Hecker settles discrimination lawsuit for $50,000

News-DemocratMarch 23, 2014 

AP GRAPHICS

The village of Hecker has settled a federal lawsuit for $50,000 with nonprofit groups who alleged the Village Board discriminated against the disabled when it denied plans to build two group homes for the developmentally disabled.

Now construction is under way on the disputed homes in the village of about 500 people, which is located near New Athens in Monroe County.

Nonprofit groups Human Support Services and Monroe County Apartments 4 Association, along with two disabled residents, filed alleged the board violated federal laws prohibiting discrimination against disabled people. Human Support Services, based in Waterloo, provides services to those with developmental disabilities, such as autism, cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

The village does not admit to any liability in the settlement, which was finalized Jan. 28. Hecker Mayor Charles Kujawski could not be reached for comment.

Human Support Services Executive Director Rob Cole and the groups' attorney, Tom Kennedy III, said they were pleased with the settlement.

Cole said the village has issued the group a building permit to construct the homes at 310 and 320 Hillgard Landing, which are expected to be completed in May. Each home will house four developmentally disabled residents in the Freedom Village subdivision.

"We felt we had a strong case. That's how come we moved forward. If we felt we were just pushing the envelope, we certainly wouldn't have done that," Cole said. "We felt the rules were pretty clear and what we were attempting to do would fit with what was required in court."

The homes initially drew opposition from residents with several threatening legal action against the Village Board should its members allow their construction. However, Cole "things have gone very positively" since construction began.

"We have had no difficulties with the community at all, and are looking forward to being a good neighbor," Cole said.

The homes are compatible with land uses and closely resemble other single-family residences in the neighborhood, according to Cole.

"It's been our intent that the homes should resemble the others in the neighborhood," Cole said. "We've very happy the state changed its funding formula to assist development of smaller housing for residents. In the past, it was almost impossible to build a home for less than eight people. Now it has been changed to accommodate a four-person or smaller facility. By having a smaller number of people in each home, it allows the home to look more conventional."

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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