County Commissioners will hold a public hearing Monday on a request to change current zoning laws that would enable Oxford House recovery homes to be located in family residential districts of New Hanover County.
After a citizen complaint in December 2014 county zoning staff was made aware of a nonconforming situation of eight unrelated disabled persons living together in a single family residence at 110 Landsdowne Road. County law says having more than three unrelated persons living together in a single family home is illegal so the residence, which is sponsored by the non-profit organization the Oxford House, was given three options by the zoning board. The occupants could either vacate the residence, bring the home into compliance, or petition for an amendment to the zoning ordinance to permit the use.
Representatives of Oxford House decided to petition for an amendment, with Monday’s hearing an opportunity for public input.
Oxford House is a self-run, self-supported recovery home concept that serves as the model for residents to receive support in their recovery from alcoholism while maintaining an independent life. All decisions relating to house operations are made democratically, including managing the house’s financing. If a resident relapses they are forced out of the house, however there is no random testing for alcohol or any rules relating to curfews.
Oxford House residents live at the house by choice, with an average stay of about 13 months. There is no staff living in the house or overseeing the house and no treatment or professional services are provided on the premises.
Due to these Oxford House standards, the residence in New Hanover County is currently in limbo with county law. Under the current zoning restrictions the Oxford House cannot be considered a “family home” since there are more than three unrelated persons living there. It also cannot be defined as a residential care facility because it does not meet the county criteria of “a home that provides support or supervisory personnel, room and and board, personal care or rehabilitation services in a family environment to no more than six resident handicapped persons.”
However, while the recovery facility is not in accordance with county law, the Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA) protects the the house’s right to exist because it includes a provision where housing authorities — on any level of government — cannot discriminate against those who are handicapped. According to the FFHA, handicapped individuals include recovering drug addicts and alcoholics who are not currently using illegal drugs.
While this is the only Oxford House facility in New Hanover County, County Commissioners will have to discuss the options or amending zoning code which, according to Commissioner Rob Zapple will become “a major issue for New Hanover County that could be controversial with unintended consequences” as the amended law would ultimately allow for more of the recovery houses to be located throughout residential neighborhoods as long as they are a half mile apart.
County Commissioners will meet at 4 p.m. on Monday afternoon at the Andre Mallette Training Center at the County Government Center, located at 230 Government Center Drive.
James Mieczkowski is a news reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @mieczkowskiPCD