Sunday, December 18, 2016

Under Threat Of Possible Fair Housing Act Problem, Zoning Board OKs Use Of Townhome In 36-Unit Complex As Group Home Housing Two Disabled Adults, Full Time Caregivers; Officials Resist Complaints From Angry Neighbors In Granting Reasonable Accommodation

In Forks Township, Pennsylvania, The Morning Call reports:
  • The two people with disabilities living in a Forks Township condominium with full-time staff are considered a family under zoning codes, township zoning hearing board members decided.

    The Forks Township Zoning Hearing Board voted 2-1 at a hearing about a group home [...] that the people living in the home constitute a family. The decision about the home in the Chestnut Commons condominium complex came about after township officials told the organization that runs the home, Heart to Heart Care, LLC, to apply for a special exception.

    Township officials initially asked the home operators to apply for a special exception . The township's zoning codes allow group homes for people with disabilities as long as they're approved by the zoning board and present site plans.

    Zoning board member Katharine Fina said the home sounded like it met the definition of family — four or fewer unrelated individuals sharing in a common household — in part because residents and staffers shared a kitchen and common area.

    But board member Robert Kimmel, who cast the dissenting vote, did not agree.

    "I wasn't 100 percent certain it was considered a family and they lived together and partook together," he said. Kimmel said he considered that no one living there leads the home or pays their own bills.

    Monday night's meeting was the third about the home. Previous meetings were contentious, with neighbors at the 36-unit development attending and complaining that the group home brought too much traffic and trash, and alleging staff members had arguments outside.

    Heart to Heart Care attorney John Rule argued successfully that the home falls under the township's definition of family. Such a use is allowed without a special exception. He also said a failure to approve the home could lead to a violation of the federal law that protects people with disabilities from housing discrimination.

    He also said if the board didn't consider the two people to fall under the family definition, they should be granted the special exception, and noted the Fair Housing Act requires municipalities to allow reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.

    "To deny the use would be to present an immediate barrier to these people, being a protected class, and respectfully it would constitute housing discrimination," he said.

    The zoning board's attorney also noted the reasonable accommodation was allowed under the township's codes.