Judge orders city to pay $192,000 to Missouri group home operators in zoning dispute

In September, United States District Judge George F. Gunn, Jr. ordered the city of CreveCoeur, Missouri to pay $ 192,788 to the developers of a group home for persons withAlzheimer's Disease. The Court also ordered the city to issue building permits to thedevelopers so the group home could be completed.

In June 1995, CURA, Inc. opened MasonManor, a group home for persons with Alzheimer's Disease, in an unincorporated part of St.Louis County, Missouri. Soon after the facility opened, the part of the county where thehome was built was annexed by the city of Creve Coeur. CURA planned to build another grouphome in the Creve Coeur area because there were many people on the waiting list to getinto Mason Manor.

In September 1995, CURA purchased a home in a Creve Coeur residential neighborhood andplanned to convert it into a group home. Later that month, CURA applied to the city forseveral construction permits. On October 4, 1995, Timothy Dolan, president of CURA, metwith Creve Coeur's director of Community Development, Randal Garner. Garner told Dolanthat the city's legal department was checking to see if it could block the group homebased on an earlier court decision.

CURA created a separate, non-profit corporation to insulate itself fromthe earlier court decision, which held that cities could block the construction of grouphomes in residential areas if they were "for profit" ventures. CURA assured theCity Attorney that the new home would be a non-profit operation. This assurance seemed tosatisfy the City, which issued several construction permits in October and November 1995.

City revokes permits after neighbors voice concerns

In December 1995, residents near the new group home learned of CURA's plans. Theycontacted Garner and Michael McDowell, the City Administrator for Creve Coeur. Theneighbors claimed that they had been told that the home was being modified for a singlefamily from another town. The neighbors said that they did not want a "nursinghome" operating in a residential area. The neighbors complained that their propertyvalues would be driven down and that there would be additional traffic in theirneighborhood if the project was allowed to proceed. According to testimony, none of theneighbors ever specifically objected to having disabled persons living in theirneighborhood.

On December 11, 1995, the Creve Coeur City Council held a regularly scheduled meeting.Many residents of the neighborhood where the group home was being built attended themeeting. They expressed their concerns about the group home and the adverse effects itwould have on their neighborhood. The City Council explained to the residents that theybelieved that the project was permissible under the law and that the project was a grouphome, not a nursing home. The residents continued to express their strong opposition tothe project. Later that month, the City ordered the construction crews to stop work on thegroup home and revoked the building permits it had granted.

On January 2, Thomas Kennedy III, CURA's attorney, wrote to the City and requested thatthe project be allowed to continue. Mayor William Winter responded by writing a letter toCURA. He explained that the City no longer thought that the project was permissible in asingle family residential neighborhood. Winter asserted that no building permits would beissued.

The City cited several reasons why the group home could not be built,including a zoning ordinance that stated two group homes could not be built within twomiles of each other. CURA asserted that the two group homes were more than two miles apartif separated by the shortest vehicular route. The group conceded that the group homes werewithin two miles of each other "as the crow flies." CURA requested that the Citygrant a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act and allow the homes to beconstructed within two miles of each other.

Home was damaged after city stopped construction

While the City's "stop work order" was in effect, the open construction sitewas being severely damaged by wind and rain. The City refused to allow crews to cover openspaces which would have prevented damage to the home. The site remained open andunprotected for more than a month.

Judge Gunn held that the city of Creve Coeur had not intentionally discriminatedagainst persons with disabilities, but had violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing tomake reasonable accommodations to its zoning statutes to allow the construction of thegroup home. He ordered the City to pay $112,971 for physical damage to the property,$18,950 for property management, and $60,867 for interest accrued on construction loansand for risk insurance. He also ordered the City to issue building permits to CURA.