OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - After a nearly three year investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division determined the City of Ocean Springs violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it denied a mental health facility the right to operate out of a home on Iberville Drive.
In 2011, the Ocean Springs Board of Aldermen voted 5-1 to deny Psycamore, LLC a use permit, citing traffic and safety concerns in the surrounding community.
The department said the city's decision discriminated against patients with disabilities based on "the known, actual and perceived mental impairments of the patients treated there."
In August of 2011, the mental health facility attempted to open an outpatient clinic on Iberville Drive, which is zoned as a highway commercial area. Other businesses in the area include a law firm, a psychologist's office and a realtor's office.
The proposed facility instantly received friction from the surrounding community, especially from a group called Friends of Iberville Drive. A main concern of the organization was a concern for public safety because of the mental disabilities of Psycamore's patients.
The city's planning department conducted a study into Psycamore's use and issued a recommendation to the planning commission and board of aldermen. In that report, the planning department determined the facility was in legal use within the highway commercial zoning district and a use permit was not needed, and a certificate of occupancy should have been issued.
The Department of Justice report said the city "acted inconsistently with its zoning rules and usual practices" when it denied the facility's certificate of occupancy application, required it to seek a use permit and then denied that use permit.
In October 2013, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the city's decision was "arbitrary and capricious."
The Department of Justice issued the city several steps to remedy the discriminatory violations. The department said the city must adopt a new non-discriminatory policy, train all city staff on the requirements of the ADA and grant Psycamore a certificate of occupancy to operate in any commercial zone within the city.
The city must also hire a full-time ADA coordinator to make sure it is implementing ADA regulations. It must also report any land use requests involving any person or entity associated with disabilities for the next five years.
The department also ordered the city must pay compensatory damages to Psycamore or any other aggrieved person for injuries suffered as a result of the city's failure to comply with the ADA.
At least one alderman said he could not comment on the situation until the board meets with the city attorney on Tuesday. Mayor Connie Moran is expected to issue a statement sometime Saturday.