South St. Paul takes steps to clarify group home ordinance

 

More restrictive code in response to resident concerns

At its May 1 meeting, the South St. Paul City Council took the first steps in making the city’s group home ordinance more in line with laws at the state level. The move, which would tighten restrictions on the facilities, was also made in response to residents’ complaints about disturbances at group homes in the city.

City Attorney Kori Land said the ordinance amendment was intended to simplify some of the definitions in place within categories of the group residential housing ordinance. She said it was intended to mirror state law. 

“What we’re doing is moving other categories that we previously had, that could have been identified as group residential housing, and now simply using the state-defined categories,” Land said. 

One such category is state-licensed residential care facilities, which Land said are similar to nursing homes with 24-hour care. The second category is registered housing with services establishments.

“It could be any apartment building, but the particular unit is rented to someone who receives some kind of supportive living service. It could be counseling. It could be treatment for chemical dependency,” Land said. 

Both types of uses would be allowed in the required facilities by state law, allowing up to six people in a single-family residential house in areas zoned residential. Nursing home-type establishments would be allowed to have up to 16 people, as long as there is a conditional use permit. 

In multi-family buildings, Land said up to 5 percent of the units per building could be used for care.

Land said any building that exceeds that 5 percent as of the effective date of the amendment would be grandfathered in.

“They would be allowed to continue to use them that way, but it cannot expand,” Land said, adding that if the number of units used for care in a building decreased, the building would lose it’s grandfather status.

A letter to the city from Dakota County Social Services stated its disappointment in the amendment and wished there was further dialogue before it was adopted.

Land said the county was concerned that for buildings with 20 units, the 5 percent rule means each building could only have one unit for residentail care.

Land said the majority of multi-family buildings in South St. Paul likely have fewer than 20 units, though it was not the intent of the council or city staff to prohibit those buildings from having units in which care is given.

Land said the amendment clarifies each multi-family building can have one unit for care if the building has two to 19 units.

However, Land said she didn’t get the impression DCSS was uncomfortable with the amendment when she spoke with it before the May 1 meeting. She added that when she offered to make changes to the amendment relating to buildings with fewer than 20 units, social services seemed pleased with the version of the ordinance moving forward. 

Council member Todd Podgorski said he read the letter. 

“In leadership there is a saying, ‘If not this, than what?’ I don’t really see [what] percentage would be acceptable to the county here,” he said. 

Podgorski said part of the reason the council was looking to amend the ordinance was because a number of citizens have said it’s not acceptable to be near group homes that are causing issues or disturbances. 

Council member Bill Flatley asked Land to clarify that the ordinance amendment would take the city in line with state statue. Land assured him it would.

Flately also said the letter from Dakota County Social Services raised concerns the ordinance would eliminate the city’s ability to develop additional assisted living facilities for those 55 and older. He said he didn’t read that into the ordinance, but asked Land for clarification.

Land said the county’s concerns confused her as well, and said if at some point the language in the code is found to be too restrictive, it can be amended.

The May 1 meeting was the first reading of the ordinance amendment, which the council could vote to approve next month.

 

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

 

 

 

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