Darien man opens ‘sober living’ facility in New Canaan to neighbors’ dismay
NEW CANAAN — Frank Stern never communicated much with his neighbors, the residents of West Road keeping to themselves.
That all changed in the past two weeks with the discovery, made by a neighbor of Stern’s in the real estate business, that The Lighthouse, a for-profit sober living home, had recently signed a lease for 909 West Road.
“I’m concerned about it because it’s a commercial operation in a residential area,” Stern said. “There are a lot of houses for sale in town. I’m concerned if we allow one of these homes it will set a precedent.”
According to its site, a Lighthouse home “is a premier residential facility for male executives and professionals who are transitioning from addiction treatment into a life of sober living.” A request for comment was not returned by Trey Laird, who co-founded Lighthouse with former New Canaan resident Tony Kiniry.
Laird, a Darien resident since 2002, did, however, speak at the Darien Library Jan. 26 as part of “Chronic disease and stress in Darien,” the last in a series on the state of the town’s health.
“I argue this could be the Silicon Valley of recovery. There is a real opportunity here for a model of what can happen nationally,” said Laird, who is himself a recovering addict, at the event.
A Darien location of The Lighthouse was opened in 2016 at 246 Mansfield Ave. According to Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, she heard after the fact about the sober living facility, but has not received any complaints from neighbors or residents about its activities.
The lease for New Canaan’s Lighthouse was signed Jan. 1, according to New Canaan Town Planner Steve Palmer, and is home to one man in recovery.
After the town was made aware of the home by neighbors like Stern, who filed an official letter detailing their complaints, New Canaan Town Attorney Ira Bloom released a memo Jan. 13 weighing in on the legality of the home. Bloom cited two federal laws — the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act — and a state general statute protecting group homes of six people or less “receiving mental health or addiction services.”
According to Bloom, New Canaan zoning regulations precluding a commercial entity in a residential neighborhood are not applicable because of the type of service provided by The Lighthouse.
“In plain language terms, local zoning regulations which impose restrictive terms on ‘group homes’ may not apply in a particular situation, since they are superseded by these other laws,” Bloom wrote. “Municipalities are required to make ‘reasonable accommodations’ in their various regulations and rules to provide qualified disabled individuals with equal housing opportunities.”
Based on the town attorney’s memo, Palmer ruled the home was operating legally.
“Alcoholism is treated as a disability according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and those afflicted with it cannot be discriminated against,” the New Canaan town planner said. Furthermore, the state general statute “states that no zoning regulation may treat a community residence that houses six or fewer people receiving addiction services differently from a single-family residence.”
As for Stern, the New Canaan man said his principle concern has to do with the impact a commercial entity would have on the neighborhood in terms of real estate value and the precedent it would set rather than the service provided at the home. He said the neighbors plan to appeal the town’s decision.
“I’m concerned about a commercial operation three doors down from me,” the West Road resident said.
Erin Kayata contributed to this report.