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City sued over apartments for mentally ill

A health care company goes to court after New Port Richey denied a zoning request to build an 18-unit complex for people with mental health disorders.

By JENNIFER GOLDBLATT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 7, 2002


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Harbor Behavioral Healthcare Institute has decided to challenge in court New Port Richey's refusal to let it build apartments for the mentally ill.

Harbor sued the city Wednesday in Circuit Court. The complaint charged that the city's denial of a rezoning request that would have allowed the apartments was "arbitrary and unreasonable, an abuse of discretion and a denial of due process."

Harbor is asking the courts to quash the City Council's decision and grant the rezoning.

In April, the City Council denied Harbor's request to rezone property at Massachusetts Avenue and Hills Drive for an 18-unit apartment complex. The complex would house people with mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia and who are learning to live independently.

The land is now zoned for commercial use but designated in the Comprehensive Land Use Plan for apartments.

The City Council denied the rezoning in a 3-0 vote, citing financial and traffic concerns.

Because Harbor is owned by Morton Plant Mease, a nonprofit group, the apartment complex would pay no property taxes. Council members rejected the rezoning after hearing objections from many residents who said they worried about the proximity of a day care center to the proposed apartments and what might happen if patients stopped taking their medications.

Harbor alleges that the City Council's decision "was politically motivated and nothing more than an effort to appease a large crowd of objectors." It says that the council's decision was not based on "competent substantial evidence."

New Port Richey Mayor Frank Parker, who said he had not seen the lawsuit, declined to comment Thursday.

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