Commission delays vote on permit request after hearing support, criticism of facility plan for women in recovery
Plans to establish a sober house in the Town of Grafton that would provide a residence for women battling alcohol and drug addictions have been put on hold.
The town’s Plan Commission last week tabled consideration of a conditional-use permit request to open a WINDS Recovery House following a public hearing that generated support and criticism of the proposal among about 80 people in attendance.
Town residents Annette and Paul Crandall have asked for the permit to operate the sober house in a two-story, four-bedroom residence they own at 1515 Indian Hill Dr. The property is northeast of Arrowhead Road and I-43.
The couple’s plan calls for a charitable residential structure that would house up to seven women and three children under 10 years of age who would live in the home under supervision for at least 90 days and as long as one year.
Annette Crandall, who said she would be the house supervisor for the first six months, said the residents would have to follow strict procedures, including a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol use enforced through regular and random testing.
Residents would be screened through interviews, have to sign a living-terms agreement and pay $900 per month in rent, Crandall said.
During the Sept. 7 commission meeting, Crandall said WINDS — which stands for Women Integrating New Directions in Sobriety — would provide recovery support, health information, parenting skills, financial planning, job-search training and other assistance.
“It would not be a treatment facility, not a shelter, not a halfway house,” Crandall told the commission.
“We do not provide treatment, we only provide support.”
The Crandalls’ request drew support from several people at the hearing, including a number who said they are recovering addicts and have seen how sober houses in other communities help residents.
“I am an alcoholic. I need help,” said Coreen Rogers, a Richfield resident who has applied to live in the WINDS facility.
“I have done in-patient and out-patient treatment. I believe this house is what I need.”
However, the WINDS Recovery House proposal drew criticism and questions from town residents, especially those living near the proposed site.
“Is this really the right location for this type of facility? We don’t know,” said Theresa Stay, an Indian Hill Drive resident.
“It brings with it many concerns about drugs and alcohol.”
Other neighboring residents said they feared having a sober house could lower their property values and voiced concerns with potential problems in how the facility would be run and the safety of in-house residents and neighbors.
Several residents said they didn’t know about the WINDS Recovery House project until several weeks ago and had no contact with its organizers before the public hearing.
“We don’t trust the people who are behind this,” said Kirsten Colson, an Indian Hill Drive resident.
“We don’t want a bunch of people living there that we don’t know.”
Several town residents said they believed having women or children from the house walking along Indian Hill Drive and other roads would be dangerous, especially without sidewalks in the area. They also said they wanted to know that local law-enforcement officials are comfortable with the proposed use.
“The issue is not whether this is a worthy cause but whether this is the proper location for a recovery house,” Indian Hill Drive resident Jeff Stay said.
“We are property owners. We have rights, too. The location is inappropriate.”
Crandall, who has worked as a counselor with recovering addicts and is a member of the WINDS board, apologized for not contacting neighboring residents earlier.
“We didn’t know what was involved in getting a conditional-use permit,” she said.
“We want to work with everyone and be a good neighbor. We are only here to make things better.”
Ultimately, Crandall added, WINDS Recovery House “will be a great fit for the community.”
Crandall said she invited local residents to meet with WINDS representatives and visit the house. “We received not one call, not one e-mail and no one knocked on the door,” she told the commission.
Shea Halula, executive director of Starting Point of Ozaukee, an agency that fights substance abuse, urged the commission to approve the permit request.
“The biggest issue is fear of the unknown,” Halula said. “If you think that addicts and alcoholics are not living next to you, you’re mistaken.
“We have people saying, ‘This is not the right place.’ There is no perfect place.”
The Plan Commission has the authority to award the permit without Town Board approval.
A staff report provided to the commission recommended approval of the permit, noting the sober house would conform to current R-3 zoning for the property and would not require any stormwater permit, new driveway or parking changes.
Town Clerk/Planner Amanda Schaefer said federal law requires municipalities “to provide reasonable accommodations in their application of their zoning regulations whenever they consider granting a conditional-use permit for groups deemed to be handicapped or disabled.”
“Recovering alcoholics and drug addicts are disabled under the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act.”
Schaefer said staff members contacted several other communities that have sober and recovery houses and received no negative comments from municipal officials. Included in the contacts were the Town of Saukville, where Advocates operates a facility, and the Village of Saukville, which has a Healing Point House.
However, Town Chairman Lester Bartel, the commission chairman, said more information was needed before the project could be approved.
“I believe in my heart that if this comes to fruition, it will be done right,” Bartel said.
“But I’ve seen better business plans. You should put together a better application and business plan. And I want that to be seen as constructive.”
Bartel and other commission members said the Crandalls’ application should have more details on house facilities, supervision, residents’ daily schedules, security and other operations.
Commissioner Bob Wolf suggested a security system be installed in the house.
Commissioner Jack Heisler said the application should include a floor plan for the house and that WINDS officials work with residents to answer questions and ease concerns.
“I certainly support your ideas, but I’m not sure this is the right place for it,” Heisler said. “You really need to spend some time with the community. That’s a major problem you have.
“I think there isn’t any reason for fear, but you are surrounded by fear.”
The commission agreed to table consideration of the permit request by a 6-0 vote, with Dale Wolf abstaining. Wolf withdrew from the discussion because he lives near the project site.
Bartel asked Crandall to return to the commission when she has a more detailed application and has worked more closely with residents to address their concerns.
“I need to see the healing happen in the neighborhood,” he said.