It was standing room only for the Zoning Board of Appeals hearing last night about a proposed group home at 320 Lake Ave.

First off a disclaimer – I haven’t followed this case in detail and I just happened to be at City Hall last night and stumbled on the hearing.  These are just my off-the-cuff impressions after sitting in for a fraction of the hearing … so feel free to jump in and add corrections, clarifications, etc.

Here’s the details as I understand it.  A group of families with intellectually disabled children, banded together and bought a five bedroom house on Lake Ave.  The house is intended to be a group home, modeled after a similar successful group home at 173 Lincoln St.  The group applied for a permit to build 2700 square foot addition and the permit was granted.  The completed house is intended to house 10 residents plus 2 full time staff.

A group of neighbors challenged the granting of the permit and believe that the project can only go forward by first receiving a Special Permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

I saw the last half of the neighbors presentation last night.  Most of what I heard were concerns about various issues that they are worried about – e.g. traffic, parking, noise, density.

I then heard 2/3 of the presentation by the lawyer representing Specialized Housing Inc who would be running the home.  His presentation focused entirely on the legal issues.  According to him, under both Federal and State fair housing laws, for the purposes of zoning, group homes must be considered exactly like a standard single family home.    If a family bought this same house, and build this same 2700 sq ft addition, it would be in complete compliance with all zoning requirements (setbacks, FAR, etc).  If the city were to require this project to go through the Special Permitting process, while a family would not, then the city would be in clear violation of various fair housing laws.

The questions from the board focused primarily on the two apartments for the two staff people.  He was asked if these were “Accessory Apartments” and he said “no”.  He was asked if a family were to ask to build an accessory apartment in this building would they need a Special Permit and he said “yes”.  He then went on to say that under fair housing laws, the staff apartments were part of the group home itself, and could not be treated as Accessory Apartments for zoning purposes.  They asked whether other people could live in those apartments and he said “only a spouse or children of the staff”.

If everything the lawyer said was true, it sounded to me like the neighbors don’t have much of a legal leg to stand on … but then again, I’m not a lawyer and I didn’t hear the rest of the presentation or any rebuttal to any of his statements.

So if any of you were there for the whole hearing and have more information, feel free to add it below.

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