Sober House Operator Proposes ‘Community Agreement’ in Advance of Hearing on Appeal


Officials with the company running a widely discussed “sober house” out of a private home in northwestern New Canaan, after meeting with the town, are proposing a set of conditions regarding those who will staff and operate the facility, as well as those who will live there as clients, documents show.

The conditions—some of which reflect bills now before the state legislature—include that staff at The Lighthouse-operated home on West Road will provide the town with contact information for an on-site point person, will be trained in administering the life-saving drug Narcan, which is to be kept on premises, and will themselves be recovering addicts with five or more years’ experience supporting those with substance abuse disorders, according to a copy of the proposed “Community Agreement,” date-stamped March 28.

Further, those with active arrest warrants or who are registered as sex offenders will not be permitted to participate in the non-medical sober living program, and residents at The Lighthouse home will be limited to eight total and required to abide by “House Rules” that include submitting to random drug and alcohol tests, requesting 24 hours in advance permission to have a visitor and participate in “self-directed recovery program activities,” according to the proposed agreement.

The Zoning Board of Appeals on Monday night is expected to issue a decision on an appeal brought by one next-door neighbor who is objecting to a decision by the town that The Lighthouse needs no special or health permit—as otherwise required by the New Canaan Zoning Regulations—to operate the sober house in a residential zone.

The meeting comes on the heels of an emotionally charged initial public hearing on the matter, after which the ZBA decided to postpone its decision on the appeal until after hearing from additional legal counsel. (Town Attorney Ira Bloom has said that federal laws governing fair housing and those with disabilities dictate that New Canaan cannot require The Lighthouse to apply for a permit to set up shop.) The town hired a Bridgeport-based attorney with wide experience in land use to advise the ZBA.

The draft agreement comes as neighbors also push for rules governing The Lighthouse’s operation out of an 8,000-square-foot home at 909 West Road.

In a letter issued March 28 to the ZBA and town planner, West Road resident Richard Bourgeois urged zoning board members to view their decision as setting “a template for the town.”

“If New Canaan follows the experience of other towns in Connecticut and other states, it is likely that more addiction recovery houses will seek to open in New Canaan and will seek at least as favorable treatment as is accorded the addiction recovery house at 909 West Road,” Bourgeois sai d in the letter.

“Accordingly if you approve the operation of an addiction recovery house at 909 West Road, it is important for the entire town that you impose appropriate conditions to ensure the safety of the recovery house residents and preserve the quality of life that our zoning laws have provided.”

He highlighted some of the potential problems at a sober house and urged the town to regulate The Lighthouse’s operation—including in some ways outlined by in the company’s own proposed “Community Agreement.”

Bourgeois said his own recommendations were drawn from a multidisciplinary task force that formed last year in Pennsylvania.

“Anyone can open a recovery house, including companies and individuals who know nothing about the drug and alcohol treatment field,” he said. “No training is mandated. No background checks are compulsory. No government oversight is required.”

As such, he said, “the proposed addiction recovery house at 909 West Road should be subject to reasonable regulations that safeguard the town and its neighborhoods, as well as safety and wellbeing of the residents of addiction recovery houses.”

Bourgeois’s letter calls for criminal background checks on everyone associated with The Lighthouse as operator and town notification within 48 hours in the event of a death, overdose or suicide attempt, physical or sexual assault, serious crime or outbreak of contagious disease.

The Lighthouse in its proposed agreement agrees to “create and maintain reports of (a) serious injuries to residents or staff, (b) criminal activity on the Lighthouse property, (c) arrests of residents or staff, and (d) property damage that would make the house uninhabitable.”

In other areas, the proposed agreement and suggestions from Bourgeois appear more uniformly in line. For example, he calls for The Lighthouse only to accept residents who have had “appropriate assessment and placement into treatment to address their substance use issues.” The Lighthouse proposes that “only residents who have completed a licensed drug or alcohol treatment program” will be accepted.

Separately from the ZBA appeal, a neighbor filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court seeking a temporary injunction to halt operation of The Lighthouse. A judge last month dismissed a motion to quash the legal action. Last week, the defendants in the suit—the owner of 909 West Road and The Lighthouse’s operators—filed motions seeking more time to respond to the plaintiff’s complaint. Originally they were to have answered the suit March 30, and they’re asking to have until May 1.

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