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Eye On Boise

County hit with $4 million verdict for obstructing home for troubled teens

The developer of a proposed residential treatment center for troubled teens with emotional or substance-abuse problems has won a $4 million jury verdict against Boise County for scuttling the project after neighbors opposed it. A federal jury ruled that the county violated the Fair Housing Act by imposing such restrictive conditions on the Alamar Ranch project - including limiting it to 24 residents instead of 72 and requiring construction of a helicopter landing pad and an on-site fire truck - that it wasn't feasible to build. County commissioners approved the project off Highway 21 and Grimes Creek Road with the restrictive conditions, overturning a P&Z recommendation to deny it.

The Fair Housing Act protects against housing discrimination against the disabled, including proposed group homes, and its definition of disability is "those individuals with mental or physical impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities," with "mental or physical impairment" defined as including  alcoholism and drug addiction along with such things as blindness and mobility impairment. In the lawsuit, the developers said, "The would-be residents of the proposed RTC (residential treatment center) are deemed to be 'handicapped' for purposes of the FHA as they would include 12-17 year-old males suffering from mental or emotional illnesses and/or recovering from drug or alcohol abuse." They said neighbors who opposed the plan essentially said, "We don't want teenage alcoholics and drug addicts in our neighborhood." Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Idaho developer wins $4M judgment over teen center
By JESSIE L. BONNER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The developer of a proposed treatment center for troubled teens in rural western Idaho has won a $4 million judgment against Boise County after officials scuttled the project.

A federal jury sided with the Boise-based development firm Oaas-Laney in a verdict Friday.

Oaas-Laney sued Boise County last year, saying commissioners violated the Fair Housing Act when they undermined the proposal because of neighborhood opposition.

County officials maintained their actions were based on legitimate government interests.

The company sought zoning approval from Boise County in 2007 to build Alamar Ranch, a 72-bed private treatment facility and school that would have treated teens with emotional or substance abuse problems.

Residents of a nearby neighborhood organized the group Opponents of Alamar Ranch and mounted a campaign to keep the ranch from being built out of concern the teens would run away and commit crimes.

The group was also worried about fire suppression and traffic problems in the heavily forested area.

The county denied Oaas-Laney's application, saying the center wasn't appropriate for the location and the county didn't have enough infrastructure to monitor and enforce the conditions of a conditional use permit.

Developers appealed the decision, saying Boise County had a duty under the Federal Housing Act to allow the center to be built because it would make housing available for the handicapped teens that Alamar wanted to serve. The permit was approved in 2008 but only with onerous conditions, according to the lawsuit.

Alamar Ranch could have no more than 24 teens and would have to build a second bridge over a nearby river, keep a fire truck on site and build a helicopter landing pad.

Those conditions made the project financially impossible and the development company was forced to give up on the effort, according to the lawsuit.

Boise County Commission Chairman Terry Day could not be reached for comment Monday, when commissioners met for their regularly scheduled meeting.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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