Despite following instructions of holding a public meeting in his home, informing neighbors of his application, corresponding with city officials, presenting before the planning and zoning commission, presenting before Dunwoody City Council and going door to door in his neighborhood, business owner Rhett Roberson will not be allowed to legally open an in-home physical therapy clinic in his basement.
On Jan. 9, Roberson presented his case for a special-use land permit (SLUP)—which would allow him to work from home for one hour each evening—to Dunwoody City Council, drawing both support and opposition from neighbors.
On Jan. 23, Dunwoody City Council voted 7-0 to deny the SLUP based on it potentially violating the city’s written vision for the future.
Dunwoody resident Gerri Penn said Roberson’s clinic would violate the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which serves as Dunwoody’s chief legal document in outlining the city’s goals from 2015 to 2035.
Penn referenced a section titled “Preserve Our Neighborhoods,” which states that preserving residential areas is the dominant goal of residents. Residents created the plan through a voluntary survey.
The plan outlines eight “character areas” with specific land uses. The “Suburban Neighborhood” classification—which would cover Roberson’s neighborhood—allows for residential, public gathering spaces, places of worship, offices and aging in place land uses.
“Our neighborhood was built in the mid-‘60s,” Penn said. “It was built not to be a business neighborhood, but a residential neighborhood.”
Certain residents expressed concerns about the precedent set by allowing an in-home physical therapy clinic, stating they valued Dunwoody North neighborhood’s residential status above all else.
Judy Hofer said such a precedent would allow “further erosion of [residents’] safe, quiet, residential only neighborhood.”
“It’s disingenuous to claim that granting this SLUP would not set a precedent as the basis for evaluating a request,” Hofer said. “If you grant this SLUP, there would be no legal basis for denying another therapist. How about a sex therapist? Or a psychiatrist or a psychologist who treats sex offenders? Or troubled youth? Or soldiers with PTSD?”
Leslie O’Callaghan said allowing the clinic to be established would result in lower home values and increased commercialization of Dunwoody.
“This proposal is not compatible with the residential character of our neighborhood,” O’Callaghan said. “I have devoted hours of time and energy in opposing this SLUP. We don’t want a tattoo artist opening up an in-home business around the corner.”
Resident Karen Dowdle said she is in favor of the SLUP and respects Roberson’s respect for procedure in the city. She said the necessary steps that must be taken for a SLUP will deter a precedent from taking root in Dunwoody.
“It will be a great addition to the neighborhood,” Dowdle said. “I know of other operations in the neighborhood that have not been approved. It’s a rigorous procedure.”
Councilman John Heneghan opened discussion by reading a written opinion on the matter. Heneghan considers the SLUP a precedent that goes against the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan and urged the rest of his councilmen to deny Roberson’s request.
“With tonight’s decision, the City Council will not only be deciding this one case but we will be interpreting the guidelines previously put into place to make sure they are appropriate for our community moving forward,” Heneghan said. “I will argue that preserving our neighborhoods means reading the Comp Plan and holding the line to exactly what it says, and what it allows when it comes to the sanctity of the Suburban Neighborhood classification.”
Heneghan was the only councilman to voice an opinion. The SLUP was unanimously denied.
To view Dunwoody’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, visit http://dunwoodyga.gov/ckeditorfiles/files/Master_Plans/Comprehensive%20Land%20Use%20Plan/2015-10-12%20Dunwoody%20Comprehensive%20Plan.pdf.
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