Garfield County denies sober house in Spring Valley
Garfield County commissioners on Monday denied a zoning amendment in the Elk Springs subdivision south of Glenwood Springs that would allow a “sober house” for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts to continue to exist.
But it’s an issue that ultimately could be decided in federal court, where proponents are prepared to proceed with a lawsuit claiming their rights under the federal Fair Housing Act are being denied.
Commissioners upheld a unanimous recommendation from the county planning commission to deny the text amendment to the Elk Springs planned unit development (PUD) establishing a sober house as a conditional use for a single family dwelling.
The county board also denied a request that the sober house be given a requested “reasonable accommodation,” as defined under federal law, and be considered a single-family use.
Residents of Elk Springs have been opposed to the sober house, saying it constitutes a commercial business, which is not allowed by the original subdivision zoning rules.
The sober house has been in operation since 2007 when Chris Edrington of St. Paul Sober Living, based in St. Paul, Minn., bought the five-bedroom house and began taking in recovering addicts as clients. The house can accommodate up to 10 residents at a time.
Residents of sober houses live in a group setting, offering support for each other and participating in organized therapy sessions while they try to get their lives back on track.
St. Paul Sober Living operates a similar facility in Carbondale, which was also the subject of neighborhood concerns in 2005. The town eventually allowed the sober house under a special use permit for a group home.
Edrington said he knew going in that he was likely to run into similar opposition at Elk Springs. But his attorney, Steven Polin, said the sober house has a right to exist under federal law.
“What you have happening here is not atypical of any situation where a housing provider wants to provide a place, in this case recovering drug addicts and alcoholics, a place to live,” Polin told the county commissioners.
“The question here is, does the criteria being applied have a discriminatory effect on this particular group of people?” he said. “I’m going to say it does.
“Somehow or another, the Fair Housing Act has to be complied with in this case,” Polin said.
But, in denying the request, the county said there are ample opportunities for group homes to exist elsewhere in the county where they are not in violation of PUD zoning and homeowners covenants.
The fact that the sober house moved in without getting proper approvals first was also cited by the commissioners, who voted 3-0 to deny the request.
“One of the most difficult things we have to deal with is when these things are established, and then people come in after the fact and try to rectify things,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said. “This applicant came in and started operating without going through the proper procedures.”
Commissioner Mike Samson said he certainly sees a need for the type of service being offered at the sober house. The problem is that it’s a for-profit business in a location where such activity is not allowed, he said.
“Group homes are always a challenge, and we need to have some sort of review process,” Commission Chairman John Martin said. “If this were supported by the homeowners’ association, I could support it as well.”
Edrington said the county’s decision will not prevent him from continuing to operate the sober house, and he will await the court’s decision on the fair housing act claim.
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