Horizon House Sober Living is making plans to open another house for men transitioning from substance abuse treatment to independent living in Superior.
Owner Joe Brennan, who operates two sober living houses in Duluth, said the mission of Horizon House is to provide a safe, secure, sober living environment that is structured and requires residents to follow strict guidelines with a manager on-site. Guidelines include requiring residents to work, volunteer or be in school a minimum of 32 hours a week; cleaning tasks; attending weekly house and Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings; and submit to random drug tests.
"We only consider applicants who are serious about their sobriety and have a minimum of 60 days clean,” Brennan said. “We are currently only accepting one out of every three applicants. The interview process helps us make a distinction from those that just want a place to live and those that are truly committed to changing their life.”
Neighbors and residents of the Duluth houses wrote letters in support of the Ogden Avenue house, as did Amber Jochem, community outreach manager for Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge.
“The resources are limited with long waiting lists,” Jochem wrote. “My hope is that as a community we can come together and help lead the way for those with barriers to successfully integrate back home.”
However, neighbors of the house at 2626 Ogden Ave. cited numerous concerns about the impact it could have on their neighborhood, prompting the Plan Commission to take the unusual step to issue the special use permit necessary for Horizon House to operate for only one year.
“I have nothing against transitional houses, but it doesn’t belong in a family-oriented neighborhood,” said Lynn Nelson, who lives ON the 2600 block of Ogden Avenue.
“I am definitely not in favor of this,” her neighbor, Marty Goldberg, said. “I think it's going to decrease our property values, and I worry about the kids in the neighborhood.”
Councilor Warren Bender, who represents the district, submitted a petition signed by neighbors seeking a denial of the permit.
“I have grandkids,” Bender said. “My grandkids visit quite often, and I don't want them to be exposed to this. Dexter Nelson, who lives across the alley, has kids and grandkids and doesn't want them to be exposed.”
David Kallberg, of John Avenue, said no one was objecting to the permit based on the sober living house offering a negative program, but he questioned the potential criminal pasts of people who might be living there.
“We have these families with small children,” Kallberg said. “We have a family two doors down with two small children. We have these unattached men … people who have shown disregard for laws in the past.”
After hearing from the neighbors, Commissioner Dennis Dalbec made a motion to deny the permit.
"I just feel that the program is good; I just think it's the wrong location,” Dalbec said. “I agree with Mr. Bender and his constituents that it is not the right place to be."
The motion failed to get a second.
Commissioner Brian Finstad questioned whether people in recovery are considered a protected class under fair housing rules, because he read online that they are.
"Municipalities get sued for zoning issues related to this population," Finstad said.
Mayor Jim Paine proposed issuing the permit for one year because it’s easier to deny a permit than to pull one once it is granted.
"I have generally not seen reason to deny a permit … the evidence that it's dangerous to the neighborhood is merely speculative," Paine said.
The commission split 4-3 Wednesday, April 21, to put the one-year limit on the permit, with Commissioners Brent Fennessey, Ann Porter and Dave Strom opposing the restriction.
"I think if this passes, it's going to give a false sense of hope to the neighbors that they have a year to rally the troops again," Fennessey said.
The council considers the commission’s recommendation to issue the permit for one year at its May 4 meeting. If approved by the council, Paine said the Plan Commission who have to approve the permit again next year.