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Group homes for addicts, mentally ill move into SE Denver neighborhood

Neighbors concerned about safety, property values
Posted: 9:54 PM, Apr 06, 2017
Updated: 2017-04-07 04:41:35Z

DENVER -- Group homes for recovering addicts and the mentally ill are moving into a southeast Denver residential neighborhood, and some residents are concerned about the impact on everything from property values to safety.

"My concern was for the close proximity of the Samuels Elementary School," said Barney Wooters, who has lived in a home across the street from the school for 44 years. "We found out about the group home because of a sign in the front yard of my next door neighbor."

His next door neighbor has applied to turn the house next door into a group home, housing up to eight people with "mild schizophrenia" and "mental illness" according to the Facility Operation Plan submitted to the City of Denver.

Just a few miles away, another homeowner recently sent out letters stating his plan to turn his house on South Akron Street into a group home for recovering drug and alcohol addicts.

"It's just... what it can do to the neighborhood that we are not in favor of it," said George Aiden, who lives next door to that home. "Would you want to buy a house if you found out it was next to a bunch of drug addicts and alcoholics? Probably not."

Some neighbors said they welcome the new residents and have had no issues with other group homes in the community.

"It is a place for people to live. It causes no problems at all," said Jaime Sarche, who lives near the elementary school. "I'm very upset that there is a controversy. There should not be a controversy."

Still, many neighbors are asking City Councilwoman Kendra Black what they can do to stop the group homes from moving in.

"There have been cities that have denied permits for these uses, and they have sued and they have lost," said Black.

Even though Denver's zoning only allows three unrelated adults to live in an area zoned residential, Black said Group Homes are exempted under the Federal Fair Housing Act.

Several federal and state laws prohibit discrimination based on disabilities, and mental illness and addiction are included.

Black said the trend of group homes in residential neighborhoods is growing across the country. Community care houses began appearing in greater numbers in the 1970s, she said, as federal and state governments moved to de-institutionalize people with disabilities and place them in residential settings.

And while municipalities cannot ban group homes, they can place conditions on their operation.

Last year, in the town of Parker, residents complained about an unpermitted drug rehab house, and the town cracked down with a long list of conditions, including a sprinkler system. The homeowners shut it down voluntarily as a result.

Meanwhile, Denver leaders are encouraging "Good Neighbor" agreements with group home operators and the neighborhood.

Neighbors can also comment to the zoning administrator about this criteria:

12.4.2.5 Review Criteria
A. The zoning permit is consistent with all prior approvals that are regulatory and controlling for the subject property, as applicable. For example, all zoning permits shall be consistent with a previously approved General Development Plan, Regulating Plan, or Site Development Plan.
B. The zoning permit complies with all applicable regulations in this Code.
C. The proposal will not substantially or permanently injure the appropriate use of adjacent conforming properties, taking into consideration all proposals for mitigation of such impacts.

Neighbors may submit comments on the application to  zoning.review@denvergov.org  or send their comments to 201 W. Colfax Ave, Dept 205, Denver, CO 80202 by April 22, 2017. 

"The zoning administrator can put conditions on the permit, and if the operator doesn't live by and operate by those conditions, their permit can be revoked," said Black.

Black plans to hold a community informational meeting at Samuels Elementary on April 19.

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