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Residents of Warren’s 3rd Ward near Foster Drive N.E. feel like their neighborhood is being destroyed by a house owned by state Rep. Tom Letson and said during a zoning appeals hearing on Thursday that they feel they are being lied to.
Approximately 60 people attended the meeting.
Letson, D-Warren, leased a home to two individuals, who then turned it into what Letson calls a “sober house” for recovering substance abusers. There are as many as eight people living in the four-bedroom home.
“Please do not destroy my family, my neighborhood, my home,” one resident said at the hearing.
Warren Law Director Greg Hicks said any non-owner occupied home in the city is considered a rental and has to be registered with the city health department so it can be inspected for safety compliance. The area is zoned Residential A, so a halfway house would not be allowed there. He said he plans to issue a cease and desist order to Letson.
An inspection was not done by Letson before he leased the home at 3171 Foster Drive N.E. and neighbors said it is far from a sober house, claiming they see people drinking alcohol openly outside the home, that they can smell marijuana and complain of loud noise coming from the home. One resident said she saw a beer pong table set up inside the garage at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday as she was driving home with her daughter.
“One of the neighbors just told me that this Sunday, a few houses up, that one of the residents stopped before they got to the house, threw out a partially full beer can and then drove into the driveway and went into the residence,” resident Natasha Frenchko said.
“In the early part of July, I began to notice the smell of marijuana coming from the direction of the home as my husband and I and our friends sat on the back patio,” another resident said. “People are coming and going at all hours of the day and night, which is disrupting the peace and tranquility of our neighborhood.”
Letson, who admitted to being a recovering alcoholic, said the residents just do not understand the process.
“I am seeing people that are scared and do not have a lot of education on the issue. Hopefully they get the education. There is not a lot of malice in this room, just a lack of education,” Letson said.
Letson said refusing to allow the occupants to stay at the house is a violation of both the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. He also said the house fits the city’s definition of a single-family home because the people living there share a common living space.
Letson said there have been no complaints or police calls from neighbors about the house.
“The lack of calls to police is not because we did not notice what was going on, but because we knew the issue was going to be addressed by our councilman,” one woman said.
Letson said the lease was signed in June and it is good for one year, with the possibility for renewal. He said the residents will live there for at least six months while they are in recovery, so the house does not fit the definition of a boarding house, which is defined as a place where people stay for 30 days or less.
Hicks said there are agencies that specialize in alcohol and drug recovery programs, and he would feel more comfortable with the house if it was being run by a certified agency.
But Letson disagreed.
“The two individuals who are running this house should be applauded for trying to assist people with their recovery,” he said.