Opponents of Planned ‘Sober House’ in New Canaan Will Appeal Decision To Allow It without Permits

Saying a planned “sober house” on West Road will devalue their homes and open the door to similar for-profit facilities launching in New Canaan’s residential neighborhoods, more than 20 residents filed a formal letter this week voicing concerns to municipal officials.

Neighbors have retained an attorney and plan to challenge before the Zoning Board of Appeals the town planner’s finding—rooted in advice from the town attorney—that a business called The Lighthouse can operate without a permit as a post-rehab facility for men recovering from addiction.

New Canaanites “should be concerned that these homes have no restrictions as to how they’re operated and are under no legal supervision,” according to the letter. “They are allowed to insert themselves as a business in any residential community. The fact that our town is known for being a child-friendly, family-oriented community has no bearing.”

Town officials have confirmed that The Lighthouse has signed a two-year lease to operate out of an 8,000-square-foot home that sits on more than four acres on upper West Road.

In their letter, the residents voicing concerns about The Lighthouse—most of them live in northwestern New Canaan, including on properties that abut the West Road “sober house”—question the motives of the business’s founders, calling “secretive” for failing to approach neighbors, interested only in profits and recklessly causing “terrible angst.”

On Jan. 18, the town planner after soliciting advice from Town Attorney Ira Bloom notified concerned neighbors that operating a sober house at the West Road home was a “permitted use.” Normally, under the New Canaan Zoning Regulations, a group home could only operate in a residential zone by special permit, and a rooming house would require a permit issued by the town’s health director. However, federal laws limit a local government’s ability to restrict sober houses, officials have said.

One of the West Road home’s neighbors, Thom Harrow, told NewCanaanite.com that he intends to appeal the town planner’s assertion.

One of The Lighthouse’s founders, former New Canaan resident Tony Kiniry, said the program had been seeking a house in town to lease for about two years and ended up finding a residence in Darien first. That location has been operating for more than one year without incident, Kiniry said.

“I totally understand where these people are coming from because I personally live much closer to a sober house, with my 12-year-old son, than any of those people do,” he told NewCanaanite.com. “I personally know all the problems that could or do happen or that you may be fearful will happen. So I understand where they are coming from, I understand the concerns and fears, and all of those things I knew before got involved with this because I didn’t want any of it to happen in New Canaan.”

The Lighthouse purposely chose a home that is in a more remote location in order to ensure privacy for its residents, Kiniry said.

“Secrecy is not what we are about—privacy is,” he said.

Kiniry said that the owners of the West Road home that The Lighthouse is leasing did their due diligence in finding out about the program, including a visit to the existing sober house in Darien.

Those who live in a Lighthouse home are carefully screened, often are high-achieving professionals and “operate as a small family” in the residences, he said.

Kiniry said that as someone who has been living 20 years sober himself and who worships at a church in town, he understands that “there are generous people in New Canaan” and churches that host meetings for people who have been addicted to alcohol or other substances draw large crowds.

He added that the selection of a West Road home that has been on the market for some time and hasn’t sold may have inadvertently “hit on the worst fear of New Canaan, that these big houses will not sell and people will rent them.”

Some Realtors especially have “thrown a couple of wrenches into our plans” as The Lighthouse has searched New Canaan for a sober house location, Kiniry said.

“This [The Lighthouse] has only been in business for over a year but we might want to buy a house, if the opportunity presents itself,” he said.

Kiriny conceded that there are many poorly run sober houses, and added: “Our intention is to be the best operating place that there is, and to operate like a place in New Canaan.”

7 thoughts on “Opponents of Planned ‘Sober House’ in New Canaan Will Appeal Decision To Allow It without Permits

  1. Please don’t ask P+Z to put up a fence or a gate at your home in New Canaan. You’ll be shut down. Just ask to build a huge apartment complex, an ‘institute for justice’ with a big fancy building, and now sober living facilities.

    What is going on in New Canaan? Where are our elected officials?

  2. New Canaan is no stranger to residents with drinking problems. The chance that you have a problem drinker (who is not sober) living right next door to you is a lot greater than you think. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that at least one of the people protesting has a drinking problem since there are more than 20 residents that don’t want this. The local AA meeting at the Congregational Church is packed every week so that the parking flows over into the surrounding neighborhood. These are not the skid row bums that our imaginations conjure. Most are high functioning professionals based upon their ability to live in NC. Some of these people in this AA meeting might even be your friends.

    • Right, but there’s a difference between a 1 hour AA meeting at a church, and instituting a sober living facility that is 24/7 with drug and alcohol prone people and their associates.

      We have AA meetings, we have Silver Hill, we have smaller cluster apartments where people go after they leave Silver Hill. I think we are doing enough to help these particular people in need.

  3. How typical of the affluent, liberal elite hypocrites of New Canaan!!! According to residents appealing the plan, “the fact is our town is known for being a child-friendly, family-oriented community”, as if other towns don’t value the need for ‘child-friendly’, ‘family oriented’ and ‘community’! But, no doubt, New Canaanites and the rest of wealthy Fairfield County support the incredible need for sober houses (not to mention migrant camps, low income housing, school desegregation, etc, etc), just as long as you don’t do it in their ‘perfect town’. SMH

    • I’m not sure I agree with you here. We have a renowned rehab facility in New Canaan and we also have ‘cluster’ apartments where people go after they leave rehab if they can’t return home immediately. Many in our downtown area.

      What’s happening here is a bait and switch. I agree the language is a bit much rather twee—every community should be safe for families, not just New Canaan.

  4. Let’s be clear here….The neighbors issue is not that it’s a “sober” living house. It’s that it is a boarding house for profit in a residential single family neighborhood. (happens to be for all male recovering addicts but they may as well be triathletes training..)!!! It doesn’t matter. It’s going to cycle through approximately 60 different men per year for the next two years. And yes, SMH, we are a family oriented town as is our West Road neighborhood. Nothing to apologize for there. If we wanted to live next to a hotel, boarding house, bed and breakfast, we would have purchased our home there! We are paying taxes based on our homes’ valuations which have been carefully appraised with the location and neighborhood in mind. Would you like to pick up the tab on our lost property values ?? Easy to criticize the neighbors…until it happens to you!!! A Neighbor on West Road

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