Waterford Zoning Board of Appeals grapples with variance for proposed sober living facility

Waterford - Before it can make a decision on whether to grant a variance needed to turn a vacant Rope Ferry Road nursing home into a sober living facility, the Zoning Board of Appeals will meet with another lawyer to gain an understanding of the complicated federal laws involved.

Board members were expected to make a decision on the Stonington Institute's proposed facility for 144 men at their meeting last Thursday but instead were granted an additional 45 days to do so by Thomas Londregan, the attorney for Stonington Behavioral Health Inc.

Town attorney Robert Avena said Monday that the ZBA is expected to meet in executive session on April 25 with a Hartford lawyer to discuss a prior briefing he gave members about the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act - the two federal laws that will affect the board's decision.

"I'm getting more up to date on the idea that this is ... a really a unique case," Avena said on Monday. "As the applicant himself said, he doesn't know of any sober house that would be of this size, and that is interesting in itself."

He said the board will be in a "better position to further contemplate and deliberate" on the requested variance change at its May 2 meeting.

Attorney Londregan has said that by denying the application, the board would be discriminating against a population of people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act and Fair Housing Act allow individuals access to fair opportunities to live in supported housing environments in residential zones.

"This is not a detox unit. This is a sober house. ... We're proposing a supportive living environment for people living with an addiction," Londregan said at the last public hearing in February. "What was there was a supportive living environment for people with medical needs."

Two detailed briefs defending the board's decision - one stating the reasons for the board's approval and the other for the board's rejection - of the requested change, were supposed to have been ready for its meeting last Thursday, but Avena said members were still working on them.

Zoning members first heard the public's opposition to the proposed sober living facility in January, when public hearings on the variance change began. Few members of the public have supported the request, but those who have said that while they understand the need for the facility, they don't want it in their neighborhood.

Many have asked for alternative locations.

"We really have to put our thinking hats on. This isn't a run-of-the-mill application. It's not as big as Millstone, but it's different," Avena said. "This is a really important issue, and I'm learning myself, and I want them to be informed."


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