County holding second public hearing on Oxford House group home

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The current New Hanover County Commissioners. File photo.
The current New Hanover County Commissioners. File photo.

The New Hanover County Commissioners will once again hold a public hearing Monday on a group recovery home operating in a residential neighborhood. Commissioners initially voted to allow the home, but immediately reconsidered the issue and tabled it at their August 17 meeting in order to consult with the city of Wilmington regarding their laws on group homes.

Representatives of the non-profit organization Oxford House, which runs self-supported homes for recovering addicts and alcoholics, have requested an amendment to the county’s zoning laws that would allow for their house at 110 Landsdowne Road, home to eight residents, to remain there. Existing county regulations state that no more than three unrelated people can live together in a single-family home, but there are provisions for “residential care facilities,” which allow for up to six unrelated persons to live in one home with in-home supervision and care. Oxford Homes, however, are run without on-site support or structured rehabilitation programs. The petitioners requested that a new category for group homes be created, defined and allowed in residential districts.

Though the Landsdowne address is the only Oxford House location within the county’s jurisdiction, there are three located within the city of Wilmington. City laws allow for different sizes of supportive group homes, which are dwelling units for “special needs persons” (the definition of which includes individuals recovering from drug or alcohol abuse) in some residential zones. Small (defined as three people or fewer) and medium (eight or fewer people) are permitted in almost all residential zones, while large (12 people or fewer) require special use permits. The Oxford Homes within city limits house six, seven and eight residents.

City staff indicated to county staff that their definitions were overlapping and confusing and therefore difficult to enforce. Based on discussions with the city and a re-examination of the issue, county staff is advising the board of commissioners to adopt a zoning text amendment creating a new use for “group homes” that will be similar to residential care facilities, with the maximum number of residents capped at six unrelated persons. They also recommend that operators like Oxford House be allowed to file for special permits and exceptions, such as for additional residents. Those cases would be reviewed individually by the county’s Zoning Board of Adjustment.

The issue of non-compliance was brought to the county after a resident filed a complaint in December of last year. Oxford House was given three options: Vacate the residence, bring the home into compliance, or file a petition for an amendment to the zoning law. They opted for the latter, and presented a proposal to the county’s planning board in April, which was followed by a public hearing before the board of commissioners in August.

While the home is not currently compliant with county law, it is protected under the Federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it unlawful to deny equal opportunity to reasonable accommodations to any persons with disabilities.

County commissioners will meet at 4 p.m. Monday, December 14 in the New Hanover County Historic Courthouse on 3rd Street in downtown Wilmington. It is their last meeting of the year. For a full agenda, click here.