Stow City Council blocked a residential detoxification center from moving into a former assisted living facility on Graham Road, against the advice of its own law department and possibly in violation of two federal laws.
The city may now face a lawsuit from property owner Paul Zuravel.
"That's up for a court of law to decide, but it's very possible that we could be sued for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act," law director Jaime Syx said. "The fines are substantial, and we could be sued for damages."
Syx said any fines would have to be prompted by a lawsuit, and a court would determine whether council's actions were discriminatory on a case-by-case basis. She said it is too early to speculate amounts.
"There's no outright violation and the court would have to look at the facts of what happened and make a determination," she said.
The city has been considering the detox center proposal since May, when the applicants first requested a conditional zoning certificate from the city's planning commission. Stow's zoning code does not include detoxification centers as a use, so the commission considered the proposal as a conditional use for an assisted living facility.
The project was proposed by Bill Leary, an investor for More Life Behavioral Health and its parent company Astra, which operates detox facilities in Florida and New Jersey, as well as the new Akron House Recovery. They were considering purchasing the property from Zuravel, but the purchase was contingent on the zoning approval.
The planning commission did not make a decision within the required timeframe, and their inaction constituted a rejection, which requires at least a 5-2 supermajority of council to overturn.
Ultimately, Council considered the proposal as a conditional zoning for a group home for persons with disabilities, and gave the matter three readings in order to allow for community input and give council more time to study the issue.
It was met with opposition from neighbors who expressed concern about safety and property values as well as from residents who felt that its location next to Woodland Elementary School was inappropriate.
Stow-Munroe Falls Board of Education discussed the matter at a work session last month, and were generally unopposed to the project but noted that the location was not ideal.
On Sept. 9, a motion to approve the proposal was voted down, as several audience members held up "NO" signs.
Council president Sindi Harrison, vice president Jeremy McIntire, Ward I councilman Dennis Altieri and Ward 4 councilman Mario Fiocca voted against the the proposal, on the grounds that it was more of a medical facility than a residential use.
At-large councilmembers Cyle Feldman and Christina Shaw and Ward 3 councilman Steve Hailer voted to approve the proposal as recommended by the law department on the grounds that people in recovery are a protected class and therefore voting against the proposal would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.
Stephen Buron, a co-founder of More Life Behavioral Health and its parent company Astra which was proposing the facility, said he was surprised by the outcome, but that his group is not considering a lawsuit.
"I'm not in the business of hurting people or townships if we are not wanted," Buron said. "It's my opinion they did something illegal, but I'm not going to be malicious and try to file lawsuits."
Buron has proposed some sort of partnership with Stow in a different location, but he said the group is going to look into establishing a detox center in another Summit County community, Fairlawn in particular.
"If Stow is not willing to partner with us in some form or help find us a property within the same range that we were willing to acquire the last property and really lend support, we're done," he said. "We will actively look at other properties where we'd be supported and where we know there's a need."
On Friday, property owner Paul Zuravel was already talking to an attorney about filing a a lawsuit under Ohio Revised Code 2506, an appeal of an administrative decision for discrimination.
Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KristaKanoABJ.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Stow Council at risk of lawsuit after rejection of detox center