Griffin advised to allow group homes

Griffin may be making changes to allow group homes in all residential districts of the city.

City Attorney Drew Whalen advised the city commissioners at Tuesday’s workshop, that in light of recent court decisions, he is recommending the city change its Unified Development Code to allow group homes in all residential districts and to eliminate the requirement of a special use permit as a condition of locating a group home.


Whalen explained there have been “a series of lawsuits that found zoning restrictions discriminatory when applied to those of a protected class — persons with a disability. The city’s current zoning scheme limits group home out of low density housing.”

In city zoning, he said, “there are no limits for related people, a true family unit based on the size of the dwelling or number of bedrooms, but for unrelated people, the limit is two per bedroom.”

He told the city commissioners they “could be sued individually for discriminating, and it would not fall under qualified immunity, since it’s been federal law for 20 years. The law in this area is clearly established,” he said referring to the Federal Fair Housing Act amendments made in 1988 and the subsequent Americans With Disabilities Act, Whalen said,

Whalen cited one of the recent court cases, Pacific Shores Properties LLC v. City of Newport Beach, Calif., which he said, the upscale community near Hollywood, “had become a Mecca of sorts for rehab for celebrities. The residents wanted them stopped and were demanding action.”

The city eventually took action, and after requests were denied, the city was successfully sued for damages. The 9th Circuit Court, he said, cited a decision in the 11th Circuit Court, which he noted includes Georgia.

That case, Schwartz v. the City of Treasure Island, Fla., in 2008, the court ruled “the application of special requirements, including land-use regulations, including conditional or special-use permits, have the effect of limiting the ability of individuals to live in the residence of their choice in the community.”

Whalen said he sent a memo to the commissioners and city manager back then advising the city to eliminate the use of a special use permit to approve covered group homes from certain zones and allow the location of group homes, by right, in all residential zoning districts, but the city took no action at the time.

He said the state is closing more of the state mental hospitals, with a goal to integrate patients with developmental disabilities back into the community. “You may well find a facility in your neighborhood.”

City Commissioner Doug Hollberg said, “they are actively pursuing it now,” noting that he’s been contacted, as a rental property owner.

This does include the criminally insane, Whalen said, and explained here are some exclusions for the group homes that would be allowed, noting those for “sex offenders, active illicit substance users, juvenile delinquents and anyone serving a sentence are excluded.”

City Commissioner Dick Morrow referred to this as “federal bullying of how we chose to run our city. The protected class seems to be expanding.”

Mayor Joanne Todd asked about “the sanctity of the neighborhood, the sanctity of the home. I think this sucks.”

Whalen said, “it may suck, but it’s the law of the land. This is not an issue that can be regulated at the local level.”

He said he would be bring the proposed code changes to the board in January.

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