Letter: ‘Sober House’ on West Road Openly Addresses Prevalent, Unspoken New Canaan Problem


Dear editor,

This is in response to the published commentary last week and the statements made by Mr. and Mrs. Russell.

My name is Nick deSpoelberch and I am a Darien resident living in recovery.

First, I find it difficult to continue reading the comments of an author who within four paragraphs admits to lying in order to gather information through deceitful action, or to believe anything following that is worth reading or believing.

If residents of New Canaan, Wilton, Darien, and Greenwich do not believe people struggling with addiction are already living all around them, I would like to officially welcome you to Fairfield County in 2017.

In our state, 50 to 100 more people die every consecutive year from overdoses. Check here. Thus far, 2016 shows a still unfinished tally of 159 more deaths than 2015. Having spoken at public forums in New Canaan, Darien, Wilton, and Greenwich on the opioid epidemic, let me verify the epidemic is here.

It’s only getting worse.

What do we achieve by continuing to say “not my neighborhood” or “this devalues my property”?

Allow me to put you in touch with parents from your town who buried their child in the last year. Speak to them of “value.”

I appeal to the community. It is the shadows, the stigma of trying to push this away that feeds it. Shame kills more people struggling with addiction than all the drugs combined.

These are successful men investing a great deal to live in a sober environment where they are supervised attending recovery meetings, chemically tested, and engaged in off-site counseling.

The claim was made by the Russells that “There is no therapy provided.”

I find that very surprising, so let me reintroduce myself. My name is Nicholas deSpoelberch, licensed professional counselor in Connecticut.

The Lighthouse frequently refers these brave men to me and I consult with the owners on group counseling and case management.

In closing, I would greatly prefer—perhaps especially because of my two young children—to have temporary neighbors honestly facing their problems and dealing with them than permanent neighbors who use deceit to engage in character assassination.


Nicholas deSpoelberch

13 thoughts on “Letter: ‘Sober House’ on West Road Openly Addresses Prevalent, Unspoken New Canaan Problem

  1. Ok, so get together with Lighthouse and rent the next home in your neighborhood since you and the founders take no issue with it.

    I don’t think anyone objects to people seeking help for this deadly disease of addiction or discussing it. There are designated treatment hospitals, therapists and the like along with other services provided in our town. This organization did not go about their mission in an appropriate way and the neighbors have every right and more to be upset about it.

  2. Nick –
    The owners of the Lighthouse deliberately and quietly opened this facility in a secretive and unsuspecting manner. I was simply trying to acquire information and will not apologize for “going undercover” to gather data. Had I come away from my conversation feeling like this was truly a higher cause put in place to help people, I would feel very differently. Unfortunately, I came away with a different impression – that this was a great business opportunity – a way to help people but to capitalize significantly by helping people. If this is truly here for an altruistic cause then I suggest the owners of the Lighthouse set themselves up as a 501c3 not-for profit facility with the mission of helping these recovering men. This would most certainly alleviate my concerns as the facility would be subject to town approval and monitoring.

  3. I think this letter, and the previous one, completely miss the mark. People are upset because this is just another instance of a business owner ignoring the P&Z rules. They are in place for a reason. You don’t get to break rules and ask for forgiveness, or blame the towns people of having no compassion for individuals struggling with addiction, while you sit back and count all the money your making off these men during their recovery.

  4. I do not believe anyone is questioning the awful impact of addiction, or that exists in all of our “Spiffy” towns! my issue is that we own homes in (strictly) residentially zoned neighborhoods, and this is Cleary a for profit Business. Evidence shows that this will have a negative impact on real estate values. certainly not what I bargained for when I purchased my home!! seems unfair to me!!

  5. If this were actually about helping addicts, and not about making money, the Lighthouse CT wouldn’t be charging a minimum of $12,000 a month, providing private chef service and 24 hour transportation service, gym membership, and daily housekeeping. This is a brazen attempt to circumvent zoning, and exploit wealthy, but vulnerable people. It is a for-profit operation run by former Wall Street executives who are not licensed to treat addicts or alcoholics, but are willing to cash their checks.

