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Court upholds permit for Ivy Lodge

Treatment facility will be allowed to operate in Rochester Township

By Janice Gregorson

gregor@postbulletin.com

A district judge has upheld a zoning decision made by the Rochester Township Board allowing the construction of a 16-bed residential chemical dependency facility.

Olmsted District Judge Kevin Lund has ruled in favor of both Rochester Township and Derek Mazula, founder of Drifens LLC.

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A group of neighbors in the township had filed a civil lawsuit challenging the conditional use permit issued for the facility, which opened earlier this month. The town board granted a permit to Drifens at Ivy Lodge in February. Neighbors took legal action in April.

The defendants asked that the lawsuit be dismissed. The plaintiffs filed a similar motion for summary judgment on counterclaims brought against the neighbors by Mazula. Those motions were argued in October. Lund issued his decision Dec. 21.

Mazula said he is "delighted the court has reaffirmed the township’s decision" granting the conditional use permit.

Gary Donovan, township board chairman, said he is pleased with the ruling.

"That was the decision I was hoping for," he said.

Ken Moen, the Rochester attorney representing the neighbors who brought the lawsuit, could not be reached for comment.

Judge’s conclusions

Lund said that "there is an adequate factual record for the board’s decision along with a clearly rational basis justifying their decision."

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He said the Minnesota Supreme Court has held that the court should interfere in the management of municipal affairs sparingly. He said the high court has ruled that if municipal officials acted in good faith and within the broad discretion accorded them by statutes and the relevant ordinances, their judgment should not be invalidated.

Lund said the record shows that the township board "labored over the decision" and acted only after a public hearing where each side had ample opportunity to express views and concerns.

He said the issues raised by the neighbors were "heartfelt and legitimate."

In the final analysis, Lund said, the township board’s decision was made after significant public input, legal advice and "proper reflection."

Case arguments

Neighbors filed the lawsuit earlier this year, claiming Ivy Lodge is a treatment facility not permitted under the zoning ordinance. In October, attorneys for both sides were before Lund arguing separate motions for summary judgment.

Moen argued that if the facility residents had completed their treatment elsewhere and came to live at the facility in a group setting, there would be no challenge. But, he claimed, this is a treatment facility, not residential.

The attorney for Rochester Township and the Drifins argued that the board acted properly, that the facility is a supervised living facility for people with chemical dependency disabilities, which is allowed under the ordinance.

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Mazula said the facility officially opened in early December with a state license, and "we are very excited to be serving the clients."

There is a staff of about 16, and the facility is licensed to serve up to 14 clients.

In addition to the ruling on the lawsuit, Lund dismissed all of Mazula’s counterclaims alleging defamation, invasion of privacy and harassment by some of the neighbors.

Mazula said his focus has been on the facility and "to make sure we are able to provide exceptional chemical dependency and substance abuse treatment for professional women."

He said he filed counterclaims because he felt some of the actions taken by some neighbors warranted a judicial review. He said that "at the present time, we are concentrating on moving forward in running our operation."

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