Orange Street sober house

Manchester city officials began fining Into Action Sober Living for a controversial sober-living home it operates on Orange Street on the grounds that the women-only home violates the city’s zoning ordinance. In an April 23 letter, the city rejected a request to treat residents as a family for zoning purposes.

A sober-living home on Dubuque Street in Manchester is permitted to operate legally after a decision by the planning board last week.

The board voted 7-1 to change the use of a triple decker at 273 Dubuque St. to a congregate housing facility.

Into Action Sober Living operates a men-only program for 15 residents and three unpaid house managers in the home.

In the past, Into Action has maintained that its sober living homes fall within the city definition of a family and require no more permits or regulatory action than that of a family dwelling. The city’s codes define a family as “a group of individuals, whether or not related, living together in a dwelling unit in a structured relationship constituting an organized housekeeping unit.”

The business received a notice of violation on Jan. 28 and Feb. 13, according to materials provided to the board.

Jonathan Gerson, co-owner of Into Action, said Tuesday morning that he still believes the business should have been allowed to operate as a family.

“They live as an unrelated family, that is our position,” he said. “On Dubuque Street that position didn’t really matter because congregant housing is allowed in that district.”

The business also operates a home for 11 recovering women at 296 Orange St., which is in a more restrictive R-2 zone. The city has issued two citations against Into Action over the Orange Street property, claiming it is in ongoing violation of the city’s zoning code.

A hearing for a variance before the zoning board of adjustment is set for June 24.

“(The women) living in recovery and doing very, very well and they deserve to be there,” Gerson said. “They’re in a safe neighborhood.”

During a public hearing last month, Leon LaFreniere, director of Planning and Community Development, said “the determination has been that this use does not meet the definition of family.”

The determination was made based on current interpretation of the code and the way the ordinance has been historically applied in the city.

He said Gerson has the right to file an administrative appeal with the zoning board.

Gerson said there are some outspoken opponents to the home on Orange Street, but he doesn’t believe such homes should be relegated to only tough neighborhoods.

“Ultimately, what needs to be done is the perception needs to change,” he said.

He said active addiction is present in every neighborhood of the city.

“I can tell you that in that house on Orange Street addiction is (in) remission,” Gerson said. “That home is safe.”