A group of Southeast Broad Street residents is suing the city of Murfreesboro and a rehabilitation company claiming the former home of County Attorney Jim Cope was turned into a treatment facility - in violation of the city's zoning ordinance - that will hurt their neighborhood and property values.

A group of Southeast Broad Street residents is suing the city of Murfreesboro and a rehabilitation company claiming the former home of County Attorney Jim Cope was turned into a treatment facility - in violation of the city's zoning ordinance - that will hurt their neighborhood and property values.

Southeast Broad residents Margaret Todd and John Hawk, represented by attorney David Kious, filed the lawsuit in August against the city, JourneyPure LLC of Delaware, Brentwood-based JourneyPure Management Corp. and property owner Jui-Lien Chou Ho of Lubbock, Texas. Kious declined to comment on the suit, which was filed in Chancery Court but could shift to Circuit Court.

The neighbors claim that Chou Ho entered a rental or commercial agreement with JourneyPure, owned by Kevin Lee and Samuel MacMaster of Brentwood, for occupation and commercial use of the property for an "addiction treatment center" named Voyage, a residential center dedicated to serving young women with co-occurring disorders, in violation of Murfreesboro's Zoning Ordinance and other restrictions.

The home is to house up to eight patients at a monthly rate of $19,500 per patient with referrals accepted from TrustPoint mental health hospital in Murfreesboro, the lawsuit states.

Chou Ho purchased the 4,828-square-foot home in April from Jim and Debbie Cope for $530,000, according to the Register of Deeds office. Its total tax appraisal was $360,300, records show.

The plaintiffs contend that Voyage is a business used for commercial purposes of rehabilitating people from a mental institution and drug and alcohol treatment center that deemed them capable of living and functioning in the community as long as they have continuous professional guidance.

Neighbors argue that Murfreesboro Building and Codes Department issued a building permit July 1, 2014 even though city officials should have known the property's intended use violated the Murfreesboro Zoning Ordinance. No special use permit was granted, the suit claims.

Murfreesboro Planning Department and the city of Murfreesboro declined to enforce the zoning ordinance for the property, which is zoned for residential single-family use 15,000 square feet, the lawsuit contends.

The plaintiffs wrote City Attorney Susan McGannon on June 19 seeking relief. On July 18, Assistant City Attorney David Ives responded with an interpretation of the city's zoning ordinance. Neighbors then sought help from the Board of Zoning Appeals, but the city planning director rejected the request, saying Ives' letter was not a proper matter for the BZA to consider.

The plaintiffs contend the use of the home violates the city's zoning ordinance because "transitional" homes are prohibited in RS-15 zones, and Voyage, as a commercial operation, doesn't fall under the definition of a "family." Neighbors also argue that the rehabilitation center will damage adjoining and surrounding homeowners by reducing market value of their property, changing the neighborhood's character and increasing traffic.

In addition, they contend the deed from the Copes to Chou Ho violates restrictive covenants set up in 1950. Furthermore, they say the matter is a civil conspiracy by all of the defendants to circumvent the zoning ordinance. The city "denies the essence of their claims," Ives said. He declined to say anything else.

In its legal response, the city asked for dismissal of the lawsuit.

The city says it is not responsible for enforcing restrictive covenants and that there were no "overt" acts by anyone within city government to commit a conspiracy.

"The fact that the city has interpreted portions of its zoning ordinance to be consistent with or to allow the undertakings of defendants JourneyPure LLC and JourneyPure Management Corp. cannot make the city a conspirator with those defendants any more than the city would be a "conspirator" with the plaintiffs if the city agreed with the plaintiffs' misguided interpretations," the response states.

Ives' filing states that the city knew the "addiction treatment center" would consist of eight medically stable people in the early stages of recovery from substance abuse and co-occurring non-psychotic mental health issues. But the city believes residents of the property meet the definition of "family" in the city zoning ordinance and that it isn't a "transitional home."

The city contends relief sought by the plaintiffs would violate the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act dealing with "handicapped" or "persons with disabilities."

"The desires or unfounded fears of neighboring property owners or residents does not require or allow the city to interpret or enforce its zoning ordinance in a manner that discriminates against 'persons with disabilities' in violation of the FHAA," the city's response states.

According to the legal answer filed by Brentwood attorney Larry Crain, who is representing JourneyPure and Chou Ho, the defendants admit the company is operating a residential addiction treatment center for young women, but patients will be referred from a variety of sources such as church members and clinicians, in addition to TrustPoint Hospital.

The defendants deny that "continuance professional guidance" is necessary for the residents, who enjoy a family setting in which they share meals, shop and do chores and hold group activities and meetings with non-licenses "coaches" who serve as "house mothers."

The defendants contend the operation lies within the definition of "family" under the city zoning ordinance and deny that it is prohibited in RS-15 zones. They also say it does not constitute a "transitional home" as defined by the zoning ordinance.

They argue that it will not cause damage to surrounding homeowners and neighbors and that "unsubstantiated fears" should not restrict or prohibit this use of the property. Defendants further deny that it violates restrictive covenants.

In addition, they deny they entered a conspiracy with the city of Murfreesboro to violate zoning laws or restrictive covenants.

In their defense, the defendants argue that their use of the property is protected under the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination against people with disabilities, including "physical or mental impairment," including diseases such as drug addiction and alcoholism.

"While sobriety is a condition of entry, all of the individuals living in the JourneyPure group home are addicted to alcohol and/or drugs and are in recovery for such physical and mental impairments," the filing states.

The defendants also allege that the neighbors were advised in advance of their court action of federal housing rights and that their court action is "itself a violation of the Fair Housing Act."

© 2014 The Murfreesboro Post

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