In Cinnamon Hills Youth Crisis Center v. Saint George City (No. 11-4020), the Tenth Circuit addressed the extent to which a city may enforce zoning restrictions in a manner that limits options for programs designed to treat persons with mental and emotional disorders in a residential setting. In this case, Cinnamon Hills sought to use the top floor of a motel it owned to operate a residential facility. The city refused to grant it zoning variances from ordinances prohibiting extended stays in motels and residential uses in areas zoned for commercial use. Cinnamon Hills brought suit under the Fair Housing Act, ADA, and the Rehabilitation Act. These statutes required it to show either intentional discrimination against the disabled, unlawful disparate impact, or a failure to provide a reasonable accommodation.
In discussing the failure to accommodate issue, the court nicely summed up the standard of a reasonable accommodation: “under the FHA it is sometimes necessary to dispense with formal equality of treatment in order to advance a more substantial equality of opportunity. And that is precisely the point of the reasonable accommodation mandate: to require changes in otherwise neutral policies that preclude the disabled from obtaining ‘the same . . . opportunities that those without disabilities automatically enjoy.”’ But while the FHA requires accommodations necessary to ensure the disabled receive the same housing opportunities as everybody else, it does not require more or better opportunities.”
Ultimately, the court held that Cinnamon Hills could provide neither direct evidence of discrimination nor sufficient evidence of indirect discrimination. The court further held that there was no evidence of disparate impact or a failure to accommodate. Notably, the court repeatedly avoided reaching the issue of whether a city ordinance requiring all new treatment centers be placed in rural areas was discriminatory as the city did not rely on the statute in this case and the court believed a challenge to its validity was not ripe.