Confused and concerned, residents of Lee Ann Drive in the Blackwood section of Gloucester Township packed the courtroom for the township’s council meeting March 9 to seek answers and support from elected officials.
In the coming weeks, Gloucester Township Council hopes to provide both.
According to various residents at the meeting who spoke during public comment, residents along Lee Ann Drive learned that a Cooperative Sober Living Residence is seeking an approved F-class license that will allow for a 10-person home along the street.
The facility would be operated by Dignity Hall LLC and focus on helping people recovering from drug and alcohol addictions, according to the company’s website.
During public comment, residents were concerned about how a business can be located in a residential zone without input from municipalities: No township official was aware of the sober living residence’s potential location at 15 Lee Ann Drive until residents brought it to the attention of the township.
Following the meeting, Gloucester Township Council Solicitor David Carlamere explained that the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) first introduced Cooperative Sober Living Residences in 2017, with state approval in early 2018.
“That allows property to be utilized for sober living, for those recovering from alcohol, opioid and other drug addictions,” Carlamere explained. “They qualified [sober living homes] under DCA regulations for residential areas.”
But as sober living residences begin to pop up across the state, municipalities are becoming concerned about the lack of information and transparency on the issue. According to Carlamere, the DCA claimed it provided notification of such institutions during its introduction years ago. But he added it is suspicious that not one of the state’s more than 500 municipalities responded to the notice.
“The question becomes, how transparent was that notification that not one municipality responded?” Carlamere asked. “So when someone wants to purchase and open up a place like this, they are totally subject to DCA regulations and licensing, and the municipality has no say.
“So the township and municipalities don’t know that anything is happening until they somehow get notification elsewhere, and in that case, it’s by the residents of that street.”
Having met with residents on the issue a few times leading up to the March 9 council meeting, Carlamere said the township acknowledges there is a need for the residences, but that the lack of input from municipalities on where they can go is worrisome.
“The township has to be reasonable to what the need is … Everyone recognizes that there is a need for this transition to community living for those struggling with addiction,” he noted.
The proposed sober living residence, according to township officials, would be approximately 900 feet away from Chews Elementary School, property corner to property corner. That is one of numerous concerns Gloucester Township has regarding the issue.
“What kind of a major impact will it have on a small community setting such as Lee Ann Drive, that is only 28 homes, as opposed to a larger, community setting, where it could be assimilated a lot better?” Carlamere asked.
“Those are factors that municipalities should at least have an opportunity to evaluate.”
Moving forward, the solicitor said the township has reached out to its legislators and attorneys for additional help in understanding the regulations in place, as well as ways it can go about regulating such locations in the future.
Most urgent, Carlamere added, the township continues to seek help navigating the potential location on Lee Ann Drive.
“It’s been a very positive exchange between government and residents of Lee Ann Drive,” he said. “We’ve been working diligently to come up with some regulations that are appropriate, and not arbitrary, for the municipality to be able to protect its residents.”
During the meeting, Councilman Dan Hutchinson said council is looking at “everything and anything” that might be able to help the township better regulate where such locations could hypothetically go in the township. It is not known if the passing of any ordinance would affect the current application for Lee Ann Drive.
“We don’t know what effect the passing of an ordinance would have retroactively,” Hutchinson said. “But we are looking at everything and anything.
“This Lee Ann Drive situation is deeply concerning to everybody [on council],” he added. “It’s bothered me every single day since I heard about it. It’s an attack on home ownership.”
In other news:
- After a review by the township’s planning board, council is expected to have a public hearing regarding three ordinances on affordable housing at its next meeting later in March.
- After two failed bid periods, the township is expected to negotiate with companies regarding improvements to Lakeside Business Park and Hidden Mill Estates.
- The township granted permission to close a portion of the Black Horse Pike in May for its parade celebrating the 325th anniversary of Gloucester Township.