After years of neighbors' complaints, a New Times investigation, and two contentious hearings before a Fort Lauderdale city magistrate, time might be running out for Crescent House, the privately-run group home housing troubled kids that are in the state's custody.
Late on Tuesday, the city released final orders issued by the special magistrate who heard arguments about zoning and nuisance issues tied to the property. The magistrate found the property in violation — a move that Crescent's operators have said in the past could force the property to shut down.
The final orders — three separate legal documents linked below, each for a different chunk of the three zoning parcels making up the Crescent campus — laid out the finding of facts and conclusion of law. The magistrate found that the property did constitute a nuisance "in that there has been a negative impact on other properties."
The second finding is more critical: the magistrate found that the facility was "operating in violation of the permitted use" due to the kind of shelter being providing by the facility. According to the magistrate, the property where Crescent sits isn't zoned for housing the kind of at-risk youth Crescent actually caters to. "If compliance with this section cannot be demonstrated, the use is considered nonconforming."
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Under the final orders, Crescent House operator Chrysalis Health and ChildNet, the system's state-sanctioned, non-profit overseer, have until a certain date to come into compliance with the code violations — December 17 in terms of the nuisance complaint; February 15 on the zoning issue. After that, if the magistrate finds the property is still on within the lines of the code, he can issue daily $100 fines for each of the two violations. If those add up, unpaid, the city can lien the property.
For residents of the neighborhood surrounding Crescent, the news was a win. "We're waiting to hear back from the city on what their follow-up is going to be," says Sal Gatanio, a homeowner in the neighborhood. "How do they rectify a nuisance? That's a tricky question we're trying to find out. With the code violation with the use of land, there really is no way to get around that to close the facility."
As we documented earlier this year, Crescent had been causing years of frustration for the homeowners and residents nearby. The destructive environment radiating off the facility is in line with what we found in a detailed investigation of Broward group homes. These environments are enabled by the public-private set up of Florida's child care system.
Despite the news, Gatanio and other residents know this is likely not over. "We know this is going to go to appeals court, we know this is the first battle of the war."