Ruling: Recovery home on 36th must close

A Newport Beach recovery home could be forced to shut its doors after an independent official rejected its request for permission to operate in the city at an administrative hearing last week.

Costa Mesa-based Ohio House — which opened a sober living home on 36th Street in Newport in May — can still appeal the decision to the City Council.

The house's founder, Brandon Stump, said this week that he has not yet decided whether he will.

"The bottom line is this: The Ohio House is a wonderful program that's saving a lot of lives, and there's nothing that I can do or say that's going to change the mind of Newport Beach or the neighbors," he said. "We're going to do what's best for our family."

If he does not appeal, the Ohio House will have to shut down the lower level by May 21 and the upstairs by July 31.

As many as 10 men can live in the six-bedroom, two-story duplex on the Balboa Peninsula.

After neighbors complained in July that the facility was operating in violation of zoning code — which place strict limits on the location and number of such recovery homes — its operators asked for "reasonable accommodation" to provide residents with disabilities an "equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling."

That, essentially, would have required the city to exempt the Ohio House from rules governing the permitting process for residential treatment facilities.

On Feb. 28, retired Orange County Superior Court Judge John C. Woolley, whom the city hired to act as an independent hearing officer, declined that request on the grounds that the Ohio House opened without a conditional use permit from the city.

According to Woolley's finding, the house also opened in violation of a 2008 ordinance aimed at curbing the establishment of residential treatment facilities, which have long drawn the ire of neighbors who say the houses bring noise, endless trails of cigarette smoke and parking issues.

The ordinance has been successful in that respect: According to a staff report for the Ohio House case, the number of recovery and residential treatment facilities operating in Newport Beach has dropped by about 70% since 2007, from 86 to 27.

Over that same period, a hearing officer has given nine residential recovery facilities permission to operate in Newport, while seven were denied, city spokeswoman Tara Finnigan wrote in an email.

The law has also become the target of legal challenges.

Most recently, a panel of 9th Circuit appellate court judges voted earlier this week not to re-hear a case in which group-home operators alleged that the ordinance discriminated against the disabled. Those recovering from alcohol and drug addiction are legally considered disabled.

The city is now considering whether to petition the United States Supreme Court for a review of that decision, Finnigan wrote in a statement.

Because that case probably won't be resolved any time soon, the ruling is unlikely to affect the Ohio House decision.

Stump said that he was unaware that Newport Beach's regulations applied to sober living homes, such as the Ohio House.

"If I did, we never would have [moved] there," he said.

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