NORTH OGDEN -- The city council has approved ordinances that put the city in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, but not with a smile.
City Attorney Dave Carlson encouraged the council to come into complete compliance with federal laws to avoid being sued by a residential treatment center or group home in the future.
With the council action, group homes and treatment facilities for adolescents will be considered to be the same as single-family residences for zoning purposes.
Currently the city has two treatment facilities, one run by Crossroads and one run by the state. A second Crossroads facility recently applied for a business license to operate a treatment center for youths.
"The ADA requires a city to treat group homes no different than a family (home)," Carlson said. He emphasized the importance of adopting the policy because of legal judgments in such cases that have forced some cities to file for bankruptcy.
"Oftentimes when you have group homes, you have clamor from the community and city officials feel pressure to respond," Carlson said. Now the city has rules for what it can and cannot do.
Councilman Wade Bigler suggested the city adopt a policy that allows for a certain number of group homes or treatment facilities to be in certain parts of town or spread out through the city.
Carlson said that can be a slippery slope to problems, and the line of the law is very fine in that category. He advised that the city steer away from that kind of thinking, especially as, currently, there is not a large number of the homes in the city.
Basically those businesses have state and federal laws to comply with, so the city can't impose extra requirements on top of those laws.
"They've had a good track record," Carlson said of the treatment centers currently in the city.
Bigler said he didn't think it was fair that the city has to do all the complying, especially when many of the treatment centers are for-profit businesses.
"So they've tied our hands, even though theirs aren't tied," Councilwoman Cheryl Stoker said.
Councilman Justin Fawson also expressed his frustration about what many on the council feel are mandates rather than a choice to create an ordinance.
"It's a civil rights provision, and we really don't have a choice," Carlson told the council.