‘We Will Come Together on Something’: Sober House Operators, Concerned Neighbor Near Agreement

The operators of the “sober house” on West Road and a next-door neighbor who has appealed the town’s finding that the business could run out of a residence there appear close to reaching mutually agreeable terms, according to correspondence on file at Planning & Zoning.

Though no formal agreement yet has been finalized, the parties held an “amicable” meeting and “it’s clear to each side that we will come together on something along the lines of” a proposal brought forward by next-door neighbor Thom Harrow, he said in an email last week to the town planner.

“The proposal we made incorporated the community contract you were working on with [The Lighthouse] co-founder Tony [Kiniry], plus material from the Pennsylvania statute,” Harrow said. He referred to recommendations that call criminal background checks 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.

Originally scheduled to come before the Zoning Board of Appeals on April 3 and put off to May 1, the second hearing on Harrow’s appeal—if it’s not withdrawn—now appears as if it could be delayed again. In his letter to Town Planner Steve Palmer, Harrow said attorneys for The Lighthouse are out of town until mid-May.

The ZBA already held one emotionally charged public hearing on an appeal brought by Harrow, 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.

After the first hearing, the ZBA decided to postpone its decision on the appeal until after getting advice 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.

While all that was happening, officials with The Lighthouse proposed a set of conditions regarding those who will staff and operate the facility, as well as those who will live there as clients.

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.

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. Under the proposed agreement, The Lighthouse would create and maintain incident reports tracking “serious injuries” to residents or staff, criminal activity on the property, arrests of anyone there and “property damage that would make the house uninhabitable.”

It also includes a proposed “Resident Agreement” that would require Lighthouse clients in the home to submit to random drug and alcohol tests (evicted for failing or threatening or committing violence), request 24 hours in advance permission to have a visitor and participate in “self-directed recovery program activities.”

Separately from the ZBA appeal, Harrow 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. Most recently, the two parties agreed that a hearing on the matter would be continued to May 16, court documents show.

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