Tuesday’s zoning hearing by the Cobb County Board of Commissioners included impassioned statements about religious rights, but in the end, the board voted to deny a Romani Gypsy family the ability to open a psychic reading business in Smyrna.
Neighbors opposed to the psychic reader shop were confused and did not realize the unanimous decision by the board had gone in their favor.
In 2010, Michael McMillen and his son, Justin, purchased the less than a quarter-acre parcel on the east side of Atlanta Road, south of Paces Ferry Road.
The McMillen’s attorney, James Balli, said at Tuesday’s meeting the owners wanted to use the space for religious-based counseling, specifically psychic readings.
Balli said the business would be “very low impact” with operating hours from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday by appointment only, with no overnight parking.
The board’s decision will not allow for the applicants’ desired use of the land.
Instead, the property — has been unoccupied for years — will now have a clear direction on the type of business the county and surrounding community will support.
The rezoning of the property was based on the physical limitations of the vacant property, according to Commissioner Bob Ott.
At the end of his Tuesday presentation, Balli provided a list to the Board of Commissioners of alternative uses for the property, in case the request for a psychic reading establishment would be denied.
Ott said the zoning approval did not come with a list of businesses that are excluded, only what is allowed.
The list did not include psychic reading or psychological counseling.
Balli said the owners plan to renovate the building, which contains a metal structure once used as an auto service center.
With Tuesday’s zoning change, the owners can continue plans to remodel the building into a professional office, with a new brick or stucco exterior, in the hope of renting to a tenant for one of the listed businesses the board approved.
The list included items such as a law, medical or insurance office, an accounting or tax preparation business, a photography studio, a travel bureau, a florist or jewelry store.
The area around the controversial property consists mainly of residential housing, including the Paces Park subdivision directly behind the lot.
Twenty-seven neighbors attended Tuesday’s meeting to object to the proposed business.
Four residents addressed the board and said a business that provides psychic readings is out of character with the rest of the community.
Balli said at the meeting comments by area residents at prior meetings had been disrespectful to his clients who are just trying to practice their craft.
The McMillens are part of the ethnic group known as Romani, which are often referred to as Gypsies.
Ott said zoning decisions can be a “chess match” between respecting the rights of land owners requesting a zoning change, and protecting the rights of surrounding property owners.
“This was a very difficult zoning case because of the nature of it,” Ott said.
Ott said the biggest factor for disqualifying a psychic reading business at the Atlanta Road location was because the owners kept changing how they planned to use the space when applying for rezoning.
Two years ago, Ott said the board was told the family had to live at the site, but Tuesday the board was told that residency was not required.
Ott said it was difficult to truly understand the owner’s intent, and that every other psychic reading location run by the family in Cobb County includes the operator living on the property.
The McMillen family already owns psychic reading businesses in Cobb County at the following locations: Psychic Readings by Gina at 2672 Austell Road, Atlanta’s Psychic Ashley at 3010 Roswell Road, Psychic Readings by Jennifer at 3497 Canton Road, and Psychic Answers by Jennifer at 2998 Powder Springs Road.
In April, the Planning Commission recommended the zoning for the new location be changed to a one-story office that prohibits a psychic reading practice.
Tuesday, the Board of Commissioners approved this recommendation, and changed the zoning for the parcel of land to limited retail commercial.
The classification was purposefully chosen because it matches the same zoning as the salon next door, according to Ott.
Ott said he only looks at the merits of each zoning case.
“I am blind to the applicant,” Ott said.