A provider operated a group home in Maricopa County. The zoning ordinance requires that group homes must operate as a “family-like environment.” Group homes are allowed to provide “care, training, or support” to their residents. The County and the provider had a history of disputes over the use of the property in question. After a trial the superior court held that the home was not operating as a “family-like environment” but as an in-patient treatment facility. The court also held that the provider could not give “treatment” on site without a special use permit because treatment was not permitted under the zoning ordinance.
The Court of Appeals vacated and remanded. It found no binding definition of the term “family-like” in the zoning ordinances or related sources or caselaw. Instead it looked to the history of “family-like” requirements and of group homes. The court adopted a functional family standard for determining whether a group home’s uses functioned as a “family-like environment.”
Under that functional standard, the court found that many aspects of the group home functioned as a family-like environment including that residents had their own rooms, responsibilities, and engaged in regular activities in the surrounding community. The staff did not live on site or regularly provide medical treatment there, and the residents stayed there for whatever period needed to achieve the goal of more independent living. Some aspects of the group home were not consistent with a “family-like” environment because they served business needs more than the residents and had the potential to negatively impact the residential character of the neighborhood. These included regularly holding large staff meetings where as many as twenty-five cars were parked outside the home and having large activities with residents from other group homes. Unlike the trial court, the court of appeals found that the detailed house rules were consistent with a family-like environment and did not make the home more like an in-patient treatment facility.
The court of appeals also held that providing on-site group and individual counseling was a permissible part of the “care, training, or support” allowed in the zoning statute. The County had argued, and the trial court had held that permissible care and support activities were limited to help with daily functions of life and not to provide any medical treatment. The court of appeals found that inconsistent with the way care is used in related contexts. It was also contrary to the purpose of a group home to allow only care that would maintain the status quo, while forbidding any counseling that could improve the residents’ functioning because that would be medical care.
Judge Brown authored the opinion; Judges Johnsen and Perkins concurred.
Posted by: Brian K. Mosley