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Community Services, Inc. v. Heidelburg Township

July 25, 2006

COMMUNITY SERVICES, INC., PLAINTIFF
v.
HEIDELBURG TOWNSHIP, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner

MEMORANDUM

This controversy lies at the intersection of local land use law and the Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601--3631. The instant action was commenced by Community Services, Inc. ("CGS"),*fn1 on behalf of eight mentally disabled individuals who currently reside at a closed state hospital. CSG contends that defendants Heidelburg Township ("Township"), Heidelberg Township Board of Supervisors ("Township Supervisors"), and Heidelberg Township Zoning Hearing Board ("Zoning Board"), intentionally interpreted a zoning ordinance to prevent, and refused to grant, a reasonable accommodation to permit, these individuals from moving into a home within the Township, in violation of the FHA. CSG requests that the court preliminarily enjoin the defendants from further impeding a move onto the property. After a carful review of the record, and following argument by counsel for the parties, the court will grant CSG's request.

I. Findings of Fact*fn2

1. CSG is a regional healthcare provider for individuals challenged with mental retardation and mental health issues, and provides supervised care, maintenance, and training for these individuals in residential programs, day programs and employment services, and in residential living facilities. (Doc. 7 at 4, 23.)

2. For over 30 years, CSG has provided community-based mental health services to counties in compliance with the Mental Health/Mental Retardation Act of 1966, 50 PA. STAT. ANN. §§ 4101--4704. (Doc. 7 at 23.)

3. On February 17, 2006, CSG entered into an agreement for the purchase of real property located at 1862 Smith Station Road, Spring Grove, Pennsylvania ("Township Property"), with the intent to use the property as a "Long Term Structured Residence" ("LTSR") for eight mentally ill individuals. (Doc. 7 at 86, 101, 105, 110-11.)

4. Under Pennsylvania law, a LTSR is defined as a "highly structured therapeutic residential mental health treatment facility for adults." 55 PA. CODE § 5320.3.

5. Under Pennsylvania law, to be eligible for admission to a LTSR, a prospective resident must, inter alia, be eighteen years of age or older and "[e]vidence a severe psychological disability as a result of serious mental illness that indicates a less restrictive level of care as inappropriate." 55 PA. CODE § 5320.31.

6. In March 2006, CSG filed a form application with the Township, seeking a special exception for the agriculturally-zoned Township Property. (Doc. 7 at 1-21; see also Doc. 1 ¶¶ 41-45.)

7. The application describes the current use of the Township Property as a ranch single-family residential home, with on-site well and sewage, and a narrative appended to the application describes the proposed use as a "supervised protective living arrangement for 8 people who will be living together as a functional family." (Doc. 7 at 1-2, 4, 86.)

8. The narrative states that the existing attached garage will be converted to adequately house the eight residents, that "[i]t is not anticipated that the current building envelope (together with the garage) will be expanded," and that the use will be limited to the first floor and the basement." (Doc. 7 at 4.)

9. The narrative states that the prospective residents will all be eighteen years of age or older, that they will be supervised by staff twenty-four hours a day, and that the property's driveway will provide sufficient off-street parking. (Doc. 7 at 4.)

10. The narrative states that "there will be no measurable impact on local public services . . . . There is on-site sewer and water, and none of the residents will drive, nor need services from the local public school system . . . . [and] with the 24-hour supervision, there is no need for public support." (Doc. 7 at 5.)

11. The narrative asserts that the property's intended use falls within the Township Zoning Ordinance's definition of "family," and as such is permitted as of right. (Doc. 7 at 4.)

12. The Township Zoning Ordinances defines "Family" as:

One (1) or more persons who live in one (1) dwelling unit and maintain a common household. May consist of a single person or two (2) or more persons, whether or not related by blood, marriage or adoption. May also include domestic servants and gratuitous guests, but not occupants of a club, fraternal lodging, or rooming house. (Doc. 7 at 302.)

13. The narrative states that CSG was advised by the Township Zoning Officer that its proposed use constitutes a "Domiciliary Care Unit" ("DCU"), and the narrative requests a special exception. (Doc. 7 at 4.)

