A sober living home wants another hearing to continue operating on Orange Street in Manchester after being denied a variance by the zoning board last month.
Into Action Sober Living filed a request for rehearing Wednesday claiming the unanimous vote violated the Fair Housing Act. The company has maintained that its sober-living homes fall within the city definition of a family and don’t require permits or regulatory action other than that of a family dwelling.
The appeal came after the board of mayor and aldermen weighed amending the zoning ordinance to provide further clarity to the definition of family on Tuesday afternoon.
Leon LaFreniere, director of Planning and Community Development, said the addition of new language will further clarify the definition. The proposed language was developed in collaboration with the city’s solicitor’s office.
“We’ve been applying the ordinance consistently with the changes before you this evening, however this language will make it easier for others to understand and hopefully make the ordinance more defensible in the process,” LaFreniere said.
The board is also being asked to amend the ordinance to reflect one parking spot is required per bedroom in congregate care facilities.
Into Action operates a home for 11 women in recovery at 296 Orange St., which is in a restrictive R-2 zone. The city has issued two citations over the Orange Street property, claiming it is in ongoing violation of the city’s zoning code.
Into Action claims the zoning board has violated the Fair Housing Act, based on the standing definition of family. 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 group cited a joint statement of the Department of House and Urban Development and the Department of Justice which states: “Local zoning and land use laws that treat groups of unrelated persons with disabilities less favorably than similar groups of unrelated without disabilities violate the Fair Housing Act.”
Into Action seeks reasonable accommodation.
“This interpretation of the law is exactly on-point with respect to the proposed use and occupancy of 296 Orange St.,” the group wrote. “Under the city’s definition of a family, it allows unrelated individuals in the same number at issue here (11 individuals) to occupy the property as a ‘family’ but denies such occupancy to these unrelated individuals.”
LaFreniere said the group rents the occupancy per person, per week, and provides supportive services. “That in our mind clearly is not a family or house keeping unit according to a reasonable read of the standard,” he said. “The challenge we’ve been faced with is that is not how others are reading it.”
Under the proposed change, the language includes those “who are related by blood, adoption, marriage, or other domestic relationship recognized by the State of New Hampshire.” The policy also addresses people not related and foster children.
Roomers, boarders and other transient guests would not be considered members of a family, according to the draft change.
Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart asked if the proposed change would help with illegal dorm rooms across that pop up in single-family homes.
“Absolutely, that is the type of situation this is intended to address as well as the congregate facilities,” LaFreniere said.
The board of mayor and aldermen will vote on the change at a later date.
Into Action Sober Living also operates a men-only sober-living home with 15 residents and three unpaid house managers on Dubuque Street.
The planning board voted earlier this month to change the designation of a triple-decker at 273 Dubuque St. to a congregate housing facility, allowing the program to operate legally.