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REMED RECOVERY CARE CENTERS v. TP. OF WILLISTOWN

February 10, 1999

REMED RECOVERY CARE CENTERS,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF WILLISTOWN, CHESTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Giles, Chief Judge.

  MEMORANDUM

ReMed Recovery Care Centers ("ReMed"), brings this action against the Township of Willistown, Pennsylvania ("Willistown") and the Township's Zoning Hearing Board ("Board"), under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 ("FHAA"), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. ReMed seeks an injunction preventing Willistown from enforcing its zoning ordinance so as to prohibit ReMed from bringing three additional patients to reside in the Willistown Home, a group home for brain-injured adults located in a district zoned for single-family residential use.

Now considered is ReMed's Petition and Motion for a Preliminary Injunction. The court has received written evidence and briefs from both parties and has heard oral argument. For the reasons that follow, the court preliminarily enjoins Willistown from enforcing against the Willistown Home the zoning ordinance limit on the number of unrelated persons who may reside in a residential area. ReMed shall be permitted to bring three additional residents into the Willistown Home, pending further proceedings and a final determination of whether to make the injunction permanent.*fn1

Findings of Fact

The Parties

1. ReMed is a for-profit limited partnership, engaged in the business of providing treatment, therapy, and rehabilitation services to handicapped persons with brain injuries, autism, and other disabilities. ReMed operates residential programs in supervised group homes and apartment settings. These programs allow brain-injured individuals to live in a home environment while undergoing rehabilitation and to continue to live on their own as much as possible. Residents may stay short-term or long-term in ReMed homes, depending on their age, the nature of their injuries, and their personal situations.

2. Ross H. Reider ("Reider") is ReMed's chief executive officer and lone general partner; he founded ReMed in 1984. ReMed currently operates ten group homes in the Greater Philadelphia area.

3. ReMed employs 275 people. ReMed homes are staffed by counselors with bachelor's and master's degrees; many ReMed employees are licensed in psychology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech and language pathology. Counselors undergo training related to the care of brain injuries and interaction with people with brain injuries, as well as cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and crisis intervention and management. ReMed is licensed to operate these homes by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and maintains a three-year accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.

4. Defendants are the Township of Willistown, which promulgated and enforces the zoning ordinance at issue in this case, and the township's Zoning Board, which denied ReMed's application for a variance from the limit on the number of unrelated persons who could reside in a single-family residential neighborhood.

The Willistown Home

5. Sometime in 1996, ReMed decided to reorganize some of its homes, placing two short-term care homes on a ten-acre property in Malvern, Pennsylvania and relocating residents of its long-term facility elsewhere. Eight residents were to be moved into a home in Schuylkill Township, Pennsylvania; eight more were to be moved onto a new property.

6. In August 1997, ReMed purchased a six-bedroom house located at 84 Devon Road, Willistown. The property is located on 3.5 acres, with frontage of approximately 300 feet and depth of over 478 feet. ReMed paid $460,000 for the home. ReMed also paid for various renovations to make it suitable for use as a group home, including the installation of wheelchair ramps in accordance with township building codes. The property is the second of three houses on Devon Road, which essentially is a private lane serving those three houses.

7. The Willistown Home is designed to provide a non-institutional residential environment. Residents function similar to a family, assisted by counselors who are present at all times, two or three during the day, one overnight. Residents prepare and eat meals together, perform chores such as cleaning and shopping for food, and provide social comfort and support to one another. Individuals often form close friendships with other residents. Many residents do some form of work outside the home, either paid or volunteer, full-time or part-time. Individual residents generally keep their own schedules and routines during a typical day; meals, work, therapy, and other activities during the day are not scheduled for the residents.

8. The Willistown Home is designed to blend into the residential character of the neighborhood. There are no bulk deliveries of food or special equipment made from large trucks; there are no doctors or nurses on the premises throughout the day. ReMed installed the wheelchair ramps according to township code and did not install any special fences or alarm systems. Counselors arrive at the Home in their own cars, as do therapists and other visitors. These are the only sources of traffic on the street related to the Home; none of the residents in the Willistown Home is permitted to drive. ReMed did not expand the parking or driveway areas on the property and does not plan to do so..

9. The residents in the Willistown Home are men ranging in age from 25 to 35 years of age and most will remain in the home for many years. Most sustained brain injuries as a result of accidents or from strokes suffered at an early age. Several are confined to wheelchairs. However, individuals who would be expected to be violent or aggressive, or who would otherwise be difficult to control, will not reside there.

11. ReMed also has determined that, given the cost of purchasing and renovating the house at 84 Devon Road, as well as the costs of operating the Home, eight residents are necessary to make the Willistown Home economically viable and to enable ReMed to earn a small profit, although eight residents would not necessarily enable ReMed to "maximize" its profits. None of the residents could live on Devon Road if ReMed did not operate the Willistown Home there.

12. ReMed owns and operates another home in Willistown, in a three-bedroom house located at 10 Manor Lane. Three people reside in that home and ReMed has agreed that no more than five people will reside there at any one time. The Manor Road Home functions in the same manner as the Willistown Home, although the residents there have different needs. Staffing and services are more intensive at Manor Lane; there generally are three staff people for the three residents at Manor Lane. The residents there generally are older and not as interested in socializing with their house mates.

13. The property at 84 Devon Road is located in an R-1 Residence District in Willistown, which limits permissible use of property to single-family dwellings. "Family" is defined in relevant part as "[a]ny number of individuals living together as a single, nonprofit housekeeping unit . . . which said individuals are related by blood, marriage, or adoption" or "no more than five unrelated individuals living together as a single nonprofit housekeeping unit and doing their cooking in one kitchen on the premises." (Willistown Zoning Ordinance § 139-6) (emphasis added) (the "Ordinance"). The Willistown Home, if limited to five residents, operates within this definition and would be permitted in an R-1 Residence District.

14. ReMed applied for a building permit to allow it to begin the renovations to the Devon Road house. Willistown granted this permit after ReMed agreed in September 1997 that no more than five people would reside there unless ReMed first obtained approval from the Board or from a court of law. ReMed informed Willistown at that time that it would be filing an application with the Board to gain approval for additional residents.

15. Five residents moved into the Willistown Home in February 1998, upon completion of renovations on the house. A sixth person, who previously had lived with the other five in a different ReMed home for quite some time, and who had developed a close relationship with them, was prohibited from moving in at that time. Two other ReMed clients have expressed an interest in moving onto Devon Road.

16. The only incident described by the parties requiring police response at the Home since the residents moved in occurred when someone accidentally set off the new burglar and fire ...


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