14. The Township Zoning Ordinance defines a DCU as: An existing building or structure designed and occupied as living quarters for one (1) family which provides twenty-four (24)-hour supervised protective living arrangements for not more than two (2) unrelated persons 18 years of age and above who are disabled physically, mentally, emotionally or as a result of old age. (Doc. 7 at 302.)

15. The Township Property is zoned "Agricultural" which permits single family dwellings as of right and DCUs by special exception. (Doc. 7 at 320.)

16. There are no zoning classifications in the Township Zoning Ordinance in which a DCU is a permitted use as of right. (Doc. 7 at 314-321.)

17. On March 27, 2006, CSG sent additional correspondence to the Zoning Board, reiterating CSG's position that its proposed use fit the definition of "family" for purposes of a single-family dwelling as used in the Township's Zoning Ordinance, and, in the alternative, requesting the "family" classification as a reasonable accommodation under the FHA. (Doc. 7 at 24.)

18. CSG also sought to amend its zoning application to reflect a request for a variance, explaining that "[s]hould the [Zoning Board] determine the proposed use is a Domiciliary Care Facility as opposed to a family unit, the variance is needed because . . . [a] Domiciliary Care Unit is limited to 'not more than two unrelated persons.'" (Doc. 7 at 22.)

19. CSG included in its correspondence to the Zoning Board information pertaining to the Americans with Disabilities Act, to wit, United States Supreme Court case law and an Executive Order of the President dated June 18, 2001. (Doc. 7 at 25-39.)

20. On March 28, 2006, the Zoning Board held a hearing on CSG's zoning application. (Doc. 7 at 90.)

21. Ms. Susan Blue ("Blue"), the president of CSG, testified at the hearing that CSG currently has 300 group homes in 19 counties, and that it currently operates one other LTSR in State College, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 7 at 100, 110-11, 177.)

22. Blue testified that eight individuals-two women and six men-are waiting to move into the Township Property. (Doc. 7 at 139.)

23. Blue testified that the LTSR program is for people with mental health difficulties, not for people coming out of the criminal justice system, and that individuals residing at a LTSR are typically regaining skills that they once had but have lost because of mental illness or other difficulties. (Doc. 7 at 111-14.)

24. She stated that individuals living in a LTSR function as a family, partaking in family events such as celebrating holidays and planning vacations together, and that staff emphasize every day living skills in preparation for a transition to a less restrictive environment. (Doc. 7 at 111-14.)

25. Blue testified that a psychiatrist, masters-level staff, and county officials assess LTSR individuals at the home on a regular basis, and that recovery goals are set for the individuals to transition them to less structured, independent living, which may occur in as little as six months or as long as three years. (Doc. 7 at 111-12.)

26. Mr. Will Short ("Short"), the realtor who located the property for CSG, testified that the home consists of 3,468 square feet, and a 900 square foot garage, and estimated that eight vehicles could park on the driveway as it now exists. (Doc. 7 at 108-09, 126.)

27. Short testified that eight people currently reside at the property, that the septic system was certified as functional for the current level of use, and that CSG was prepared to address any necessary enhancement of capacity in light of expected demands. (Doc. 7 at 109.)

28. Ms. Melissa Jones ("Jones"), an employee of CSG, also testified at the March 28, 2006 Zoning Board hearing, and relayed that, in State College, CSG is currently operating a LTSR under the same regulations proposed for the Township Property. (Doc. 7 at 102, 107, 177.)

29. Jones testified that the Township Property is ideal because the house is large enough to accommodate the prospective residents and staff, the agricultural setting would provide a relaxed environment for the residents, and shopping and physician's services are in close proximity. (Doc. 7 at 102, 110.)

30. She stated that CSG planned to pave the driveway at the Township Property and perform interior renovations to convert the garage into two bedrooms (so that the property will have four single bedrooms, and two double bedrooms), but that neither the work nor the property's intended use would impact on the neighborhood. (Doc. 7 at 102, 108.)

31. Jones relayed that, since January 2006, CSG employees have been providing services to and working with the eight prospective residents of the Township Property, who would function as a family at the LTSR and share household responsibilities such as budgeting, grocery shopping, menu and meal preparation, and planning trips and shopping in general with the assistance of staff. (Doc. 7 at 103.)

32. Jones testified that the eight individuals are in their mid 40s to early 50s, currently reside at the Harrisburg State Hospital, and have been evaluated and qualified to live in a community with the aid of 24-hour staff to help them through everyday living skills, and to prepare them for independent living. (Doc. 7 at 105, 108.)

