Costa Mesa planning commissioners reject permit for Eastside sober-living home

The Costa Mesa Planning Commission voted unanimously Monday to reject a permit application from the Ohio House, which was seeking to continue operating a sober-living home at 115 E. Wilson St.
(Daily Pilot)

The Costa Mesa Planning Commission unanimously denied a permit for an Eastside sober-living home Monday night.

Though commissioners said they applauded the operator, the Ohio House, for helping its clients combat their addictions and get back on their feet, they didn’t see a compelling reason to deviate from the city’s buffer rule for such facilities, which would have been necessary to grant the requested conditional use permit to continue operating.

The commission’s decision is final unless appealed to the City Council within seven days.

Costa Mesa requires that group homes, licensed alcohol and drug treatment facilities and sober-living homes — which generally house recovering drug addicts and alcoholics, who are considered disabled under state and federal laws — be at least 650 feet from one another in residential areas. The location in question, 115 E. Wilson St., is about 550 feet from a permitted home.

There also is a state-licensed treatment facility within 650 feet at 125 and 131 E. Wilson that is operating without the required local approval, according to city staff. The City Council denied a permit for that facility in April. Code enforcement action is pending in that case, the city said.

The Ohio House said it has been operating on its site in some capacity since 2012. But Costa Mesa required in 2015 that sober-living homes, including existing ones, obtain conditional use permits if they have more than six residents and are in multifamily areas.

City officials have said the goal of the distance requirement is to prevent such facilities from clustering too close to one another and institutionalizing neighborhoods, which they say could not only harm the quality of life for residents but also create an environment not conducive for recovery.

“I don’t see any reason presented tonight that would lead me to believe that … there should be some accommodation for this particular applicant,” said commission Vice Chairman Jeffrey Harlan.

The occupancy proposed for the Ohio House facility also raised concern Monday. The operator had asked for permission to house up to 45 residents — mostly clients, along with some staff members — in five units on the property.

During the hearing, a handful of residents urged the commission to deny the permit, citing problems with parking and crime that they attributed to the Ohio House. Others said the sober-living home is a business that doesn’t belong in a residential neighborhood and that housing so many men together creates a disruptive, fraternity house-style atmosphere.

Representatives of the Ohio House, however, said they strive to be good neighbors and were willing to work to address any concerns.

“We want to be a part of the solution for the city of Costa Mesa,” said Chief Operating Officer Ryan Stump. “Sure, there are bad operators — just like there are in any business, in any industry. We are not a part of that. We don’t want to be a part of that. … Whatever the issue is, I think there is some sort of common ground that we can come to where we can continue operating there and continue doing what we do.”

“I think there’s a stigma attached to this industry and we’re just taking the bullet for it tonight,” he added.

Commissioner Carla Navarro Woods said she’s familiar with the facility, as she used to park in front of it to visit nearby businesses. On several occasions, she said, she found herself “face to face with a group of men, smoking, vaping — and they don’t just glance when I park there; they stop and stare.”

“I feel incredibly uncomfortable every time I’m there,” she said.