ALBANY, Ga. -- While the Albany-Dougherty Planning Commission refused Thursday to reconsider Randy and Lauren Bailey's application for a variance that would allow the couple to locate a personal care community residence at 910 N. Davis St., despite City Attorney Nathan Davis' warning that the commission may not have considered applicable federal law in denying the request, it does not appear the almost yearlong saga is finished.
Randy Bailey told The Albany Herald after the Planning Commission meeting that he had been contacted by Department of Justice officials concerned that the city is ignoring the rights of disabled citizens by denying them an opportunity to take up residence in the North Davis home.
"I didn't contact (DOJ officials), they contacted me," Bailey said. "They said they'd kept up with the case in the newspaper and wanted to hear my side of the story. I told them what we'd been through, and they indicated there was some wrongdoing (on the city and Planning Commission's part).
"I know DOJ contacted Nathan Davis, too, and I figure that's why we were asked to come to that meeting (Thursday). I want to make it clear that we did not ask (the Planning Commission) to reconsider our application. Nathan is the one that had that put on the agenda."
Davis told the Planning Commission that he wanted to make sure the board had not refused to make reasonable accommodations that would allow residents to move into the Baileys' proposed facility, which was rejected because of a new city ordinance that does not allow community residences to be located within 1,000 feet of other such residences. The North Davis home is located within 735 feet of another such facility.
"'Reasonable accommodations' are the buzz words in the industry right now, and the question I wanted to pose to this board is whether you would be fundamentally altering the zoning ordinance by granting a variance in this case," Davis said. "The law says specifically 'a refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such (handicapped) person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling' may constitute discrimination."
Members of the Planning Commission stuck by their decision to adhere to the ordinance that, Planning Director Paul Forgey pointed out, was enacted after the Baileys had submitted an application to operate a community residence at the North Davis dwelling and the Albany City Commission had enacted a moratorium on such residences.
"Do we throw away the ordinance and start from scratch?" board member Sanford Hillsman said. "We haven't discriminated against anyone; we're just following the requirements of the ordinance."
Davis replied, "The question is, do you harm your ordinance by granting reasonable accommodations specific to this case?"
Board member Stephen Kaplan, as he did at the April 4 Planning Commission meeting at which the board had initially denied the Baileys' variance request, questioned the precedence granting a variance to the 1,000-foot distance would set.
"If you're going to stick hard and fast to the ordinaces that are passed, why have a variance system in place?" Bailey asked.
After the meeting the care home operator again wondered at the "hypocrisy" of the commission.
"They say they're worried about setting a precedence if they grant me a variance, but what did they do just before our hearing today?" Bailey said. "They granted a variance for Sunnyland Farms, which if I'm not mistaken is owned by someone (Jane Willson) that has given a great deal of money to the city. It's hard not to think this is something personal against us."
Davis told the commission it would need a request from one of its six members that voted against the variance in order to reconsider its denial of the Baileys' request. Board member Jimmy Hall made such a request, but Chairman William Geer noted that he could not do so because he voted in favor of the variance at the April 4 meeting.
The issue died when no commissioner asked for reconsideration of the vote.
"This is far from over, I promise you that," Bailey said. "What they're doing, for whatever reason, is just wrong. That's all I'll say about it until the Department of Justice completes their investigation, which they've told me they are conducting."
City Manager James Taylor confirmed Thursday evening that the city had received a letter from DOJ asking for information about the case.
"I don't know the significance of their request at this time," Taylor said. "They've asked for information, and we're providing it. Whether or not there needs to be further involvement by the city depends on what (DOJ) does. Nathan has, I think, a good grasp on the situation, and he feels that as long as our laws are equally applied, fairly and reasonably, we'll be OK.
"But I will say that if we have done something wrong (in the eyes of the federal government), we will fix it."
Also at thursday's meeting, the Planning Commission recommended approval of a rezoning request by Michael E. Gardner that will allow him to subdivide property at 3913 Rodnor Forest Lane to build two duplexes, and granted a setback variance request for Sunnyland Farms at 2314 Willson Road so that the pecan company can separate its plant operations.
Forgey and Code Enforcement Director Mike Tilson discussed elements of Dougherty/Albany zoning ordinances relating to requirements and regulations for parking and storing commercial vehicles and trailers in residential districts.
"Right now, there are contradictions with commercial vehicle and truck parking ordinances," Tilson said. "One forbids trucks in residential districts, but one allows vehicles to park for eight hours. Whatever decision this board makes, I would hope that you would work to put the new ordinance in sync with the truck parking ordinance."
The board asked Forgey and Tilson to work together to provide a completed ordinance that it could vote on at its next meeting.