The Dunwoody City Council voted 5-2 at a special July 10 meeting to settle two lawsuits with the Center for Discovery over the Manget Way home treatment facility.
The settlement agreement ends two lawsuits the city is facing by the Center for Discovery — one in the Georgia Court of Appeals and the second in federal court. The federal lawsuit was seeking $5 million.
The final amount of the settlement will be determined when the Court of Appeals rules, likely this summer. If the city wins in the Court of Appeals, the settlement total will be $550,000; if the city loses the Court of Appeals case, the settlement is $850,000.
The rehabilitation facility on Manget Way that will treat teenage girls with eating disorders will also be able to open.
“This is a very, very difficult decision for everybody up here. Our legal attorneys have told us that chances of are winning … are not that great. This is gut wrenching,” Mayor Denis Shortal said. “But it is a decision … that protects the citizens of the city and the financial viability of the city going into the future.”
Shortal said the reason for the short notice for the Sunday special called hearing is because the deadline to agree to a settlement is Monday, July 11, at 11 a.m. The City Council met in executive session for an hour before the vote.
“Monetary funds may be the pay out but the real cost will be borne by the neighbors of Manget Way,” said Councilmember Terry Nall, who cast a “no” vote along with Councilmember John Heneghan.
“The settlement contains numerous non-monetary provisions to lessen the impact on the neighbors, but the neighbors of Manget Way still lose,” Nall said.
“We would not be here today if our Community Development staff asked more questions when the original Zoning Certification Letter was requested. Period,” Nall said.
Councilmember Lynn Deutsch said the settlement agreement allowed the city to negotiate some terms with the Center for Discovery before it opens the rehab facility, including limited parking, no signage and keeping the home looking as it does now.
In the Court of Appeals case, the city was appealing a decision last year by DeKalb Superior Court Judge Clarence Seeliger. The judge reversed the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals decision to prohibit the Center for Discovery from opening a home treatment center on Manget Way.
The Center for Discovery also filed a federal lawsuit last year claiming the city, among other things, violated the federal Fair Housing Act by discriminating against its patients.
The city has been represented by Laurel Henderson of the Georgia Interlocal Management Risk Agency, or GIRMA. Municipalities pay dues to GIRMA and when sued GIRMA will handle the legal defense and also pay out some settlement costs if necessary.
She explained the city’s chances of winning, especially the federal lawsuit, were slim.
“The law under the Fair Housing Act is heavily against the city prevailing,” she said.
Henderson told the council that GIRMA “has agreed to contribute $600,000 for the settlement.”
The Center for Discovery purchased property on Manget Way and in January 2014, the city confirmed the property would be classified as a “family personal care home,” according to the federal lawsuit.
After the deadline to appeal the city’s approval of the property for such use, “a group of neighbors trespassed on plaintiff’s property and made false presumptions about plaintiff’s intended use based on the statements of a sprinkler contractor,” according to the federal lawsuit.
Neighbors quickly rallied opposition and urged support from city officials to deny the facility be allowed on Manget Way. The neighbors argued the facility had wrongly been considered a personal care home instead of a medical treatment facility, which would be prohibited in a single-family neighborhood. In June 2014, the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals ruled in the neighbors’ favor. Center for Discovery sued the ZBA, leading to its victory last year in DeKalb Superior Court.