Thursday, May 4, 2017

How the Legal Quagmire over a Group Home in Readington Could Have Been Avoided

Last year, after having initially issued an approval, the township of Readington, NJ (where I live) retracted a zoning approval submitted by a company named Waypointe-High Focus Centers to open a group home or halfway house for the mentally disabled on Readington Road in Readington Township, New Jersey. The reversal followed resistance from local residents voicing concern about the danger the group home residents could pose to the community members.

Waypointe subsequently sued Readington over group home opposition, claiming the rejection violated federal and state law. I am not qualified to comment on the legalities involved. But I can comment on the philosophical premises involved.

From the article:

The suit states Waypointe residences are for 18- to 26-year-old young men “with mental illness and disabilities which significantly impair their judgment, their capacity to control their behavior and/or their ability to recognize reality.” The homes provide “highly individualized care, expert medical health treatment, personalized educational and vocational guidance and supported social integration,” the suit says.

I left these comments, edited for clarity:

The issue here is whether or not their is a reasonable expectation that the residents of the group home pose a threat to the physical safety and security of surrounding residents.

The quote above strongly indicates evidence that the answer is “yes.” These are young men, presumable of average strength for their age, who cannot exercise rational judgement, control their behavior, or grasp the difference between outside reality and their own mental fantasies. This is an explosive brew. What if one of these men imagines an innocent harmless child as a predatory lion, and attacks the child in what he believes is defending himself? You can conjure up any number of scenarios like this one, based on the description above. Ridiculous? Not when the “impaired ability to recognize reality” is coupled with the “impaired capacity to control their behavior.”

A lot has been said about the “rights” of the group home residents. Rights are principles sanctioning freedom of action in a social context. As such, rights have parameters: specifically, that one’s actions don’t infringe on the same rights of others. Thus, your right to live somewhere does not extend to being a physical threat to your neighbors’ wellbeing or enjoyment of their property. Any reasonable interpretation of the condition of these group home residents as acknowledged by Waypointe indicates substantial, ongoing, and imminent danger to surrounding residents—that these men are capable of any action at any time. No one has the right to choose who lives next to them, within the context of respect for the same rights of one’s neighbors. But everyone does have the right not to live in fear, based on an objectively defined threat, of their neighbors.

I cannot believe that the law sanctions a “civil right” to physically threaten the safety of your neighbors. (If it does, it needs to be repealed.) Whatever the law says, the residents and the township have strong moral case for opposing this particular group home. This is not about discrimination against the disabled. This is not about opposing the concept of group homes in general. This is about the government’s job to guarantee to everyone protection from physical aggression by others. The burden of proof, morally if not legally, is on Waypointe to prove that its patients are not a threat to their neighbors.

Another correspondent, adrianlane, replied to me:

You want to repeal the FHA.  Fine... but do it on your own damned dime.  Why must you people constantly be taking my tax money and spending it on your friggin lost causes???

I replied:

That’s actually a good point. I live in Readington and I don’t like my tax dollars going down the lawsuit drain either. I generally oppose zoning powers. But the towns have it and so are going to be dragged into lawsuits no matter which way they go.

But that is another issue. In this case, the town revoked the zoning permit when residents raised the issue of safety and security. My point is, unlike the Solberg Airport eminent domain case, this time the township is taking the right side of the issue. It’s terrible that Waypointe chose to sue rather than address the issues raised (at least that’s my impression).

Adrianlane went on to say:

The FHA and the ADA laws have been on the books for decades.  They allow disabled (read that as recovering addicts) a place to live no matter what.

Municipalities are stupid... really stupid to fight them because

1.  They lose.
2.  They pay for the lawyers
3.  They get hit with heavy punitive damages.

But hey... you all think I am supporting them.  Fine.  I am just telling you the law.  When it comes down on us hard I hope to not be a taxpayer here anymore.

One of the purposes of the court system is to mediate civil disputes. But bad law has corrupted the whole process. The municipality’s zoning power to approve or disapprove of property usage coupled with the obsession with legally stopping private discrimination has turned what should have been a private dispute between private residents and a private company into a monstrous lawsuit pitting government against government, taxpayer against taxpayer, and awarding a private company what amounts to Federally-backed quasi-extortionist powers to, as you say, “come down hard” on all of the residents of a township.

Meanwhile, the basic concern about safety that a court could readily resolve at minimal cost and without dragging uninvolved people into it is shoved aside. In a fully rights-respecting society, where there are no zoning powers and no anti-discrimination laws, Waypointe would be free to open group homes on their own property regardless of neighbors’ biases. However, neighbors would be free to challenge Waypointe based on legitimate concerns about safety affecting their own property, with the courts having the final say. Both sides would be on equal footing, would have to abide by the ruling, and no one else need be involved. Instead we have zoning, ADA, FHA; and homeowners who just want their safety concerns resolved left out in the cold. It’s a monstrous legal quagmire we’ve created in this country, and individual rights is the casualty.


Readington eventually “settled.” According to Hunterdon Review,

The Readington Township Committee, after being told by Township Attorney Richard Cushing that it had little choice, and had violated state and federal law by issuing a zoning permit for the home for the “developmentally disabled and mentally ill” and then revoking it, agreed to settle with the home’s management.

Related Reading:

Man’s Rights—Ayn Rand

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