Sober Living

Sean Nicholson gives a tour of one of the bedrooms in a Frederick home used as a sober living house as part of the group Solid Ground Recovery.

A sober living house at 439 Delaware Road in the River Crest neighborhood in Frederick sparked controversy the moment it opened its doors in late April.

While some nearby residents still object to the house being there and a ruling from the city that allowed it, city officials largely supported a June 5 memo from the city advising against pursuing zoning enforcement against the property.

Neighbors and the River Crest homeowners association’s board of directors argue that the home violates the exclusively residential zoning of the neighborhood. But Bradley Meadors and Sean Nicholson, co-founders of the addiction recovery service provider that runs the house, say the men who live in the home operate as a family unit and are protected under the federal Fair Housing Act as individuals recovering from substance abuse.

The June 5 memo seems to echo that argument, saying family is defined as “two or more individuals living together as a single house-keeping unit,” according to city code.

That definition drew the ire of neighbors, who argued that it is far too broad.

“According to you, the Hampton Inn could be a family,” said one man who refused to provide his name when approached by a reporter.

Many residents were already upset with what they saw as a lack of transparency with the opening of the home before a May meeting of Neighborhood Advisory Council 7, the city-organized group that addresses crime and other problems in the neighborhood. Tensions only increased when the meeting was rescheduled and neither Meadors nor Nicholson attended.

On Tuesday, more than two months after the last NAC meeting, Meadors and Nicholson addressed the NAC for the first time, saying they want to be as forthcoming as possible with neighbors.

“Open and transparent is not moving into a neighborhood, listing it as their primary dwelling ... and immediately converting it into something else, whether you want to call it a rooming house [or what],” said Joseph Spelman, a member of the River Crest HOA’s board.

Spelman and others also took exception to the city’s memo, which was circulated and endorsed previously by Mayor Michael O’Connor. Spelman called the city’s ruling “an absolute disgrace,” and accused city officials of turning their backs on the neighbors upset by what they saw as a cut-and-dried zoning violation.

“Reasonable accommodation [for people recovering from substance abuse] is not necessarily unlimited,” Spelman said. “How about some reasonable accommodation for the homeowners? Maybe [Nicholson is] doing good work, but don’t we count, too?”

The mayor, who was present at the meeting along with four of the five members of the city’s Board of Aldermen, said the city’s memo was based on extensive analysis that was conducted in direct response to the concerns of residents and to Spelman’s complaints, specifically.

“We have looked at a situation and we have come to a conclusion, and the conclusion that we have come to is based on our zoning code, the expertise of our zoning and our planning folks, our lawyers. ... It just doesn’t match your expectations, and for that I apologize,” O’Connor said.

The aldermen largely agreed.

Rather than holding out for city action, they encouraged residents to rely on the homeowners association, which has also filed several complaints against the property for its alleged violations of the contract signed and agreed to by all residents in the community.

Alderwomen Donna Kuzemchak and Kelly Russell voiced strong opinions in the case. While Kuzemchak refused to endorse a more restrictive definition for a family unit in the city’s code, Russell praised the service that Nicholson and Meadors provided to the community, saying she would welcome neighbors like the young men living at 439 Delaware as neighbors in her own community.

Alderman Derek Shackelford reiterated the suggestion that residents pursue further action through the HOA, saying he respects the expertise of legal and planning staff, especially when it comes to a potential violation of federal fair housing law.

“If we violate that law and we get sued, it’s going to cost taxpayers,” Shackelford said. “As an elected city official? I’m not a lawyer. That’s why [City Attorney Saundra Nickols] was hired … I can’t in good conscience go against that [advice].”

Meanwhile, Alderman Roger Wilson said he was open to the idea of addressing residents’ concerns through legislation. Wilson said he supports what Nicholson and Meadors were trying to accomplish, but he was also concerned about how little the residents knew about the home and its intended use before it opened.

While many residents opposed the sober living home, not all of them did.

Missy Connor, one of NAC group’s coordinators, supports the sober living home and wants to bridge the gap between them and her fellow neighbors.

“You can be right or you can be effective. ... So maybe we need to be thinking a little bit more about the end result and what is effective,” Connor said. “These people are an opportunity for us to give back to the community.”

Nicholson said he was encouraged by the opportunity to meet with the interested parties, state his case and hear their concerns and feedback.

“Moving forward, I’m really solutions-focused. I want there to be a cordial solution to all this so that I can, in any way, shape or form, meet the needs of the community without hindering the overall goal of helping the young men in that house,” Nicholson said.

Follow Jeremy Arias on Twitter: @Jarias_Prime.

Jeremy Arias is the Frederick city and government reporter for The Frederick News-Post.

(29) comments

riccicc

This is what you get when you vote in a liberal socialist mayor that supports the memo, that was approved by the council, etc., etc., etc. You got what you deserve.

Dubbie0329

HOA bylaws were completely ignored when they bought this property with the intention of turning it into a FOR PROFIT safehouse. Meanwhile I can’t even have a fence over 4 ft. Funny how some things are enforced while others are overlooked

DickD

HOA cannot enforce zoning, that's up to the City.

