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Neighbors sue to overturn zoning approval for cancer center

A long-brewing land use dispute in the Philadelphia suburb of Swarthmore is now headed for state court. The case centers on a proposal to use a large house on Chester Road for temporary housing for cancer patients and their caregivers. In late December 2016, the Swarthmore Borough Council granted the care center's sponsor, a non-profit organization known as HEADstrong, an accommodation that permitted operation of the center in an RB Residential Zoning District.

The neighbors are claiming that the borough council abused its discretion in failing to following the provisions of the federal Fair Housing Act. The act requires municipalities, among other organizations, to grant reasonable accommodations for disabled people to allow them to occupy housing in ways that would, but for the accommodation, be prohibited by the local zoning code. The neighbors are arguing that the HEADstrong center is not eligible for such an accommodation.

The neighbors have stated that they do not oppose the concept of a cancer care center; rather, they object to locating such a building in an RB zone. City officials have said that the center meets the criteria for an accommodation and that the city intends to defend its decision in court.

This case brings together complex issues under federal anti-discrimination law and Pennsylvania land use law. Anyone involved in a similar dispute may wish to consult a lawyer experienced in the law of zoning and planning for an analysis of the law and facts that will affect the outcome of the case. A knowledgeable lawyer can offer legal strategies that can offer the best chance for a favorable outcome and make necessary appearances before local government agencies and in court.

Source: Daily Times News, "HEADstrong neighbors go to court," Rick Kauffman, Jan. 5, 2017

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