May 17, 2013
PDT Staff Writer
Because of a little known ordinance, the city of Portsmouth has doubled the fee involved in the construction work being done at 3008 Willow Way, a house purchased by Scioto Residential Services for the housing of clients with disabilities.
In recent days the purchase has been a point of controversy with several citizens of that area coming before Portsmouth City Council to request intervention by the city, charging that Willow Way is zoned only for single family dwellings while SRS is a business.
“Initially we received a complaint that there was some work being performed in that area by Scioto Residential Services,” Director of Engineering Crystal Weghorst said. “Immediately, I did get on the phone and contacted them and what it was, was a miscommunication between the contractor and Scioto Residential Services. Each thought the other had applied for the permit. They immediately stopped work and came down to the city.”
Weghorst said there is an ordinance dealing with such situations.
“If one starts work without a permit, the city is permitted to charge them a double permit fee,” Weghorst said. “I’m not real certain what the exact amount was, but it wasn’t a lot. The residential permits are fairly cheap.”
The citizens have said throughout the process that the reason for their concern is not the people being moved into the house, but that it is a business. Several people have expressed fear that their property values would be lowered, and even said they would come back to the city and ask for a lower tax rate if that occurred.
Those citizens also said they have been told by attorneys that if they continue to fight the establishment of the group home, they would be taken to court on federal Civil Rights charges.
Federal law (the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988) and state law (Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4112) specify that landlords and other housing providers may not discriminate against a person with a disability or a handicap in the sale or rental of a dwelling, such as a house or an apartment. One type of prohibited discrimination is a refusal to provide a reasonable accommodation or a refusal to allow a reasonable modification at the tenant’s expense under certain circumstances.
According to Disability Rights of Ohio, “these laws protect a person with a disability (the laws use the term ‘handicap’). A disability or handicap is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (including such activities as walking, talking, thinking, eating, seeing, hearing, working, caring for oneself, or major bodily functions). The impairment must be permanent or of long-term duration. Temporary conditions such as pregnancy or a broken bone would usually not qualify. Note that the degree of limitation must be ‘substantial.’ Some conditions (such as blindness, deafness, or inability to walk) will always impair a major life activity, while many conditions (such as epilepsy) in some individuals would substantially limit a major life activity, but in other individuals do not. These situations are judged on a case-by-case basis.”
However, those rules do not address the issue of neighborhood deed restrictions.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT