2012 General Assembly

House panel rejects bill about Lexington child's playhouse

Bill rejected to lift deed restrictions in Lexington child's case

jbrammer@herald-leader.comFebruary 1, 2012 

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FRANKFORT — A House panel rejected a proposal Wednesday that grew out of a Lexington mother's fight with a homeowners' association over an outdoor playhouse used by her 3-year-old son with cerebral palsy.

Only six members of the House Local Government Committee voted for House Bill 160, which would do away with deed restrictions that limit structures deemed medically necessary for children 12 and younger. Six members did not vote and two voted no. The measure needed nine votes to clear the committee.

Opponents of the bill said it would have needlessly involved the legislature in a "local turf battle."

House Local Government chairman Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, said it was hard to predict whether the bill was dead for this year's legislative session.

"I think it's on hold for a while," he said. "I don't know if it's dead. That depends on whether the local people can get together. If they don't get together, it's probably not dead, because we don't have a set of statewide rules in place to deal with this."

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Richard Henderson, D-Jeffersonville, deals with efforts by Tiffiney Veloudis to keep a playhouse for her son, Cooper, outside their home in Lexington's Andover Forest neighborhood.

The family's fight, which has led to a lawsuit, has garnered national attention and generated debate about whether private homeowners' associations should have to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Cooper's parents say the 100-square-foot, $5,000 playhouse they installed in their side yard is instrumental in his physical therapy.

The Andover Forest Home Owners Association has ordered the Veloudis family to remove the playhouse because it violates deed restrictions that all property owners sign when they buy in Andover Forest.

Veloudis said she and her husband do not think the playhouse is any different than the tree houses and swing sets already in their neighborhood. She also said that they built their home before Cooper was born.

Deborah Slaton, a professor emeritus of special education at the University of Kentucky and a resident of Andover Forest, told the committee that HB 160 "is based on false premises, misleading statements and emotions."

"A great deal of emotion underlies the argument for HB 160," she said.

"People are moved by statements in the media such as 'save Kentucky's children' and 'the homeowners' association is picking on my child,' and if I thought that was actually happening here, I'd be for HB 160 as well," Slaton said. "But the facts don't support these very emotional statements. Emotion is not a substitute for sound reason and fairness."

Slaton, who is not on the board of the homeowners' association, said it was misleading to imply that the association wants to deny physical therapy for the child.

"Because the family installed the playhouse before seeking advice on a variance, the neighborhood's board never had the opportunity to work with the family to design an acceptable structure," she said. "When contacted about violations, the family created an adversarial environment rather than working to devise a solution."

Veloudis told lawmakers her family has "tried and tried and tried to go through proper channels" but to no avail. She added that the playhouse has helped her son.

But Slaton said it was not the playhouse itself that has helped the child, "it is the features inside it." She said features such as ladders and overhead bars could be built elsewhere.

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, said he was concerned that "this is a neighborhood issue that has just gotten blown up."

He asked why the issue should be brought to the state legislature and recommended that the two sides try to get along. Wayne voted against the measure.

Henderson said the legislation was not for just one child but would bring uniformity to about 1,700 homeowners' associations in the state.

Henderson offered a committee substitute to the bill as a possible compromise.

He said it would allow home owners to build on their property a detached structure for the therapy of a physically disabled person residing on the property if the structure is 100 square feet or less in size; the disabled person is 12 or younger; the construction has been prescribed or ordered by a licensed physician; and the structure is behind the residence, conforms with architectural aesthetics of the residence and does not violate local, state or federal law.

It also said if there was not "a good-faith resolution" between the homeowner and the homeowners' association, there would be mediation with a third party.

Slaton spoke against the committee substitute, saying it was "unnecessary legislation."

Casting the only other "no" vote was Rep. Brent Houseman, R-Paducah. He said the controversy "sounds like a turf war, and somebody didn't follow procedures."

Voting for the bill were Henderson; Riggs; and Reps. Mike Denham, D-Maysville; Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana; Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green; and Arnold Simpson, D-Covington.

Passing on the vote were Reps. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville; Ron Crimm, R-Louisville; Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger; Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville; Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland; and Rita Smart, D-Richmond.

Henderson and Veloudis left the meeting room without commenting on the committee's vote. They did not return later phone calls.

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