A legal battle between Sandy Springs and a nonprofit treatment center for women and children ended this week with the group winning a settlement victory that will allow them to stay in a local condominium complex.
The dispute with Mary Hall Freedom House stems from the group’s purchase of more than 30 units in Reserve of Dunwoody in 2017. The city cited the organization numerous times for zoning violations, which led the nonprofit to file a federal lawsuit claiming housing discrimination against its clients.
Sandy Springs announced Tuesday it had settled with the organization, clearing the way for them to continue to house people in the neighborhood, and provide services at a Roswell Road building less than a mile away. Lucy Hall, the CEO of Mary Hall Freedom House, said she agreed to dismiss the federal lawsuit that claimed Sandy Springs was harassing the organization and violating fair housing standards after the city dropped the citations.
“We don’t want to fight; we just want to do business,” Hall said. “I’m glad that it’s over. I pray that it stays over.”
The dispute stems from Mary Hall Freedom House’s purchase of 33 units in the 90-unit Reserve of Dunwoody condo complex in 2017. The organization had been renting apartments for its treatment clients, Hall said, but decided to buy units as rents rose. Her goal is to buy out the entire complex; Mary Hall Freedom House now has 39 of the units.
The nonprofit, which provides services to women and children to address poverty, substance abuse, homelessness and mental health issues, has operated in Sandy Springs for 23 years.
When the group made the purchase, Hall said, she told residents who were renting the units that they would be displaced. She said several complained to the city, and Sandy Springs cited the organization for keeping an office on the property. Hall said she paid that fine and moved business operations out, but that the city continued to issue additional citations. In the federal suit, Hall called the accusations of violations baseless, and said many were dismissed in municipal court.
Sandy Springs, in a statement, said its concerns about the organization were related to violations of the city’s zoning ordinance. It said Mary Hall Freedom House had agreed to separate their services from the residential units; Hall said that had already been done.
A spokesperson from Sandy Springs did not respond to a phone call seeking more information about the dispute. In the statement, City Attorney Dan Lee said the city’s goal was to ensure compliance with zoning laws to safeguard the character of the neighborhood.
Hall said the settlement came the same day the parties were in municipal court on the latest alleged violations. A staff member for the organization is a member of the community’s homeowners’ association, Hall said, and she said the community has improved with their involvement.
Mary Hall Freedom House has helped more than 10,000 women and children with addiction problems in its 23 years, Hall said. She said the legal dispute has put a dent in reserves and harmed fundraising efforts, but she’s hopeful the settlement will change that.
“We’ve made the community that much better,” Hall said. “I still haven’t figured out what this was all about.”
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