into my neighborhood and my county commission not doing a ... thing about it."
United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Atlanta has a sale pending on the Edgewood Drive home and has been renovating the home to accommodate the four residents, officials said.
Personal-care homes offer intermediate levels of care for people who are too healthy to be in nursing homes or hospitals but not healthy enough to live by themselves.
The Brynwood subdivision will have its turn to criticize the personal-care home planned for Sussex Drive at another meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in the A. Brian Merry Elementary School cafeteria.