Dubbie0329

All HOA bylaws had to be read, signed, and agreed to prior to purchasing the property, just like everyone else in the neighborhood. I am talking about more things than just zoning that they are blatantly disobeying.

nbouqu1

The NIMBY is strong here

robide

"The NIMBY is strong here"...... said the person from another neighborhood.

jschmersahl

There are provisons in state law that say a small group home is deemed conclusively to be a single family residence . A jurisdiction has to treat them as such under zoning and can't require special exceptions etc. I do not know if this particular home meets the defination and criteria under this state law but if it does this whole discussion is moot . HEALTH - GENERAL > TITLE 10. MENTAL HEALTH LAW. > SUBTITLE 5. PRIVATE FACILITIES > PART II. SPECIAL PROVISIONS FOR PRIVATE GROUP HOMES > PART II. § 10-518. Qualifications of applicants (a) Small private group homes. -- A small private group home: (1) Is deemed conclusively a single-family dwelling; and (2) Is permitted to locate in all residential zones. (b) Large private group homes. -- A large private group home is deemed conclusively a multi-family dwelling and is permitted to locate in zones of similar density. (c) Private group home not subject to different special exception, conditional use permit, or procedure. -- A private group home is not subject to any special exception, conditional use permit, or procedure that differs from that required for a single-family ... .

DickD

If you look at those rules close, you will notice small is defined as 6 or fewer people. And there's stipulations of one person per room.

Dubbie0329

Is literally rooms with bunk beds- this is a hostel

joelp77440

It's hard to believe that 20+ years later, after all the neighborhood struggles Way Station Inc. and Community Living Inc. had to go through to put in residential units, the city residents are still resisting. Farmbrook, Spring Ridge, and a dozen other HOAs have fought the same fight against community based/residential housing and lost every single time. Why continue, both federal law and state law are clear on this matter. Yet you River Crest HOA people thing you will be different. Lame.

robide

Actually, the word is spelled "think" not thing. And yes, we do believe that.

gabrielshorn2013

Neighbors before:

"These poor people. They need help, and we should do anything we possibly can to help them to recover and get them on the right path!!!"

Neighbors after:

"You mean my neighborhood??? I thought it was going to be in someone else's neighborhood! We can't have this! What can we come up with to stop it! We must do anything possible to get these people on the path OUT of our neighborhood. We don't want you here!!!"

FCPS-Principal

Bingo!

DickD

People buy homes based on zoning, as a major issue. If the City allows one violation, what happens with the next violation. You cannot selectively enforce. If you do youwill be sued by the next one that you try to enforce zoning on You either have zoning or you do not.

User1

And isn’t it funny how the FNP dredges up old stories just to cause friction. Way to go! How many times do you beat a dead horse?

DickD

As many times as it is resurrected.

joelp77440

It's not a violation. The law is clear, the city also agreed that it was within zoning requirements and the law. Just because the HOA thinks it is a violation, does not make it so.

CapitanoZanetti

FREDERICK, Md. — Police said a Middletown, Md. man who was arrested in Frederick on an arrest warrant in Washington County this week has also been charged with theft. Sean Gregory Nicholson, 32, has been charged with committing three different thefts, stealing merchandise with a total value of more than $3,000, according to a news release from the Frederick Police Department. A few years ago he was stealing now he's making the Frederick Mayor and Aldermen cower in fear. Lol what a joke. I guess the residents are wrong, too bad they are the voters. These clown have to go.

KR999

Wow, I looked him up on MJCS (even without a middle name and/or birth date it's easy enough to tell which Sean Nicholson he is,) and he's had a lot more than theft charges over the years. He alone would be why I'd be fighting this if it were my neighborhood.

DickD

If you are talking about Thomas. Who was arrested in Hagerstown, he lived in Farmbrook, not Middletown.

KR999

Might want to read CapitanoZanetti’s comment again Dick.

DickD

My bad.

MRS M

Thank you, Capitano, for be so kind as to provide the best evidence yet, of the extraordinary and never-ending public and private stigma attached to those who have struggled with addiction. A many-times insurmountable stigma, our culture's Scarlet Letter which costs lives every single day, in Frederick and beyond. To Mr. Nicholson, your courage and determination in fighting your private battle is to be admired, though I'm unsure if your approach in this neighborhood was the correct or honest one. Clearly this attempt to provide safe and secure sober housing to men in recovery, while respecting the interests and feeling of those homeowners in the neighborhood, requires the skills of King Solomon to solve.

CapitanoZanetti

What a bunch of useless public servants. I guess the City of Frederick Alderman and Mayor are more interested in Private Planes and Airports and the profit motives of so called non profit "leaders" instead of the interest est of the residents. Oh i forgot these group of public servants also like to party and drink and drive. Clean Slate, get all these do nothing say nothing users out. No wonder the city is a mess these are the leaders in charge.

duffy5x

Yes, how dare they try to help those in recover.y? What do you suggest? Let me guess, “It’s not problem.” Follow by, “I don’t want “these” people near me.” And that is EXACTLY why this problem persists and negatively impacts our entire society. Go ahead, pretend otherwise.

User1

So do you also stop in traffic and give to every panhandler standing in the median? Maybe there’s a house for sale in your neighborhood for this? Maybe a extra room in your house? Why can’t you people tell the difference between following the laws and changing the laws? They are there for a reason. Don’t like it then change it but don’t ignore it!

Dwasserba

Any house in any neighborhood is avail. They're protected by law. I have lived next door to a group home about 30 years. It's fine. Would you prefer current ongoing unsupervised addicts as neighbors? I would not, but they're out there.

gabrielshorn2013

Deb!!! [thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Dwasserba

Wow. Over the top.

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