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City settles suit with owners of group home

The city of Cairo has settled a federal lawsuit brought against the city by Regional Properties, Inc., Sunrise Community of Georgia, Inc., Sunrise Community, Inc., and Sunrise Community of Georgia, Inc., on behalf of John and Jane Does one through four.
The city council voted unanimously Monday to approve the settlement agreement and each member signed the legal document.
Although the city is not admitting any discrimination or violation of federal housing laws, the council decided to settle the lawsuit rather than expose the taxpayers to potential damages from a protracted legal battle, according to Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton.
In the back and forth negotiations that have taken place over the last several months, the city was successful in getting the plaintiffs to agree to restrict their operations within the corporate limits of Cairo to the single group home to be located at 35 14th Avenue N.W.
Under the settlement agreement, Sunrise Community and Regional Properties agreed not to attempt to open another group home in the city.
The agreement also stipulates that if the firm ceases to operate the group home or it is sold or leased to another group home operator, the conditional use permit issued would be revoked.
Regional Properties also has agreed that a maximum of four residents will be cared for at the facility on 14th Avenue N.W. and those residents can only suffer from intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The company has agreed not to treat persons suffering from alcohol, drug, gambling or sexual addictions at the 14th Avenue N.W. group home.
As part of the agreement, the city agrees to pay plaintiff’s attorney’s fees totaling $85,000. According to the city manager, all but $2,500 of that will be covered by the city’s liability insurance.
“Originally, the plaintiffs were seeking damages and those claims for damages were increasing each month since they were not able to open the facility there as planned. Under this agreement, the city is not forced to pay any damages. I think it is a good agreement all around, and I believe our attorney, Jim Garland, did a good job on it,” Addleton said.
Regional Properties purchased the former residence of the late Dr. and Mrs. S.L. Hancock at 35 14th Avenue N.W. in March 2012 with plans of making the former home a group home for four adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.
Sunrise Community of Georgia, Inc., operates over 200 group homes including homes in Rome and Thomasville.
The former Hancock residence is located in a neighborhood zoned R1AA, the most restrictive zone in the city. Group homes are not allowed as a conditional use in an R1AA zone, but are allowed in R2, R3, C1 and C2 zones within the city.
Regional Properties, Inc., filed suit on Sept. 26, 2012, seeking relief under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Declaratory Judgment Act.
“I expect they will obtain a building permit very shortly to begin renovations to the residence to make it usable as a group home,” Addleton said.

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