Downtown group home draws protest; on CDZ agenda tonight | Arkansas Blog

Downtown group home draws protest; on CDZ agenda tonight

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A conditional use permit application for a controversial group home at 20th and Broadway that helps men in recovery from alcohol and substance abuse will be on the Capital Zoning District Commission agenda at 5:30 p.m. tonight at 410 S. Battery St. 

The Muskie Harris Recovery Service, a 501c3, started operating in the historic Harrod House at the end of October. Because  it is a non-profit, it is not required to obtain a privilege license, which is the normal route for the CDZ to learn when businesses locate in the district, which governs planning and development in the city's historic heart downtown. Neighbors noticed the folks coming and going from the house and notified the CDZ. 

Boyd Maher, the executive director of the CZD, said there is "strong opposition" to the  group home from neighbors; he's been contacted by "dozens" of folk by email, phone  and  letters, and opponents have been vocal at meetings of the Mansion Area Advisory  Committee  and the Downtown Neighborhood Association. 

The CZD staff   recommends approval  of the permit as long as it meets state and city zoning laws and verifies that to the CZD on an annual basis, that the property is maintained in good condition, that no persons convicted of illegal manufacture or sale of drugs be housed there and that no use of drugs occur there. The Mansion Area Advisory Committee voted against approval. 

The men living at the home have been arrested on substance abuse charges, but as first-time offenders have been given the chance by the courts to complete recovery programs to get their cases discharged. They come to the house from 90-day recovery centers such as Serenity House, Recovery Centers of Arkansas and Hoover House. Federal law considers them to be disabled, which allows them to live in group settings as long as the homes meet local zoning rules, so there is little the CZD could do to stop the permit.

The  men at the Muskie Harris Recovery Service home pay anywhere from $700 to $1,000 a month,Harris said, and are required to have a job. Their rent includes three meals a day and transportation to, for example, Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and to doctor and other professional appointments.

We wrote about a similar group home, Oxford House, earlier this year.

Harris, a former Razorback player and one-time Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, said he faced an unfriendly crowd at the Downtown Neighborhood Association meeting where the issue was discussed. "They have the fear we are depreciating their property," and he said he believed some of the comments aimed at the house were racist, saying one man addressed him as "you people." 

There is also support from the house, Maher said, from Circuit Judges Chris Piazza and Barry Sims, who Harris serves as liaison to rehab centers, and retired Judge Marion Humphrey.

Harris said he obtained his 501c3 status in September.

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