    • Hah–no! WE are the ones being ridiculous and not caring about addicts. I guarantee there will never be a sober house in the neighborhoods of any principle of Lighthouse.

      This is an absolute outrage and with the news about SPAS opening on Oenoke Ridge Road–time for our elected officials and Zoning officials to bring the hammer on these lucrative business ‘ventures’ in residential neighborhoods that are at the expense of the taxpayers they are supposed to represent.

  6. On Thursday and Friday of this week, residents of New Canaan attended coffees at the library and historical society to discuss the sober home development at 909 West Road. Those of us who are against the development presented the reasons why. The Lighthouse expressed surprise at the residents’ negative reaction.

    Those of us in opposition have spent time, money and energy in the last three weeks opposing the project.

    Here is the background. The Lighthouse leased a large house at 909 West Road for a post-rehabilitation facility for recovering drug and alcohol addicts. There will be 8 residents in the house plus staff, for rotating periods of up to three months so that each year 30 or more residents would cycle through an area zoned for single family homes.

    Despite being in obvious violation of the zoning law the Lighthouse took occupancy without contacting the Town for permits of any kind. After learning of the situation from a resident, The Town determined, without process or hearing, that the use was permitted because of federal and State laws which may in the case of group rehabilitation homes override local zoning.

    This is not a one off situation. This is an unregulated industry which has caused controversy across the US. It has its own industry organizations and publications which offer “how to” guides on fighting local opposition and overcoming zoning law. Locally, there have been controversial developments in Westport, Ridgefield, Easton, Darien, New Haven, Trumbull and elsewhere. The abundance of large, unsold homes has given the industry access to lots of space.

    We oppose the Lighthouse occupancy for a number of reasons. The first is obvious– this is a residential neighborhood which we chose to live in and had a right to assume would remain residential. Who would want a home in their midst which cycles through 30 men a year? Second, every resident in New Canaan has made an investment in their home, and this investment is endangered by proximity to a group sober home. I hear a lot of arguments to the contrary (from people not near sober homes) but it seems evident that for a home buyer having a nearby sober house is a non starter, or at least a reason to offer less.

    We resent the way the Lighthouse approached this. Its a for profit corporation which employed a strategy to open its facility expressly without telling the Town or notifying neighbors. This is a play right out of the “how to” book– start operating before anyone knows you’re there. Act first and ask for forgiveness later.

    And we resent the way the Town has handled this. Its position is that its “hands are tied” by federal and State law. This may or may not be true, but the right way to deal with this was to go through the zoning process and let the chips fall where they might. At least that way residents would get to know the story and express their views publicly. And the process might lead to operational oversight and regulation of the development.

    We have appealed the Town’s actions to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which holds its hearing on the subject on March 6. This is the sole pportunity we have to state our case, and unfortunately its a last resort. We have made every effort to at least stop the ongoing occupancy of the sober house pending the ZBA hearing, but we have gotten nowhere.

    This affects everyone in Town. There are an abundance of unsold homes in all parts of the community and every one of them is a potential sober house location. The Lighthouse and others are aggressive in development of these very profitable businesses. If the Town lets this development go forward with absolutely no attempt to regulate it, it only sets a precedent for more developments of the same kind.

  7. Nicholas-
    Thank you very much for your letter regarding the sober house in New Canaan. I know the owners of the Lighthouse through mutual friends in the area, and I am a 20 year resident of New Canaan, with children who grew up in town. In addition, I have a mutual friend of the owner of 909 West Rd – and there was no deception when the Lighthouse rented it. They were completely transparent about their intentions, as they have an existing sober house in Darien.

