Posted by: Patricia Salkin | May 15, 2014

Fourth Circuit Upholds BZA Reasonable Accommodation Approvals Under FHA

Esplanade Ridge Civic Association (ERCA) sought reversal of the trial court’s decision, which affirmed the City of New Orleans’ Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) granting of a zoning variance. GCHP Esplanade, LLC (GCHP), wanted to build a facility that included forty apartments located in a RM-3 Multiple-Family Residential District. Of the forty apartments, twenty would include supportive services for handicapped tenants. ERCA, a non-profit corporation committed to community development, opposed the project. The BZA, at the public hearing, sided with GCHP and concluded that their rights under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) should not be deprived. Additionally, “the BZA ordered that GCHP’s request for a reasonable accommodation under the FHA be placed on the agenda….” The request was granted on November 16, 2011. ERCA appealed the decision to the district court where it upheld the BZA decision. The court stated “that the BZA properly…acknowledged that the FHA required the BZA to make a reasonable accommodation to GCHP so that it could offer equal opportunity housing to the handicap community.” ERCA appealed.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that the RM-3 Residential District was designated to “‘provide for a variety of dwelling types of medium-high density while protecting the character of the surrounding area by limiting uses and signs.’” Multi-family dwellings up to fifty apartments were allowed in the district. ERCA sought to have the property classified as a residential care center, as this classification would prohibit GCHP from developing the project. ERCA argued that the supportive services offered would fit into a residential care center, not a multi-family dwelling unit. In response, the City argued that the project would contain twenty apartments and twenty supportive apartments, so a residential care center classification would be inappropriate.

The Fourth Circuit did not classify the property as a residential care center, reasoning “[d]espite the availability of ‘supported services’ for some of the tenants of the proposed facility, we find that this proposed structure more closely resembles an apartment building, or as stated in the RM-3 district, a ‘multiple family dwelling,’ than a ‘residential care center.’” Additionally, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the City must provide the necessary accommodations under the FHA, as it would be unlawful not to do so. “An accommodation is reasonable if it ‘does not cause any undue hardship or fiscal or administrative burdens on the municipality, or does not undermine the basic purpose that the zoning ordinance seeks to achieve.’” The Fourth Circuit found that no undue hardship would occur by granting the accommodation.

Esplanade Ridge Civic Ass’n v. City of New Orleans, 136 So. 3d 166 (4th Cir. 2/12/14)


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