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Costa Mesa commission denies permit for sober-living home

Members of the Costa Mesa Planning Commission denied one permit application for a local sober-living home and delayed decisions on two others Monday night.

On a 5-0 vote, the commission rejected an appeal from Costa Mesa resident Gregg Ohlhaver to keep open a sober-living home for up to six residents in drug and alcohol recovery at 2152 Raleigh Ave., which he operates as Keystone Sober Living.

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The decision came despite pleas from a handful of speakers to allow the facility to remain open.

Unlike sober-living homes that have been blamed for causing parking, traffic, noise and crime problems in their neighborhoods, Ohlhaver's operation hasn't run into issues with nearby residents, speakers said.

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"Keystone is a highly valuable community resource to Costa Mesa because we offer high-quality social services at a very low cost," Ohlhaver said Monday.

The facility "has excellent community relations and has not had complaints in 13 years," he added.

"The Planning Commission's lack of support to Keystone is telling of your lack of support to our community's health and well-being," he told the commission. "The drug and alcohol epidemic will not go away simply because you don't want it in your backyard."

While commissioners acknowledged that Ohlhaver may be a quality operator, they said that doesn't change the fact that his property is close to other drug and alcohol recovery or treatment facilities and therefore runs afoul of city rules.

The City Council adopted an ordinance in 2014 requiring that sober-living homes with six or fewer occupants in single-family neighborhoods be at least 650 feet apart. Last year, the council created similar rules for such homes in multifamily zones.

Sober-living homes had to apply for permits to do business under the ordinances.

The goal, city officials say, is to prevent the close clustering of sober-living facilities in residential areas. Some critics, however, have claimed the restrictions are illegal and discriminate against recovering addicts.

Two state-licensed drug or alcohol treatment facilities are within 650 feet of Ohlhaver's property. The city's director of economic and development services denied his permit request for that reason, prompting Ohlhaver's appeal to the Planning Commission.

"I didn't see anything in the application or hear anything in the presentation or the public comment or anything that, in my view, undermines the director's denial," Commissioner Colin McCarthy said. "Therefore, I'm inclined to uphold the director's denial."

The commission's decision can be appealed to the City Council within seven days.

The commission voted 4-1, with member Stephan Andranian opposed, to delay a pair of sober-living permit applications from Windward Way Recovery until Dec. 12.

The operators of Windward Way asked for the delay so their legal counsel could be present for the hearing. They are seeking city approval to house up to 28 men in eight units on adjoining parcels at 351 and 357 Victoria St.

Windward Way's permit requests were scheduled to be decided during the commission's Nov. 14 meeting, but the panel delayed that hearing because the meeting had already stretched into the early morning.

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