Eden Village Backers Address Lawsuit Against City at Press Conference

The non-profit organization behind the Eden Village project held a press conference Monday morning to explain why they chose to file a lawsuit against the City of Springfield after a zoning decision by the City Council did not go in their favor.

Dr. David Brown gave a prepared statement to begin the press conference. He and his wife Linda co-founded Gathering Tree, which created the Eden Village project, providing tiny houses for disabled and chronically homeless people. He spoke of the established Eden Village project and what they felt were the successes of that program, such as claiming that 14% of the city’s disabled, chronically homeless population is off the streets because of Eden Village.

The statement then presented their version of events concerning the zoning issues with the property at 3303 West Division Street where they had planned to build a second Eden Village location.

They specifically focused on comments by Mayor Ken McClure following vote that indicated he felt the group was threatening the city by making a filing regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act after the zoning measure was already under consideration by the city.

According to Brown’s statement, the Mayor told a local media outlet that “I had been inclined all along to support this. What made me change my mind was a filing they made with the city in early June requesting reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. I viewed that as basically being threatening. We still had this zoning request pending and they filed this request under the ADA.”

The statement claims that McClure made the same statement in a private meeting between the City and a group that included the organization’s attorneys, former Mayor Jim O’Neal, organization COO Nate Schlueter, along with Brown and his wife.

Gathering Tree claims that McClure’s statement violates the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act in regards to discrimination and unfair retaliation.

According to Ben Stringer, one of the organization’s attorneys, one of the goals of the lawsuit is to have a federal judge declare that McClure vote is invalid because of his statements, and because he said he initially would have supported the measure, turn McClure’s no vote to a yes vote so Gathering Tree gets their proposal approved on a 6-2 vote, rather than failing 5-3.

Stringer was asked during the press conference how the actions of Gathering Tree were not in essence threatening the city as the Mayor appeared to believe was taking place.

“At no time did anyone intend to threaten anyone by asking for reasonable accommodation,” Stringer said. “The reason the ADA and other anti-discrimination laws have provisions called anti-retaliation provisions is so that those laws can be used without fear by the user of being retaliated against. So, under the law typically, generally, one is allowed to request that a law be followed and everyone is expected to kind of play by the rules. That’s generally how it works. It’s pretty simple really.”

Stringer also said that while he would love to expand on his legal opinion regarding the case, he felt the courtroom was the proper place for him to make his arguments rather than in the press.

Dr. Brown was asked about why Gathering Tree chose to file a lawsuit rather than work with the city on alternatives proposed by the city (mentioned in the city’s statement as “applying for a planned development or waiting until the City had time to review and possibly update our zoning regulations).

“The alternatives, both are not really great for us,” Brown responded. “They’re expensive and time consuming.”

The group also mentioned they are currently looking at a new property where they plan to develop another Eden Village location. Dr. Brown could not reveal the location of the property because they have not completed the processing of the donation.

Below is the prepared statement from David Brown, along with court filings made by Gathering Tree against the city. The city’s statement is also provided below.

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Here is the City of Springfield’s statement released Friday night:

The City of Springfield has considered The Gathering Tree, LLC a community partner and our staff has worked with them extensively to develop Eden Village. At the direction of Mayor Ken McClure and City Council, the City also allocated approximately $300,000 to assist them with infrastructure improvements that made the development possible.

A second proposed Eden Village development at 3303 W. Division required a zoning change that failed to pass City Council.  Six votes were required for approval and the measure received five affirmative votes.

In this case, there was a protest petition that required a higher threshold of affirmative votes.  If owners of 30 percent of the property within 185 feet of the property proposed to be changed, sign a petition, a 2/3-majority vote is required. This protest petition constituted 72.8 percent.

City officials met with Eden Village partners recently to discuss other paths forward. Alternate approaches offered to them included applying for a planned development or waiting until the City had time to review and possibly update our zoning regulations.

We were disappointed to learn through media reports that they have instead decided to file a lawsuit.

The City of Springfield has not been served with a lawsuit and therefore, officials have not had a chance to review.