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Disabled-care house denied NLR location

By Jake Sandlin

This article was published August 1, 2014 at 2:36 a.m.


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/STATON BREIDENTHAL --7/31/14-- North Little Rock Board of Adjustment members Tom Brown (left) and Andy Hight (right) listen as Koy Butler answers questions for the board Thursday during a meeting at City Hall. Butler was asking the board for approval to locate a business that provides care for disabled people in a home at 4404 Arlington Drive in the Lakewood area of North little Rock.

North Little Rock's Board of Adjustment denied a request Thursday for a business to place five unrelated individuals described as disabled in a Lakewood home with a full-time caretaker, the city's first test of its "reasonable accommodation" law.

The application for 4404 Arlington Drive by Koy Butler of Lonoke, owner of the House of Three, failed when a motion to approve didn't receive a second from the four board members participating. Vice Chairman Tom Brown asked for a second to the motion four times before announcing that the motion failed.

Board Chairman Carl Jackson didn't participate in Thursday's discussion because he lives next door to the Arlington Drive house Butler had intended to renovate into a House of Three. Butler bought the house almost a year ago.

Five residents spoke against the application, including heads of two neighborhood groups, and three spoke for it besides Butler. More than 20 people attended the meeting -- not counting staff and board members -- that was moved from a small conference room to City Council Chambers in City Hall to accommodate the anticipated audience.

In December, the North Little Rock City Council denied Butler's request for a rezoning and a special-use permit to operate a House of Three, described by its website as a home for "three individuals needing care."

The City Council later amended the city's zoning ordinance to allow its Board of Adjustment to hear requests for reasonable accommodation, a process required by the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act that the city didn't previously have in place.

Butler has contended that the city has violated state and federal fair housing laws by the City Council's previous denial of his request and by creating a process for reasonable accommodation that requires notification of neighborhood residents and having a public hearing before the Board of Adjustment.

"It's a tragedy when the city and the state will not stand up and let individuals with disabilities have the same opportunities in housing," Butler said after Thursday's meeting.

Butler has the option to appeal the board's decision to Pulaski County Circuit Court.

A House of Three in Little Rock offers care for "three elderly residents" as an alternative to a traditional nursing home or assisted-living care, according to the business's website. Butler's request to the North Little Rock panel was to allow "five disabled persons" at the Arlington Drive house. The request was for five, Butler said, because the city's zoning code allows up to five unrelated people to live together.

"It's a home," Butler said to the board. "It's no different than you and four of your buddies deciding to live together."

Matt Fleming, North Little Rock deputy city attorney, has previously said that the difference is that Butler would be running a business and that being elderly doesn't fit the fair housing definition for being disabled.

Exchanges between board members and Butler were testy at times. Several times, Brown told Butler he was avoiding directly answering a question or had contradicted earlier answers, specifically regarding whether caretakers would also live at the house. Butler said two caretakers would work three- and four-day shifts, with someone there 24/7.

"So they will sleep there," Brown said at one point. "Will they sleep there after their shift is over?"

"They may sleep, but they're not living there," Butler said.

Board member Andy Hight questioned Butler early about the house being a for-profit business and asked about the cost to be charged to its residents. Butler said it would be $5,000 monthly each. Butler later said the city previously denied him a business license but that he would get one "if the city asks for it."

"At $25,000 a month for rent, I bet you can afford it," Hight said.

Cara Lafferty spoke in support of the application, telling the board that many "elderly people can't take care of their daily needs. That is a disability. People should come first, not our rules and regulations."

Among those opposing the request, David Cassinelli said that the Lakewood residential neighborhood shouldn't open itself up to commercial businesses.

"If he [Butler] wants to open a commercial business, he needs to do it in a commercial zone," Cassinelli said. "It's like opening Pandora's box."

Ken Sullivan, director of the Lakewood Property Owners Association, also spoke in opposition, adding that he had received "a number of calls" from residents against the application.

"I've heard great things about Mr. Butler, but we have a responsibility to our neighborhood to try to maintain our residential area," he said.

Metro on 08/01/2014

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