Definition of "Family" Debated in Eureka
Eureka city representatives and two city residents are in the middle of an ordinance and legal disagreement about what constitutes a "family," as it pertains to living under the same roof. A St. Louis County court hearing is set for today (Thursday).
Having more than one family living in a single family structure is a violation of Eureka municipal code, but what constitutes a "family" is what's being discussed and redetermined by Eureka city administrators and board of aldermen. The issue arose when the 73-year-old neighbor of two women who are roommates at The Villas at Autumn Glen called city officials and complained about alleged violations.
After the complaint, a Eureka building commissioner investigated the situation and determined the women to be in violation of the city's code, section 23-12. The women appealed and filed a petition with the St. Louis County Circuit Court on July 30, according to online court records.
At Tuesday's board of aldermen meeting, city representatives went into a closed session to discuss the matter, then returned to an open session during which they unanimously voted to uphold the building commissioner's determination of this code violation.
A St. Louis County court hearing about this matter is slated for today (Thursday) in Clayton.
The two women, Alicia Wrob and Sheri Clark, who are recently divorced and separated told Patch they simply are trying to "get their footing again in life," and decided to share a residence also for security reasons. They had been sharing a home in The Legends in Eureka prior to moving to the villas, and said there were no problems prior.
The technical question seems to be whether two adults, especially those who are not blood relatives, can live in the same residence without it being considered a tenant and subleasee situation—which if it is deemed that, violates the city's zoning regulations.
"Were we lesbians, we'd be gold," said Wrob.
Eureka city attorney Kathy Butler said Tuesday evening the zoning regulations are about whether people are truly a "single, integrated family living in one unit" with one head of the household. She maintains that Wrob and Clark are actually two families living in a single unit. Wrob has two daughters there at certain times, and Clark has a 21-year-old daughter living there as well.
Wrob and Clark, however, testified at a previous Eureka board of aldermen meeting, they share financial, household, cleaning, laundry, meals, recreational and social duties—making them one family, in practical purposes.
Editor's Note: Patch reviewed all 57 pages of the transcripts from this testimony.
The layout is a three-bedroom, three-bathroom villa. Wrob testified that her bedroom is in the upper story of the villa; Clark testified that her bedroom was in the lower level of the villa. They said they share the kitchen areas, bathrooms and other common space.
Clark said had they known about this interpretation of the associated ordinance, they would not have moved to the villas. Their lease, which is with landlord Michael Whalen, ends in July, Clark said.
Wrob said she signed the lease agreement, and discussed with Whalen the intent to have co-payment from Clark.
Wrob said the neighbor, Mary Jo Hagemann, shares a wall with them, given the villa setup. They were sent a letter from the city, after Hagman's complaints, indicating that subleasing to another renter was a violation.
"Now I have the expense of hiring an attorney, and this is all a terrible waste of time, resources and taxpayers' money," said Wrob, who is legally represented by attorney Nicholas Higgins.
Higgins testified the code's definition of a family is: "one or more persons related or unrelated living together as a single integrated household unit who live together sharing household responsibilities and daily activities, who also share a close social, economic and psychological commitment to each other."
Both Wrob and Clark said they felt they were psychologically closer to each other than their true sisters.
Butler said the zoning regulations are established to distinguish between single versus multiple family situations. "And we recently had amended the ordinance, making it more nontraditional family-friendly," she said Tuesday evening.
YOUR TURN: What reactions do you have to this matter? Would you consider it a code violation? How would you suggest resolving the issue?