By Al Dozier
The Town of Irmo faces an alleged violation of the Fair Housing Act and could face a $40,000 settlement payment for denying a disabled citizen a zoning variance that would have allowed her a safer entrance to her home.
The resident, who asked not to be identified and was referred to as “Miss Pat” during the a special council meeting Monday, had requested a zoning change two years ago that would allow her to put a carport over a small ramp leading to her porch from her driveway. She said the ramp would get very wet after rains, causing her to fall.
But the town’s zoning board denied the request. That denial was later upheld by the Irmo Town Council.
At the time, town officials said zoning laws have to be followed according to statute, and there are no provisions to provide exceptions because of a problem with the needs of a handicapped person.
Irmo Councilman Barry Walker Sr. disagreed with the decision and asserted that the town’s actions were illegal. The resident felt her rights were violated and decided to seek help from HUD.
Her contention was supported last month when the town received a proposed “settlement agreement” from the Department of Justice that calls for the town to adopt several new guidelines dealing with disabled residents. The agreement also calls for a $40,000 payment in monetary damages to avoid a federal lawsuit.
At Monday’s meeting, the council deliberated over the issue in an executive session and decided to refer the matter to the town’s insurance provider.
That wasn’t the right solution, Walker said after the meeting.
“We kicked the ball,” he said.
Meanwhile several citizens expressed outrage over the issue.
Irmo resident Dan Newbanks called the town’s handling of the matter “disgusting.”
“It really is, when all we had to do was step back and mind our own business as a town. A carport doesn’t hurt anyone.”
“You have to accept responsibility for what happened,” said resident Mike Ward. “Do what’s right.”
“The town messed up,” said Irmo resident Erick Siciknger. “The ZBA had a chance to reconsider and the town did as well,” he said.
Irmo resident Brandi Clarkson said she has assisted “Miss Pat” after her falls.
“I picked her up off the ground bleeding,” she said.
She told the council members they should pay the settlement “out of your own pockets.”
Mayor Hardy King said after the meeting the council has been reviewing its zoning ordinances and is considering revisions recommended by the Justice Department on policies related to people with disabilities. He said the town’s insurance provider would have input on the revisions.