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Re-hab facility feared
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City officials say they can't prevent a sober living facility from opening on Willets Way despite vocal neighbors fearful of potential spin-off criminal activity.

Residents have been at the last three council meetings to share concerns as well as stay updated by city staff looking into possible city controls.

Ken Craig, Community Development Director, told the council that anyone may open up a halfway house without state regulations if there are six or less boarders. Anything larger can trigger control through the use permit process.

Willets Way resident Johnny Staggs told the City Council last month that the woman who wants to run the sober living home is not qualified.

Gary Lee Hall is troubled that the house would introduce substance abuse addicts so close to school children. Blaker Kinser Junior High School is a block away.

"We have so many little girls here, and after what we're seeing in the news it's so important the little girls be protected," said Hall. "It just scares us to death to know that known drug addicts are going to be moving into this house."

City officials checked with the state and learned that Linda Wood has filed an application with the state but that the house is currently vacant. City Attorney Mike Lyions said the application would indicate that Wood is pursuing a home where recovery assistance or detox services are offered. City staff had talked to Wood who said she has made no decision about what type of sober house to operate.

Because the only phone number the city had for Wood had been changed, the Courier was unable to contact her for comment.

State and federal regulations have tied the hands of local officials wanting to regulate such homes, said Lyions. The state runs two kinds of programs for sober living, he noted. One, which offers recovery and detox services, must be licensed. The other is a facility where recovering addicts live in a family type setting. Lyions said the city cannot regulate either. If a home has more than six residents, the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination by the city.

Lyions said that over a decade ago the city tried to halt the expansion of a group home for mentally handicapped children in a residential zone. Because of residential concerns, city planners tried to block the expansion but were threatened with a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"The federal and state government - they make all the rules," Mayor Anthony Cannella told Willets residents on Monday.

Police Chief Art deWerk advised neighbors that if the home opens, residents should stay on top of suspicious activity as well as loitering, public drunkeness or suspected drug dealing by calling 911.

Mayor Cannella pledged at the outset of public outcry to offer city help and offered his sympathy for the residents.

"I am the father of young children and I would fight passionately if this facility was located in my neighborhood and I want to fight just as hard for these folks so if the city can ... assist them in contacting the right people to bring these concerns to light, I hope that we could do that."