A Zoning Ordinance Will Violate the Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and the Equal Protection Clause Where a Disparate and Discriminatory Impact on the Protected Class is Shown by Explicit Discrimination by a Municipality
Marriot Senior Living Services, Inc. v Springfield Township, 78. F.Supp. 2d 376 ED Pa (December 7, 1999)
Cross Reference: Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Equal Protection Clause
A developer, seeking to build a senior assisted living facility, filed suit for a township's alleged denial of a reasonable accommodation claim and alleged failure to waive its zoning laws pursuant to the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The developer also claimed that the township maintained a both a facially discriminatory zoning scheme and a zoning scheme which had a greater adverse impact on elderly people with disabilities than on others, regardless of intent.
The developer proposed building an assisted living facility for senior citizens in a zoning district which specifically excluded hospital, sanitarium, rest home, and convalescent home uses. The developer initiated the project through "informal discussion", a procedure provided for in the subdivision and land development ordinance allowing the developer to submit a sketch plan to the planning commission for informal review and comment. The informal discussions between the developer and the township led to revisions to the sketch plan and the submission of a proposed zoning amendment. Upon hearing certain "negative comments" about the project from a township commissioner, the developer abandoned the subdivision and land development approval process and issued a demand to the township for reasonable accommodation of the project under the Fair Housing Act. The township solicitor responded in a letter advising the developer that the township did not have sufficient information to provide a final response to the demand. The developer claimed the letter to be the township's final decision on the project.
Both parties requested summary judgment. The court held as follows:
A. The reasonable accommodation claim based upon FHA and ADA violations was not ripe for judicial review based upon the two pronged test of 1) the "fitness of the issues for judicial decision" and 2) the "hardship to the parties of withholding court consideration". The Court determined that hardship was clearly demonstrated but the developer failed to demonstrate that the issues were ripe for the court's review for a series of reasons: a) the developer did not show that further action through the formal planning process would be futile-the township did not attempt to subvert the approval process, the township did meet and discuss changes to the sketch plan; b) no final application had been submitted for land-use approval, amendment to the zoning ordinance, or other relief from the zoning requirements; c) no public hearings were held for public comment; d) the municipality charged with making the decision had not had a full and meaningful discussion of the issues or stated its reasons in writing for any decision; and e) The solicitor's letter only advised that the township needed more information, and was not a final decision.
B. The claim that the zoning code was facially discriminatory was dismissed for failure to identify any specific provision of the zoning code or land use ordinance whereby elderly persons with disabilities were expressly treated differently from others.
C. The "disparate impact" claim was placed in suspense pending the developer's formal application to the township and the township's issuance of a final decision.
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