    The owner of 909 West Rd was unable to sell the home, as property values have decreased, largely for economic and environmental reasons. Therefore, the owner of the home chose to rent the home and generate cash flow on the home, that they couldn’t do otherwise – adding to their financial resources.
    The owners of the Lighthouse knew that, based on their previous experiences, there was no need to “tell the neighbors” or “consult with the town” on this private arrangement, and that their actions were well within their rights based on CT Fair Housing Laws that state no one can be discriminated against.

    Whether the sober home is classified for tax purposes as “for profit” or “not for profit” is really irrelevant. The Lighthouse was not designed as a large financial venture reaping significant returns on investment, never mind that they are barely covering their costs. Their intention and mission is to help those in recovery, not to gain financially. Some of the most profitable organizations in the state are technically “non profit” and we all know that one’s tax classification rarely equals ones intentions. Hence the tax classification is a moot point.

    Clearly what is going on is that the fine folks of West Rd, in the fine town of New Canaan, don’t want “these people” in their neighborhood- period. This is truly a case of “not my problem.”

    My question to Mr. Harrow and the rest of the frightened neighbors is “do you really think 8 men (at a time!) living in this home, commuting to work and back, will make a difference in your life? Do you think these recovering addicts/alcoholics are on some registry so future homeowners will be warned and thus property values will be decreased? Have you honestly walked yourself through how ridiculous this all sounds- which is why the sober house in Darien hasn’t been met with ANY resistance.
    These sober residents are in recover, they are SOBER, (or else they are not welcome in the sober home). They exercise, go to work, watch movies, sleep and eat like everyone else.

    It’s not as though a crack house moved to town. This is a SOBER HOUSE. There is a huge difference!

    May I be so bold as to suggest that Mr. Harrow and the other frightened neighbors consider this a terrific opportunity to talk to your family about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. As well as an even better chance to educate yourselves that there is a solution. That we don’t need alcohol to deal with life; that those afflicted with this deadly disease have a wonderful way to live, a day at a time, in recovery and sober.

    My hope is that one day we can all be united in our support of any town effort to help those in need, recovering from any disease, even if (especially if) it is in your back yard!

    • Are you going to talk with your family about what happens when a sober house moves into a neighborhood and reduces the value of one’s home, negatively impacting the lives of families and children who are not in recovery? Taking money out of their college funds, their retirement accounts? Why should hardworking people suffer at the hands of the deceptive tactics of Lighthouse? Just because they live in New Canaan doesn’t mean they are exponentially wealthy and haven’t a care in the world or don’t care about others, or don’t care about those in recovery.

      Perhaps they are hardworking people struck by cancer (like the gentleman next door who filed the appeal has stated publicly), who need every dollar they earned to support themselves and get through costly medical treatment while supporting their families.

      Unfortunately it seems like these people are only thinking of themselves, and when others object they are vilified for not caring about those ‘in recovery’.

  8. As a New Canaan resident, I am proud of our community for it’s ongoing support of people in recovery. This sober house does not scare me, I feel compassion and gratitude for those making the effort to journey with those in recovery. We all need to open our hearts a bit more.

    For residents still objecting, a bit more education and discussion may be helpful. We are fortunate to have an event in Darien Monday, March 27th sponsored by the Darien Community Association. Presenting will be

    William C. Moyers, author of Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption, and vice president of Public Affairs and Community Relations for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. Also, he is the son of the journalist, Bill Moyers

    For more information and to register http://www.hazelden.org/web/public/event.view?eventId=5931032

  9. I grew up in New Canaan – Millport Ave to be exact. I now live in Stamford. But let me be very clear – alcoholism and drug addiction are VERY prevalent in Fairfield County. And I’d much rather have my neighbors recovering and sober than abusing substances! I am not a home-owner, so I won’t weigh in on peoples concerns regarding property value, but how about human value? Have we become so concerned with ourselves that we can not support a positive thing such as a sober living home? People who are getting their lives back together?

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