The town’s attempts to investigate the legality of the Nexus Sober House at 55 Silver Hill Road have hit an unexpected bump in the road.
It is no longer as simple as sending the zoning enforcement officer to see if the house complies with local zoning codes. Now the legal question is whether the men who live there as they recover from drug and alcohol addiction are protected by federal and state laws that trump local zoning rules, according to Robert Maquat, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Mr. Maquat spoke on the issue Monday evening during a Planning and Zoning Commission at Town Hall at which Zoning Enforcement Officer Philip Doremus reported the results of his investigation into what exactly was going on at 55 Silver Hill Road and who was living there. The meeting room was packed, with at least 20 residents passionate about the issue. Some had to stand in the hall because all the seats were taken.
Mr. Doremus reported he found six adult men are living in the recovery house. He had already determined the Nexus House is not required to be licensed by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services because it is a residence center, not a treatment facility.
The number of men living in the modified Cape Code-style home would appear to conflict with the town’s zoning requirements, that a single-family home be occupied by no more than four adults who are not related. However, it is not that simple an investigation.
“We have to see if it’s covered by federal and state regulations, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act,” Mr. Maquat told the crowd, one member of whom, Bert Webbe, asked that meetings on the Nexus be held in a larger venue because of the number of people interested in the issue.
Members of the crowd asked Mr. Maquat his opinion on the Nexus House, and demanded that enforcement action be taken. Some said they see enforcement action quickly for seemingly trivial matters, and now that something eventful is happening the commission seems to be taking its time.
“We have no opinion yet,” Mr. Maquat said.
Most of the residents who spoke expressed anger that a commercial enterprise is operating in a residential zone, but one member of the audience who spoke was in favor of the Nexus House.
Adele O’Kane, the neighboring resident in favor, said it is her belief the recovering addicts are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.
She supports their efforts to quit alcohol and drugs.
“They are there to improve their lives,” Ms. O’Kane said.
Other neighbors want the place shut down.
“It’s a business,” said neighbor Debbie Klein, who said she believes the Nexus House is a chain of homes across the country.
Whether that is true was not answered in the zoning enforcement officer’s investigation. Mr. Doremus said he determined that the house is leased by one Sal DiNardo, a real estate investor, but was not certain if it is the same Sal DiNardo who resides in town.
The field card lists Jo-Ann Bachleda, of Rimmon Hill Road in Beacon Falls, as executrix for life use of the house by Joseph and Jan Cioppa.
The man who manages the Nexus house identified himself to Mr. Doremus as “Rob,” but Ms. O’Kane said he did not want to attend the meeting and speak, to face the crowd of people opposed to the operation.
Neighbor Paul Altieri said he understands that federal and state laws trump local zoning violations, but he believes there are mold issues in the house that make it unsafe from a health standpoint. “I will assume it has to be an edifice that is safe and passes inspections,” Mr. Altieri said.
Neighbor Howard Klein expressed anger that it was not even the owner of the property who was conducting the operation there.
“Do we allow tenants to open a business in this town? Oh, we’re getting there,” Mr. Klein said. “It will open the doors to businesses operated by tenants.”
One neighbor expressed fears for safety. Neighbors pointed to a news article printed off the Greenwich Patch website that showed a resident of the Nexus House was recently arrested for shoplifting at a CVS in that town. He was also found to be in possession of heroin and syringes.
Mr. Doremus said that in his investigation he found that the individual who was arrested was asked to leave the Nexus House for breaking the rules and no longer lives there.
The investigation will continue and now takes on legal dimensions. Steve Carlson, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, asked the residents to speak up to help the commission get an attorney to refer to in these issues.
The commission must refer legal questions through other boards to the town counsel because it has no regular counsel of its own.