Neighbors, sober house can’t reach agreement
NEW CANAAN — The air was thick and sweaty in the Town Hall Board Room and tensions were running high Monday night.
It was the first time since the original March public hearing — two subsequent meetings were postponed — the owners of the Lighthouse, a for-profit sober living facility, and the West Road neighbors of the facility were back before the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).
ZBA board members began the meeting stating they only wanted to hear from attorneys during the hearing.
“I’d like to make a comment since I am the appellant,” Harrow protested, as members of the ZBA asked him to remain quiet. Harrow protested, saying “this is B.S.,” and “I don’t care,” to the board’s requests for him to remain seated.
It was one of several tense moments at a meeting in which the results of two months of behind the scenes conversations between Harrow and owners of the Lighthouse were to be presented.
The matter was first brought to the town’s attention in January after neighbors of the perspective sober house learned that the property owner at 909 West Road, planned to lease the home to Trey Laird and Tony Kiniry, the owners of the Lighthouse.
That prompted a response from Town Planner Steve Palmer, citing the legal aid of Town Attorney Ira Bloom. Palmer opined that according to state and federal laws — including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Federal Housing Act, among others, that prohibit discrimination based on disabilities like substance abuse — that supersede local zoning regulations, the operation of the sober house was lawful.
Palmer’s finding led to an appeal from Harrow, of 871 West Road, in State Superior Court that cited concerns over the impact on real estate value and the precedent that might be set by allowing a commercial entity to function in a residential neighborhood. On Monday, Harrow and Green — who, as it turned out, was not in fact fired — suggested that at the time of his January memo, Palmer did not have the right to make such a finding.
Harrow and other neighbors wanted further restrictions on the house, including around the clock supervision, proof that staff is qualified and that the facility will be safe and adequately maintained. But most importantly, the neighbors want to stipulate that no more than six clients be living in the house at one time, with some exception allowing for overlap when one client is moving out and another is moving in. The Lighthouse has stated that it intends to house up to eight men.
“That is the big piece for us,” Green said.
It is also the piece that, according to Harrow, the neighbors and the Lighthouse have not yet agreed upon.
Attorney Patricia Sullivan, who the ZBA has contracted for legal counsel, explained that the ZBA must decide whether housing eight men was a reasonable accommodation according to town regulations, as well as state and federal law and that failure to consider all aspects could result in a lawsuit from the appellant, the Lighthouse, or the federal government.
“It’s a minefield,” Sullivan said.
The ZBA closed the public hearing and has 65 days to make a decision and are next scheduled to meet on July 10, though the board is considering a special meeting in the interim to further deliberate.