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Lakeview struggle may change laws for homeowners

Jill Lufrano

Buying a home in an exclusive neighborhood that has its own regulations usually means owners need to play by the rules.

In Lakeview, that means such restrictions as no fences higher than 6 feet, no burning and no vinyl siding or metal roofing. The contract new homeowners sign also says no commercial activity can be carried on in a residence.

Until recently, residents of the quiet, upscale mountainside community in northwest Carson City thought the rules were clear.

The community is now finding out that a state law that allows small group homes for seniors or drug rehabilitation in the neighborhood may be more powerful than covenants and restrictions that have kept facilities out for nearly 30 years.

Attorneys and others involved in the current struggle between one homeowner who wants to run a senior care home in Lakeview and the surrounding neighborhood say the case could end up redefining state law.

“This is a lesson for every single community in Carson City that has (covenants and restrictions),” said resident Sonia Waters. “They feel their CC and Rs are valid, but they’re not the binding law. This is not a Lakeview problem, this is a citywide Carson problem.”

As many as four attorneys were retained over the past month after the Planning Commission approved a special-use permit submitted by Numaga Pass homeowner Karen Kelly, who wants to open her property to provide senior home care for up to 10 people.

The application will be reconsidered by the Board of Supervisors today after the city received numerous appeals from Lakeview homeowners and several other neighborhood associations.

The Lakeview Property Owners Association has launched a full-scale opposition to the care home, activating a Web site and asking for $1,000 donations to a legal fund. The association is warning its residents that the care home could be “disastrous” to the community and reduce home values by up to 25 percent.

“Although this specific special-use permitted business may not be next to your home today, your property value will still be affected,” the association wrote to residents in a newsletter.

In 1999, the state statute was passed to remove obstacles like deed restrictions and neighborhood covenants that prevented people with disabilities from living in “normal” residences throughout the entire community. The statute was further defined in 2001 to restrict more than one operating within a certain distance of others.

Kelly said she plans to allow eight to 10 senior residents in her house. The facility would have one live-in aide and an assistant. Seniors age 65 and older would be selected for the home by Kelly. The cost for each resident would range from $3,000 to $3,500 per month for full-time care.

Kelly operates three similar care homes in the San Diego area and has been in the business for 10 years. The home at 4150 Numaga Pass would offer a private, serene place for seniors who don’t have dementia or problems that would require a lock-down.

Association member Vince Costa declined to say how much the neighborhood was willing to pay to fight the application, but expects the issue to make its way through the courts before it’s over. No legal action will be filed until after the supervisors’ decision.

At the heart of the disagreement is whether the city or state has a right to allow a care home or other type of use in a neighborhood where private contracts are in place that prohibit it.

City counsel advised the Planning Commission in November that state law prohibits cities from refusing special-use permits for group homes of 10 or fewer residents if the homes met local health and safety standards.

The state statute does not consider care homes that house seniors, drug and alcohol rehabilitation or disabled residents as businesses.

Planning commissioners said at the November meeting they were obligated to approve a special permit to allow operation of the Lakeview senior care home because they couldn’t find it jeopardized public health and safety.

Lawyers will present to supervisors several reasons why they think the neighborhood restrictions should take precedence over state law.

Attorney Scott Heaton, representing one Lakeview couple, said he disagrees with the city’s interpretation of state law.

“We have a law on the books that hasn’t been interpreted in courts,” Heaton said.

Heaton will argue the care home doesn’t intend to have residents with disabilities, which he says state law requires for a residential care facility under the statute.

He also argues the home will compromise public health and safety because of the age of residents and mental or physical impairments related to driving and medical services.

In the end, though, courts will likely decide which laws are more powerful, Heaton said.

“It doesn’t really matter what the lawyers think,” he said. “At some point in time, if this matter goes forward, it will end in court. It will be interpreted further in court if it goes forward.”

State ombudsman for common-interest communities Eldon Hardy was unfamiliar with the law allowing care homes in neighborhoods with CC and Rs. He said he isn’t sure how the law reflects on homeowner associations facing the inclusion of the business-type homes, but most don’t allow them.

Mike Veatch, with Valley Realty and Management in Carson, represents nine local associations who are appealing the decision.

“My clients are highly concerned this could happen in another association in the community,” Veatch said. “If the Planning Commission can do it there, what’s to stop them from doing it someplace else?”

He said residents in the restricted communities are mostly concerned about traffic, commercial activity like delivery trucks and parking. He wasn’t aware the state law allowed care homes in neighborhoods until the Lakeview issue surfaced, he said.

“These people buy into these communities depending on the restrictions that are there,” Veatch said. “(Covenants) are keeping neighborhoods up and unwanted entities out.”

IF YOU GO

What: Carson City Board of Supervisors

When: 6 p.m. today

Where: Sierra Room, Carson City Community Center, 851 E. William St.

Contact Jill Lufrano at jlufrano@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1217.