Bellevue, Washington amends zoning laws and pays $246,000 in legal fees and costs in group home case

The city of Bellvue, Washington recently amended its zoning codes to settle a federallawsuit filed by the Children's Alliance, a non-profit children's advocacy group. Thegroup, along with two other non-profits and a private plaintiff, claimed that Bellvue'szoning laws regulating group homes for children and persons with disabilities werefacially discriminatory.

In addition to the change in the zoning laws, thecity agreed to pay $240,000 in attorneys' fees and $6,000 in costs to the plaintiffs. Thesettlement was approved by US District Court Judge Thomas Zilly in June.

Zoning law placed limitations on group homes but not on private, singlefamily homes According to the lawsuit, Bellevue Zoning Ordinance 4861 imposedrestrictions on group homes for children and persons with disabilities which did not applyto single family homes. Children's Alliance said that by treating groups homesdifferently, the city had violated both the federal Fair Housing Act and Washington'sstate fair housing laws.

After examining decisions in other cases, Judge Zilly ruled that group homes forchildren were indeed covered by the family status provisions of the Fair Housing Act andWashington's state statutes. Judge Zilly entered summary judgment for the plaintiffs anddeclared Bellvue's zoning ordinance invalid. The ordinance, he claimed, was faciallydiscriminatory and violated the family status and disability provisions of the FairHousing Act.

To settle the case, Bellvue officials amended the zoning ordinance tocomply with Judge Zilly's order. The amended ordinance does not impose any regulations ongroup homes that are not imposed on private, single family residences.

New zoning ordinance establishes advisory board to mediate disputesbetween group homes and neighbors
The new ordinance also established a "group homes advisory board" which willserve to resolve disputes between neighbors and group home operators. Neighborhoodresidents will have a voice in where group homes are located, but the home's location willultimately be up to the group home operator.