The U.S. Department of Justice is suing the Town of St. John after years of investigating why the Town Council voted to deny a residential variance from a neighbor of the council's president.
Ken Ubriaco wanted to open his home to people with multiple sclerosis as a way of diverting them from institutional care, but neighbors complained that "transient" residents would decrease property values and increase traffic problems.
Federal investigators have concluded the town violated the U.S. Fair Housing Act when it declined to give Ubriaco permission to allow people with the disease -- considered a disability -- to stay with him. The government wants the town to give Ubriaco his variance and pay damages and unspecified penalties "in order to vindicate the public interest.
"Town Council President Michael Fryzel, who lives across the street from Ubriaco on Verbena Court, was one of the four council members who voted in 2005 to deny Ubriaco's 30-year variance.
Town Manager Steve Kil said St. John officials wholly reject the federal government's conclusion, which came after a year's long investigation by officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"We are completely dumbfounded that this has impacted the Department of Justice in Washington," Town Attorney David Austgen said. "The town intends to defend the lawsuit vigorously to a successful conclusion."
Carlson's story notes that Town Council President Michael Fyzel's wife testified against the zoning variance at a hearing on it. Quoting from the Justice Department lawsuit against the town, Carlson writes, "Debra Fryzel, publicly opposed the request and 'revealed ... discomfort over having persons with disabilities as neighbors.'" After reading that quote, I was dumbfounded to read what the city's attorney had to say about the lawsuit. "We are completely dumbfounded that this has impacted the Department of Justice in Washington," Town Attorney David Austgen said. "The town intends to defend the lawsuit vigorously to a successful conclusion." The Town of St. John shall learn soon enough what the word "fair" means in the Fair Housing Act.