The city has agreed to pay $145,000 to settle a lawsuit that accused city officials of discriminating against a group home for recovering addicts.
The owner of the group home, called Ebby’s Place, in northwest Fort Worth had been fined $7,400 for having eight unrelated residents living in a structure authorized for only five unrelated residents.
The owner asked for a zoning variance, which the Fort Worth City Council denied.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, which must still be approved by a federal judge, Ebby’s Place will be allowed to operate with up to seven residents and all citations will be rescinded.
Also the city will pay $135,000 to Ebby’s Place in monetary damages and $10,000 to the United States as a civil penalty.
“What’s important is the city changes their behavior so disabled people who need accommodations can get a fair hearing,” said John Guild, one of the attorneys representing Ebby’s Place. “What these lawsuits are really about is getting compliance with the law.”
As a part of the settlement, Fort Worth also adopted an ordinance establishing a process that people can use to seek reasonable accommodations from the city’s zoning or land use laws and practices when such accommodations may be necessary to help disabled people have “an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their housing,” according to the consent decree.
In 2012, the owner, Ben Patterson, argued before the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission that Ebby’s Place, a four-bedroom house in the 6200 block of Granite Creek Drive in northwest Fort Worth, could not be financially viable with only five residents, and needed eight residents.
The City Council unanimously voted against the zoning request. Councilmen Dennis Shingleton complained that the structure did not have enough parking and that the group home was a poor fit for the neighborhood.
Patterson complained to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which investigated and referred the matter to the Justice Department. Patterson later became an intervenor in the Justice Department’s suit.
The suit said the city discriminated against recovering narcotic users and alcoholics, who can be members of a protected class under the American with Disabilities Act, by using zoning ordinances to keep them out of a neighborhood.
“We’re hopeful the settlement will result in this type of lawsuit not arising in the future and will ultimately save taxpayers money from not having to defend future lawsuits like this,” Guild said.
The settlement agreement also contains some training and reporting requirements, said Chris Mosley, senior assistant city attorney.
“The courts will retain jurisdiction over the case for three years to make sure there is compliance,” Mosley said.
This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.