A victory for the Hartford intentional family charged with zoning violation
|The Scarborough 11. (Stephen Dunn / Hartford Courant)|
It's not over yet. But the intentional family of eight adults and their three kids who bought a fixer-upper mansion in Hartford, Connecticut, then were threatened by the city with daily fines for violating the neighborhood's single-family zoning, seems to have out-stubborned the city.
The year-plus standoff has drawn wide community support for the family, and attention from media around the country, as more and more people seek to live in groups as "functional families" — whether for economics, sharing of labor and child care, friendship, belief in intentional community, or polyamory. (The Hartford group is not poly.)
The family claims the right to be defined as a functional family even if more than two member are not related by blood or marriage. Residential zoning is a hot issue in many towns and neighborhoods where residents fear groups of students or immigrants — or anyone, no matter how settled and white, who might set a precedent for them.
From the Hartford Courant:
City Of Hartford Withdraws Suit In 'Scarborough 11' Case
A group of friends bought the nine-bedroom mansion at 68 Scarborough St. in Hartford in August 2014. A battle with neighbors and the city followed.
By Vanessa de la Torre
The group of West End residents known as the "Scarborough 11" can stay in their home now that the city has pulled its enforcement threat against them, bringing the two-year zoning dispute closer to a resolution.
On Wednesday, city lawyers quietly withdrew a suit that the city of Hartford brought in March 2015 against the homeowners at 68 Scarborough St., where three children and eight adults live together in a case that tested the city's definition of family and sparked a wave of national attention.
In its suit, the city had sought a court ruling that would allow it to enforce its cease-and-desist order and hand down civil penalties against the residents for violating the neighborhood's strict single-family zoning. The group of friends have countered that they are an "intentional family," even if not all of them are related by blood or marriage.
Howard Rifkin, the city's corporation counsel, said Thursday that Hartford's legal fight against the Scarborough 11 had proved costly and that "continuing to pursue an enforcement action against this household is not the best use of the city's time or resources."
"We concede that the issues in this case have engendered hard feelings between the residents of 68 Scarborough and their neighbors, not to mention notoriety," Rifkin said in a statement released through Mayor Luke Bronin's office. "It is our hope that we can find a way forward, but to further litigate this matter will only increase costs and divert us from some of the critical matters on which the city must focus."
Peter Goselin, an attorney representing the 11-member household, said Thursday that the city's latest action means his clients no longer have to fear daily fines or eviction from their home. And if Hartford's planning and zoning commission further changes its regulations to allow the Scarborough 11, and residents like them, to live together in a single-family dwelling, the case can finally come to an end, he said.
Goselin said he believes the commission is working on such language.
"From our point of view, the people at Scarborough and the city are pretty much on the same side," Goselin said. ...
...The [city's] 2015 suit, under the past administration of Mayor Pedro Segarra, was filed after Hartford's zoning board of appeals rejected the Scarborough 11's appeal of the cease-and-desist order. The city said that "time for compliance has passed."
The Scarborough 11 immediately filed a federal suit against the city, contending that their civil rights were being violated because the city refused to accept them as a family and was trying to evict some of the occupants who are not related. Goselin said his clients also faced fines of $100 a day.
Earlier this year, however, the city's planning and zoning commission approved the first major overhaul of Hartford's zoning laws in nearly half a century. The definition of family is gone, and now there is reference to a household unit: "A collection of individuals occupying the entire dwelling unit, sharing a household budget and expenses, preparing food and eating together regularly, sharing in the work to maintain the premises, and legally sharing in the ownership or possession of the premises."
West End neighbors had argued against the approval. But the current regulations don't solve Scarborough 11's zoning problem because they define a household, in part, as "up to 3 persons all of whom are not necessarily related to each other ... ." The number of unrelated people living in the mansion still exceeds three....
...If Hartford's zoning code is changed to include a "functional" family like the Scarborough 11's, the group's federal suit essentially becomes moot, Goselin said.
Read the whole article (October 27, 2016), with video and links to previous articles.
Meanwhile, a federal court just rejected the family's federal lawsuit against the city, on the grounds that the family had not yet exhausted all local remedies:
Federal Court Won't Define 'Family' In Scarborough 11 Case — Yet
By Vanessa de la Torre
HARTFORD — A federal judge dealt a legal blow to the "Scarborough 11" this week, granting the city's motion to dismiss the constitutional case but holding the door open for a second review.
The city argued that the federal court has no jurisdiction over a local zoning issue, while the plaintiffs — the eight adults who live in a Scarborough Street mansion, in a household that includes three children — say their plight transcends zoning and comes down to personal freedom over how to live as a family.
In Wednesday's ruling, however, U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall said that the Scarborough group did not exhaust all city options to resolve the zoning dispute before it resorted to a federal challenge.
Hall gave the plaintiffs 21 days to file an amended complaint that attempts to prove that the city's zoning board of appeals would have denied a variance if the Scarborough group had sought one. If they convince her, the judge could reopen the case.
"It's a setback, but it's definitely not over," said Peter Goselin, the attorney representing the Scarborough 11.
Goselin said Thursday that his clients plan to file a more robust complaint arguing that seeking a variance from the city would have been futile.
City officials said they are not evicting anyone from 68 Scarborough St., at least not yet.
"We understand that this is a difficult situation — these are people's lives and you want to be compassionate," city spokeswoman Maribel La Luz said Thursday night. "So we're not considering taking action until the process has played out, until the case is finalized and settled. ... There's still a process that has to be followed."...
Read on (October 15).
Many in the poly world have been watching this case with concern. It's a reminder that until functional families become a legally recognized thing, poly families should learn the local zoning codes before buying property or remodeling. You can apply for a variance, which legally clears you but may be denied if neighbors object or the local zoning board sees no reason to grant it. Or you can try to live below the radar, at the risk of having family members ordered to move out, and/or the owner(s) being ordered to undo the remodeling at their own expense.
If you live below the radar, have a backup plan to move or establish a second residence if necessary. And do no remodeling (additional entrance, additional bathroom, bedroom, etc.) without getting a building permit that approves it.
And, know the local definition of "residents" versus "guests." A tiny rented room elsewhere, where the offending people receive their mail, register to vote, pay bills, and occasionally spend time, may (or may not) be all that's needed. Consult a local lawyer. For instance, is it really your legal residence if you overnight there less than 50% of the time?
Article in the Connecticut Law Tribune: Hartford Gives Up Housing Suit Against 'Scarborough 11' (Oct. 28).
UPDATE: Federal Judge Grants Motion To Reopen 'Scarborough 11' Zoning Case In Hartford (Oct. 27).
Josh Blanchfield, left, serves as spokesman for the Scarborough 11, while Peter Goselin, center, is their attorney in the family's zoning battle with Hartford.(Patrick Raycraft / The Hartford Courant)
A federal judge has agreed to reopen the "Scarborough 11" case after accepting new arguments from the West End group that is suing Hartford over its definition of family.
U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall initially ruled in the city's favor and dismissed the suit on Oct. 14, ruling that the Scarborough Street clan, embroiled in a bitter zoning fight with city officials, had not exhausted all local options before raising a constitutional challenge in federal court.
But Hall, in a move that gave the plaintiffs hope, said she would reconsider the case if they could prove why seeking a variance from the city would have been futile. They apparently succeeded.
On Tuesday, Hall granted the Scarborough 11's motion to reopen the case. ...