33. Jones stated that the prospective residents will be living in the Township Property on a long-term basis, and that it will be staffed 24-hours a day. (Doc. 7 at 127.)

34. Jones testified that a psychiatrist will be at the house for several hours every week to work with the residents, and that CSG staff will monitor any medications or mental health challenges that the residents might face, and help them to develop skills necessary for transition to independent living. (Doc. 7 at 104, 129.)

35. She stated that, on average, three or four staff people will be at the Township Property, that the maximum number of staff on site will be six, and that the property has more than ample off-street parking to accommodate the residents, staff, and visitors. (Doc. 7 at 123-24, 129.)

36. According to Jones, the staff will include a program director or assistant program director, a nurse, and one or two advisors, all of whom will have state regulated mental health experience, and none of whom will sleep at the Township Property. (Doc. 7 at 127-28.)

37. Jones testified that the program director is a master's-level candidate, and that a qualified mental health professional is on staff 40 hours per week, and also functions as an advisor. (Doc. 7 at 128-29.)

38. Jones testified that any risk to the community would be minimal, that the prospective residents will be monitored by staff and on medication and treatment programs, that the house will be locked at all times, and that staff must approve any resident's leaving of the premises, such as going to work, to a vocational service, or shopping. (Doc. 7 at 106, 115-16, 129.)

39. Mr. Steve Warren ("Warren") also testified at the March 28, 2006 Zoning Board hearing. (Doc. 7 at 116.)

40. Warren stated that he has served for the past twenty-two years as the county administrator for the York/Adams Mental Health/Mental Retardation Program, which is responsible for providing community-based services for individuals with mental disabilities. (Doc. 7 at 116.)

41. Warren testified that the county does not offer these mental health services directly, but contracts with providers such as CSG. (Doc. 7 at 117.)

42. He stated that since January 2005, when the Governor of Pennsylvania announced the closing of the Harrisburg State Hospital, Warren and his staff have worked to assess which of the 120 individuals at the hospital could return to the community. (Doc. 7 at 117-18.)

43. Warren and his staff did an in-depth assessment of the individuals at the hospital, identified their specific program needs and sent out requests for proposals to identify agencies that could provide these needs, and selected CSG to provide the services for the eight prospective residents of the Township Property. (Doc. 7 at 125.)

44. Warren testified that CSG was highly recommended by the State Office of Mental Health to implement the LTSR program for these prospective residents. (Doc. 7 at 120.)

45. Warren stated that each prospective resident received a comprehensive clinical assessment to determine what level of skills he or she had developed and whether he or she would be able to function and benefit from the LTSR; he also confirmed that each prospective resident has been diagnosed and is being treated for a mental illness. (Doc. 7 at 120, 121-22, 133.)

46. Warren testified that the Harrisburg State Hospital officially closed on January 27, 2006, that the eight prospective residents are among the last remaining residents of the institution eligible for community placement, and that, pending such placement, the county has been leasing space in the closed hospital for these individuals. (Doc. 7 at 120, 122-23.)

47. Warren testified that the Township Property will be licensed for and limited to eight LTSR residents. (Doc. 7 at 134.)

48. Several Township residents spoke at the March 28, 2006 Zoning Board hearing, inquiring whether any of the prospective residents were "child molesters, fire bugs, or drug addicts," or likely to go "on a rampage." (Doc. 7 at 131, 137.)

49. Blue responded that each prospective resident has been assessed to verify that they are not a danger to others, that the State College LTSR has not had any problems with violence, and that staff is trained in de-escalation techniques should a problem arise. (Doc. 7 at 131, 138).

50. Blue also relayed that the house will have an alarm system and that the staff will be required to confirm visually the presence of each resident every thirty minutes, twenty-four hours a day. (Doc. 7 at 136-37.)

51. Following testimony and comments by the audience, the solicitor for the Zoning Board argued that the proposed use for the Township Property was not a "family" residence, but more akin to a DCU or a convalescent home, either of which would require a variance. (Doc. 7 at 92-93, 145-46.)

52. The Zoning Ordinance defines "convalescent home" as: "Any structure containing sleeping rooms where persons are housed or lodged and furnished with ...


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