Sober living residences cause stir among neighbors

The two new facilities raise questions about permitted township zoning.

Are Cooperative Sober Living Residences (CSLRs) allowed in Moorestown’s residential zones?

With two new  facilities in town that’s the question on the minds of both residents and township council members.

The matter was up for discussion at the June 14 council meeting. Mayor Nicole Gillespie said she consulted Kevin Aberant, the township attorney, and he advised council that the residences need to go to the Moorestown zoning board to determine if they are a permitted use within current restrictions.

Gillespie explained that although council will not be involved in that decision, members did look into the matter. Residents came to council with concerns about the facilities, at 504 Bartram Road and 820 Cox Road. 

“We originally thought it was permitted, [but] the more we looked, the more questions we had,” she said.

According to the mayor, Cooperative Sober Living Residences are entities that were established by the state around three years ago. The facilities house individuals recovering from addiction, but Gillespie specified that they do not provide treatment. 

She said given the residences are fairly new entities, Moorestown’s code does not directly address whether they are permitted or not. Gillespie added that the zoning board has the sole authority to make that determination. 

The mayor said there are already people recovering from addiction throughout the Moorestown community, and she doesn’t believe they pose a danger.

“The goal is not to exclude this from our community, but to understand where they can better fit in,” she noted. 

A group of residents penned a 13 page letter to council outlining why they believe the  facilities are in violation of township zoning. No names were included on the letter, but resident Janice Caccuro read a prepared statement on behalf of the group at the council meeting. 

She began by saying the group thinks the opioid crisis is an epidemic, and it recognizes that addiction recovery programs serve a critical need. According to Caccuro, the  facilities constitute transient boarding homes, with individuals staying somewhere between 15 and 30 days. 

She said under Moorestown’s current code, transient rooming is not permitted. Given that information, Caccuro and her fellow residents contend the facilities are currently operating illegally. 

“We can and want to help people, too, and likewise we care about our local zoning laws being upheld. The two are not mutually exclusive,” Caccuro argued. 

The residents request that the businesses apply for a use variance, so the zoning board can take into consideration the facilities’ impact on surrounding neighborhoods. 

Gillespie said it’s more likely the board will look at the issue as a matter of  interpretation, during which its members will discuss if the facilities are permitted within current zoning. If it is determined they are, the residences will be permitted as a conditional use in residential zones. 

“We will work our way through it and hopefully come to a solution that is acceptable to everybody,” Gillespie said.