Nonprofit sues Fairbanks North Start Borough, citing discrimination

Posted: Wednesday, November 07, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A nonprofit is suing the Fairbanks North Star Borough, citing discrimination against the disabled.

Presbyterian Hospitality House contends that the borough limits housing opportunities for those recovering from physical, mental, emotional or legal weaknesses by requiring permits for special housing.

The nonprofit has opened an emergency shelter in a Fairbanks neighborhood and wants to house up to five homeless teen-agers. The Borough Assembly, however, rejected the request for that many people. The nonprofit continues to house two teens, which does not require a license.

The borough has not yet answered Hospitality House's complaint. Borough attorney Ardith Lynch said she could not comment about the case, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Michael Walleri, the nonprofit's attorney, said ''a real unfriendly legal environment'' exists toward people who need group home services. ''A minority of residents can keep a group home out of an area under the code.''

People not in need of special services can live where they want, Walleri noted.

Hospitality House opened its shelter for homeless teens last year, and problems soon followed.

Some neighbors said Hospitality House employees failed to respond to their inquiries about the shelter and that they didn't properly supervise the teen-age residents.

One neighbor said she saw boys outside smoking.

The complaints led to Hospitality House applying for a permit. The Planning Commission granted a permit with conditions that forced the nonprofit to respond to its neighbors' concerns. The permit was to have been reassessed after a year.

People associated with the shelter said they did not think the nonprofit had to get a permit before opening the shelter, according to transcripts from a Planning Commission hearing on the issue earlier this year. Workers said they had made attempts to communicate with neighbors and sponsored an open house, but no one attended.

Neighbors who had complained about the shelter appealed the Planning Commission's decision, so the issue came before the borough's appeals body, called the Board of Adjustment.

The board, made up of members of the Borough Assembly, overturned the Planning Commission's decision. That led to the lawsuit filed in Fairbanks Superior Court.

Meanwhile, the shelter is now for sale, Walleri said.

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