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Rehabilitation Support Services, Inc. v. City of Albany

United States District Court, N.D. New York

July 28, 2017



          Lawrence E. Kahn, U.S. District Judge


         Plaintiff Rehabilitation Support Services, Inc. (“RSS”) commenced this action against Defendant City of Albany, alleging that the City's zoning ordinance as it applies to community residences violates the Federal Housing Act (“FHA”), as amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (“FHAA”), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 24 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq. Dkt Nos. 1 (“Complaint”), 51 (“Amended Complaint”). Presently before the Court are RSS's motion for summary judgment and the City's cross-motion for summary judgment. Dkt. Nos. 55 (“Plaintiff's Motion”), 58 (“Defendant's Motion”); see also Dkt. Nos. 55-3 (“Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts”), 55-10 (“Plaintiff's Memorandum”), 58-1 (“Defendant's Statement of Material Facts”), [1] 58-6 (“Defendant's Memorandum”), 60 (“Plaintiff's Responsive Statement of Material Fact”), 60-2 (“Plaintiff's Reply”), 65 (“Defendant's Reply”). For the following reasons, the Court grants the City's Motion and denies RSS's Motion.


         A. Factual Background

         RSS is a not-for-profit corporation that provides residential services throughout New York State for people with disabilities. Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 1-2; Def.'s Responsive SMF ¶¶ 1-2. RSS claims that it intends to build two residences, each housing twelve persons, for people recovering from alcoholism or substance abuse at 292 Second Street, Albany, New York. Am. Compl. ¶ 1.[2]RSS's residents “have major life activities substantially limited by their disability. Those activities are in various areas of daily living such as cooking, cleaning, medication management, budgeting, maintaining personal hygiene and appearance, and socialization.” Pl.'s SMF ¶ 6; Def.'s Responsive SMF ¶¶ 6.[3] The proposed residences would have “24/7 supervision [and] the residents there [would] take part in the activities of daily living like any of the other residents in the neighborhood.” Compl. ¶ 10. The residents would also be required to remain drug and alcohol free. Id. ¶ 9.

         The site at 292 Second Street is located in the City's R-2A zone, which is a “One and Two-Family Residential District.” Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 7-8; Def.'s Responsive SMF ¶¶ 7-8. The Albany Zoning Code defines a community residence as

A residence for a disabled population, sponsored by a charitable religious or social service agency, providing a homelike environment and/or supervision for the housing and care of no more than 14 disabled persons within a setting that is integrated within the community. It shall be established similar to a single-family residence with shared living area, kitchen and bathroom facilities.

Pl.'s SMF ¶ 9; Def.'s Responsive SMF ¶ 9. A person seeking to build a community residence in the R-2A zone must obtain a use variance because community residences are not permitted as of right or by special permit in that zone, and variances are required for uses considered to be inconsistent with an area's existing zoning scheme. Def.'s SMF ¶¶ 5-7; Pl.'s Responsive SMF ¶¶ 5-7. In the R-2A zone, single- and two-family dwellings and houses of worship are permitted as of right. Def.'s SMF ¶ 12; Pl.'s Responsive SMF ¶ 12. On the other hand, private schools, nursing homes, day-care centers, colleges or universities, dormitories, bed-and-breakfasts, charitable or religious organizations, and satellite dish antennas are permitted with a special use permit. Def.'s SMF ¶ 13; Pl.'s Responsive SMF ¶ 13. And, like community residences, apartment buildings and rooming houses require a use variance. Def.'s SMF ¶ 14; Pl.'s Responsive SMF ¶ 14. RSS states that its proposed facilities would be classified as community residences. Pl.'s SMF ¶ 10.

         On April 2, 2014, the Albany Board of Zoning Appeals denied RSS's application for a use variance for the 292 Second Street site. Am. Compl. ¶ 22; Dkt. No. 55-2 (“Devita Affidavit”) ¶ 11. To receive a use variance, an applicant must show “that applicable zoning regulations and restrictions have caused unnecessary hardship.” Def.'s SMF ¶ 8; Pl.'s Responsive SMF ¶ 8. Applicants can prove unnecessary hardship by demonstrating that they cannot obtain a reasonable return on their investment in the property, that their hardship is unique and not widespread in the neighborhood, that the variance, if granted, will not alter the character of the neighborhood, and that the hardship was not self-imposed. Def.'s SMF ¶ 8; Pl.'s Responsive SMF ¶ 8. In contrast, special use permits are granted on a case-by-case basis, and uses in this category are generally considered to be compatible with the existing zoning scheme. Dkt. No. 55-6 (“Glass Deposition”) at 28:21-29:15. According to RSS, use variances are harder to obtain than special permits in the R-2A zone. Pl.'s SMF ¶ 13.[4] Use variances allow the City to “preserve and protect the character of the neighborhood and the health, safety, and welfare of the community.” Def.'s SMF ¶ 9; Pl.'s Responsive SMF ¶ 9. There are currently four community residences in the R-2A zone. Def.'s SMF ¶ 10; Pl.'s Responsive SMF ¶ 10. The City recently adopted a new zoning ordinance that allows community residences housing fewer than eight people in all of its zoning districts. See City of Albany Zoning Ordinance § 375 (adopted as of June 1, 2017).

         B. Procedural History

         RSS initiated this lawsuit on April 30, 2014. Compl. The City moved to dismiss on July 11, 2014, Dkt. No. 11 (“Motion to Dismiss”), and the Court denied the motion on July 2, 2015, Rehab. Support Servs., Inc. v. City of Albany, No. 14-CV-499, 2015 WL 4067066, at *12 (N.D.N.Y. July 2, 2015). RSS filed its Amended Complaint on October 25, 2016. Am. Compl. The Amended Complaint asserts that the City's Zoning Ordinance is facially discriminatory in violation of the FHA and ADA because it bars community residences from the R-2A zone unless their owners obtain use variances. Am. Compl. ¶ 23. On March 1, 2017, RSS moved for summary judgment, Pl.'s Mot., arguing that the City failed to provide any legitimate reasons for its facially discriminatory ordinance, Pl.'s Mem. at 5. The City filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on April 4, 2017, Def.'s Mot., arguing that the ordinance is facially neutral and that it has legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for requiring use variances for community residences in the R-2A zone, Def.'s Mem. at 4-9.


         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure instructs courts to grant summary judgment if “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Although “[f]actual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary” will not preclude summary judgment, “summary judgment will not lie if . . . the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also Taggart v. Time, Inc., 92 ...

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