A plan for a sober-living home just south of Logan High has elicited a range of comments, from parents who expressed fear for their children's safety to recovered addicts who spoke of a desperate need for temporary housing for people who want to change their lives.
At the heart of the debate is a request to exceed the number of occupants allowed at a duplex on 100 West. The Neighborhood Residential, NR-6, zone allows a maximum of three unrelated individuals per unit, but the sober-living home proponents asked the Logan Planning Commission on Thursday to allow six unrelated individuals in each unit in the duplex for a total of 12 occupants.
The Planning Commission unanimously approved the conditional use permit to allow the increased occupancy, but according to the Fair Housing Act, Logan didn’t really have a choice.
City Attorney Kymber Housley said the Fair Housing Act, a federal law enacted in 1968 as part of the Civil Rights Act, requires that cities make exceptions to local zoning standards for individuals with disabilities, a term that is broadly defined and includes drug addiction and alcoholism.
A joint statement from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Justice in November 2016 details a few issues that relate to this very subject. Persons with disabilities who want to live in a group home must be treated like a family, and thus local zoning laws cannot require an occupancy permit.
In addition, local governments cannot impose restrictions because of “alleged public safety concerns that are based on stereotypes,” like requiring additional security measures based on the belief that persons of a protected class are more likely to engage in criminal activity, according to the joint statement.
“As long as they meet building code, the Fair Housing Act is going to require that we approve it,” Housley said.
That aspect of federal law became apparent when Planning Commission Chairman Russ Price said commissioners might want to include a condition that the sober-living home requires a fence around the property. Community Development Director Mike DeSimone said the commission can’t do that, as the city can’t require fencing for a family. Housley said it’s taken out of the city’s hands.
“I would suggest, then, if we have these in the future that you not bring them here,” Price said. “If there’s no reason for us to look at it, don’t bring it.”
In a Friday interview, Housley said Logan was not required to bring the request for higher occupancy to the Planning Commission, but the city wanted to be transparent.
“They realize it’s kind of perfunctory, but we figure getting the information out there, at least letting the neighbors know, is better than not doing anything at all,” he said.
Despite the city’s metaphorical hands being tied, there was still plenty of discussion and public comment.
Residents on either side of the duplex spoke out against the sober-living home. Kathryn Bezzant said she would sell her home if 12 recovering addicts move in next door. Karinne Van Wagoner, who is pregnant, said she is “very, very concerned” about the safety of her three kids.
“They are my children and I’m a mama bear and I’m going to fight to protect them,” Van Wagoner said.
Other nearby residents expressed fears of relapsed addicts breaking into homes, committing robberies and domestic violence, of cigarette smoke drifting into the yards where their children play and potential substance abuse. Several residents said they think a sober-living home is needed in Logan, just not in this location.
In advance of Thursday’s meeting, Logan resident LaDonna Connors wrote a letter to the editor published in The Herald Journal, with concerns of the number of children who walk by the home every day on their way to school.
“There must be a less risky place to put a high-density sober living house,” Connors wrote.
One of the men behind the planned sober-living house saw that letter.
Mike O’Reilly cofounded Clear Recovery of Cache Valley, an outpatient treatment facility in Providence, after his own 15-year battle with drug addiction. He said he is a product of a sober-living facility.
“It’s the reason I’m here today, it’s the reason I do what I do today,” O’Reilly said, starting to choke up as he stood at the podium in the council chambers. “Excuse me, it’s kind of an emotional thing for me … and I see the complaints that were written in the newspaper.”
The plan to turn a duplex into a sober living home came about when two local businessmen, Landon Bartholomew and Kevin Brown, formed Bristlecone Enterprise LLC and were in search of an investment property. Bartholomew said his sister works at Clear Recovery and told him about the need for a sober-living home. He said he wanted to help the community.
O’Reilly said Clear Recovery serves between 80 and 90 clients. Currently, he said, the majority of his clients travel back and forth to Ogden for housing while they undergo treatment in Providence.
“We have clients living on couches, borrowing money for a hotel room,” O’Reilly said.
O'Reilly explained that the 12 residents would attend therapy and treatment sessions daily at Clear Recovery. The home would have a curfew of 9 p.m. and an on-site supervisor would stay at the home every night.
Logan resident Melissa Lindsay, who has been sober since June 2006, spoke in support of the sober-living facility.
“My last housing before then was the Utah State Penitentiary,” Linsdsay said. “Today I get to be a productive member of society.”
She said she grew with a drug-addicted father and “saw a lot of things” as a kid. She said she became a product of her environment, but she eventually was able to learn a new way to live. She broke the cycle in her family and now has a 23-year-old son who is in the U.S. Army and shipping off to Kuwait in October. Her son has three children of his own, she said.
Lydia Alley, a Logan resident with 25 years of experience working in corrections, spoke in favor of the facility. She said the courts work closely with sober-living facilities and are in constant contact. She said the future residents won't be sex offenders and they’re not going to “grab little kids and take them off into the trees.” She said they are just people trying to get sober.
“You have no idea what’s in your community,” Alley said. “At least these people you know what’s going on.”
Commissioner Tony Nielson said he’s not sure if he would want a sober-living house in his neighborhood, but if he had someone in his family who was hurting he would be glad to see it.
Nielson said he thought of a case earlier this month when local law enforcement served a search warrant at a residence on 200 North in Logan after a newborn tested positive for drugs. Police said detectives found evidence of meth production and cultivation of marijuana.
“I think there’s a lot of places that could have a lot worse neighbors than this,” Nielson said.