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posted: 8/12/2013 10:28 PM

What's a 'family' when it comes to housing in Geneva?

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Geneva officials are looking to freshen the city's definition of "family," as it relates to housing laws.

The Plan Commission will discuss the matter, at a date yet to be set, as the city council committee of the whole gave the go-ahead Monday night.

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"'Where angels fear to tread.' Let the Plan Commission take this snowball first," quipped Alderman Chuck Brown.

The matter has come up as the city has recently dealt with complaints about the number of people living in what are supposed to be single-family houses, according to community development director Dick Untch. The city's current definition of family, set in 1995, may not be enforceable, he said, based on his study of court decisions on zoning laws.

That definition, in the Zoning Code, says a family is "One or more persons occupying a premises and living as a single housekeeping unit, and related to each other by birth, adoption or marriage, except that up to two (2) persons need not be related to the group."

That would seem to prohibit, for example, blended families with children where the adult couple are not married.

"We want to bring it to contemporary standards based on case law since 1995," Untch said. The definition of a family may turn, Untch said, on whether the group is a single housekeeping unit that shares expenses and operates like a family.

That would likely prohibit organizations such as businesses, fraternities or sororities from housing people in a single-family house, according to Untch. One of the situations people have complained about, he said, involves a house on the west side where a sports organization seems to be putting up rotating groups of athletes. Because the organization is not charging the players rent, zoning rules governing room-and-board establishments don't apply.

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