April 5, 1996 in City

Woman Fights Back In Effort To Open Group Home South Hill Resident Files Countersuit Against Neighbors Battling Facility

By The Spokesman-Review

A woman fighting to open a group home for the elderly on the South Hill filed a countersuit Thursday against residents trying to keep it out of their neighborhood., The neighbors, including three doctors, are discriminating against disabled people who no longer can live alone, said LeAnn Riley, who filed suit in Spokane County Superior Court.

“We’re dealing with the elderly and handicapped who deserve the protection of society,” said David Carlson, Riley’s attorney.

But the protesters say the fight isn’t over old and disabled people but over rules that keep businesses out of the affluent neighborhood.

They sued Riley in December, saying a 92-year-old covenant prevents businesses from operating in her three-bedroom house at 212 W. Manito Place.

The neighbors named in both suits are Richard and Marie Lambert, Thomas D. and Janet Coburn, Alfonso and Charolette Oliva, Joseph H. and Margaret K. Harrington and Timothy M. and Kristi A. Seppa.

Timothy Seppa and Marie Lambert refused comment on Thursday’s countersuit. The others didn’t return telephone calls.

Their attorney, John Nelson, said through his secretary he was home sick and hasn’t seen the countersuit.

Riley’s attorney claims her neighbors are violating state and federal fair housing laws by trying to keep the group home out.

Old covenants don’t take precedence over those laws, he said.

Take the covenants that still say blacks can’t live in certain neighborhoods, Carlson said. “Everybody knows you don’t even think about saying that anymore,” he said.

Since the first suit was filed, Riley has moved an 83-year-old man into her house. He does yardwork and gets around some but needs help with cooking and laundry, Riley said.

She hopes to be licensed by the state Department of Social and Health Services, allowing others to move in, too.

Social workers say the decision in Riley’s case could affect other adult family homes in the county, which are springing up at a record pace.

A homeowner typically takes in a few residents and cares for them alongside the rest of the family. Some entrepreneurs run several homes, hiring caretakers, nurses and maintenance workers.

That’s the case with Riley, Nelson said earlier this year. “She’s just a business person, and she’s buying residential property in order to run these things and make a living.”

So far, there are nearly 240 licensed homes in Spokane County.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of area

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