Federal law may trump local zoning
CARBONDALE – It appears neither the town nor neighbors of a planned home for recovering alcoholics in a Carbondale residential neighborhood have much of a legal leg to stand on in the dispute, according to case law being compiled by the town.”Alcoholism is considered a disability by federal law, and fair housing laws also apply,” Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig said Wednesday. “The law says you have to make reasonable accommodations for these people to live in residential neighborhoods, regardless of covenants or zoning.”The town could request a public hearing if it’s determined a group recovery home planned for a Crystal Village neighborhood is in violation of zoning laws, Hassig said, but it could not go to the extent of shutting the operation down altogether.”We can request that they address such things as the number of people, parking and other life-safety issues,” he said. “But by federal law, we are required to reach a consensus with them.”The town’s Board of Trustees has scheduled a special meeting tonight at 7 at Town Hall to update neighbors on information compiled by town attorney Mark Hamilton over the last week since the issue first surfaced.”Rather than having this drag out, we have decided to be as open and transparent as possible about this,” Hassig said. “The reality is, we don’t have much leverage.”About 20 residents of Catherine Court and the surrounding Crystal Village area attended Tuesday night’s regular town council meeting to express their concerns about the residence at 1204 Catherine Court, which sold in late July.According to representations made to Hamilton by the new home owner, Chris Edrington, and his attorney, they intend to house up to nine male clients who are in the later stages of recovering from alcohol addiction.Residents can live there for up to six months, and must attend regular Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and remain sober, Hamilton said at Tuesday’s meeting. A supervisor will live nearby, but not directly in the home, he said.However, residents of the neighborhood claim the use violates zoning laws, as well as the Crystal Village homeowners covenants prohibiting commercial ventures in what is clearly defined as a single-family neighborhood.”Any account from these people about what they’re doing has been less than forthcoming,” said Judy Fanti, whose husband, Dewey, was the first to learn the intent for the home and rallied other neighbors to speak out against it.”What is clear is that they are profiting from their program, which makes it a commercial operation,” she said.Some residents are concerned that the home is a commercial operation in a residential neighborhood.If the home’s owners follow through with their intent, it would be a violation of town zoning codes, Hamilton said.”But zoning laws don’t trump federal law,” he said. “The law says you have to make reasonable accommodations for these types of homes somewhere in town.”We are unhappy that they did this under the cover of darkness,” Hamilton added. “And it is possible that we could have a land-use hearing over these issues.”Dewey Fanti said the neighbors haven’t decided if they’ll take civil action against the new property owner for violation of covenants.Hamilton said some of the residents who have already moved in were referred from the Jaywalker Lodge in Carbondale.Jaywalker opened in the former Paper Chase Building on Main Street earlier this year as an intensive residential alcohol rehabilitation program for men. However, executive director Bob Ferguson said Jaywalker is not directly affiliated with the new group home.
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