New Hanover County Commissioners heard from the Planning Board and representatives of Oxford House in a hearing that lasted nearly two hours Monday to amend current zoning laws in order to allow an Oxford House recovery home to be located in family residential district.
Upon recommendation from the New Hanover County Planning Board, County Commissioners in a 3-2 vote amended language to the current zoning law allowing for up to six unrelated people to occupy a single family residence as part of a group home, compared to the previous three. Commission Chairman Jonathan Barfield Jr. and Commissioner Beth Dawson dissented.
However, the eight women currently living at 110 Landsdowne Road—the only Oxford House located in the county’s jurisdiction—are still occupying the single family home illegally. A complaint about the number of residents at the group home prompted the county’s look at the current law.
Greg Heafner presented on behalf of the Oxford House yesterday, and asked that County Commissioners amend language in current county zoning laws to include the residence on Landsdowne Road. “I’m here to ask you to adopt the amendment that Oxford House proposed and not the option staff has provided,” said Heafner.
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. The county gave the residents three options: 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, which was originally denied by the New Hanover County Planning Board in April.
While the recovery home was 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.
In June, the Planning Board in a 5 to 1 vote, recommended to County Commissioners the current amendment classifying a group home of up to six unrelated individuals. According to the Planning Board this new definition of a group home will allow for the same number of unrelated individuals in a single family household as a residential care home, therefore protecting themselves from the FFHA. According to Heafner, this still doesn’t address the problem.
“We’re not seeking a law to have all these people come in and do whatever they want. We’re seeking for this one house for this one group of people to stay where they already are,” said Heafner. “What do these eight women need? There’s no burden on the county to allow them stay there.”
The 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. Residents of an Oxford House live there 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.
While the amendment does not currently fit the needs of the Oxford House, County Commissioners did recommend that the amendment be heard by the Zoning Board of Adjustment. According to the Commissioners, language provided in the zoning amendment allows for an opportunity for a group home provider to seek special exceptions through a process heard by the Zoning Board of Adjustment by demonstrating that the special exception request is “reasonable and necessary.”
Heafner declined to comment on whether the Oxford House will make a case before the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
James Mieczkowski is a news reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com On Twitter: @mieczkowskiPCD