Rachel Naddor, 48, was hoping to start a group home for neglected children out of the house she purchased in 1997 on Clearwater Drive, between Powers Ferry and Lower Roswell roads.
Naddor, and her Saudi Arabian husband, Ahmed, 35, members of the Islamic faith, married in November 2012 and do not have any children.
Last November, Naddor formed a nonprofit organization, Deserving Peace International, which is affiliated with Unity North Atlanta Church and the Islamic Circle of North America’s Outreach Division.
Naddor said the home would take in international refugees, with the greatest need being in the Muslim community. The goal will be to Americanize the foreign children by helping them to adapt to a more modern life in the United States.
“The opposition seems to be afraid we will convert their kids,” Naddor said. “We are not going to take these kids and turn them into jihadists.”
Naddor told the commissioners the point is to stop catastrophes perpetrated by neglected and abused kids who were raised under the wrong teachings of Islam.
“Not taking care of these kids will cause you bigger problems than caring for them,” Naddor said.
Orphanage or foster home?
The first vote to deny a special land-use permit for the group home was split 2-2, with Commissioners Lisa Cupid and Helen Goreham opposed. Chairman Tim Lee was absent from Tuesday’s zoning hearing.
Goreham quickly amended her vote and the permit was denied 3-1, with Cupid still opposed.
The 2,200-square-foot home has four bedrooms, with a master bedroom, an office and meditation room upstairs. There are also two full bathrooms upstairs, one full bathroom downstairs and a “beautifully finished” basement, Naddor said.
The plan would be to house two children per room, for a total of six kids, along with Naddor and her husband.
“Everyone can rest assured the kids will be quiet and well behaved,” Naddor said.
With only two or three kids in the beginning, the couple would provide most of the care, Naddor said, with no on-street parking for volunteers or staff who would be added in the future.
Commissioner Bob Ott, who represents the district where the Naddors live, led Tuesday’s discussion.
“I am very familiar with the neighborhood,” Ott said. “The intensity is a little too much for the neighborhood.”
Commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Goreham compared the intent of the Naddors to a family providing foster care. If the couple decided to provide foster care, there would be no permit for the commissioners to approve.
Cobb Zoning Division Manager John Pederson said the county’s code on the number of occupants for a home is based on the number of adults, not children.
It is the specific group home ordinance that deals with dwellings run by a philanthropic organization for more than four kids, Pederson said.
If the Naddors were only going to house four kids, there would be no need for a special land-use permit, no signs in the yard or public hearings for disgruntled neighbors.
Naddor said the couple needs to have six children to be considered a “childcare institution,” a label that brings more funding and grants.
At the April 1 meeting before the Planning Commission, Naddor had to choke back tears and paused a few times while speaking about her mission.
But Tuesday morning, Naddor spoke with a strong and sharp voice as she read from a prepared statement about why the community has not accepted her cause.
“The only reason I can come up with is people are filled with unfounded fear and a lack of understanding,” Naddor said.
Nine residents were at Tuesday’s meeting in opposition to the group home.
Louie George, who has lived off Robin Lane since 1975, said the area is a 60-year-old neighborhood with 200 ranch-style homes.
“While the intent for caring for the children is a noble one, this is not the place for a group home,” George said.
Carolyn Warner, who lives off Freydale Road, was also against changing the single-family dwelling.
“We are constantly in a battle to maintain the single-use zoning in our neighborhood,” Warner said.
The recent economic recession caused east Cobb property values to go down, Warner said, so neighbors began creating “duplex homes” by converting upstairs rooms and basements into apartments.
Warner said if this practice continues, private investors will further divide the area.
“It is time for the country to send a message,” Warner said. “We are going to be proactive, not reactive” to maintain east Cobb’s established neighborhoods.