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Citizens raise concerns, fears over sober-living facility

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More than 20 Shinagle Drive residents gathered at City Hall Tuesday to voice their concerns and fears about Hope's Landing sober living facility to city commissioners. Among their concerns, the facility has been operating without a required special use permit. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)

Residents along Shinagle Drive brought many concerns and fears over a new sober living facility to Dickinson City Commissioners at their regular meeting Tuesday.

More than 20 residents appeared in person, and signed letters were brought from those who could not attend.

Hope's Landing opened in May at 959 Shinagle Dr. without informing them of its presence or gathering public input first, the residents claimed.

The 10-bed facility is owned by Kayleen Wardner, wife of District-37 Senator Rich Wardner, and is sponsored by Western Edge Ministries, owned by the Wardners.

Resident Shawn Smith brought to commissioners' attention that the facility needs a special use permit to operate in the residential zone.

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City Administrator Joe Gaa confirmed the facility does not have one.

"The rehab facility is located in an R1 zone," Smith said. "It is our opinion that this facility is classified, if licensed, as a group care facility, which would require the owner to apply to the city zoning board to request a special use permit, based on the municipal code."

The facility is required to have the permit prior to the start of operations, Smith noted.

Resident Paul Bartholomew expressed worries that the facility has not been inspected by the city to determine if it meets city codes, such as having a fire suppression system.

He also worried that living next to such a facility would impact his homeowner's insurance.

"I was told it could be affected if there's repeated incidents," he said. "It's not just that facility. It affects the entire dynamic of the neighborhood."

Bartholomew said one neighbor's daughter smelled marijuana smoke coming from the facility, and it was reported to the facility's executive director.

"There was drug use on the premises and that person was evicted, is what we were told," he said. "So there's already been drug use at a sober living facility."

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Tires have been slashed along the street, resident Kodi Koenig said.

"When detectives came to speak with us about it, we asked if they had anyone in mind as to who they thought had done this, and they indicated they thought it was someone from the sober living house," she said. "We're not happy as a neighborhood to have them there, especially to have them just sort of sneak in."

Resident Jess Morton also expressed fears of living near such a facility.

"I have teenage girls on that street, and I'm terrified for them," she said.

Mayor Scott Decker assured the residents that their concerns have been heard and are being addressed by city staff.

"We are working on this," he said. "This has been an issue we've been actively working on."

Gaa said the city does believe Hope's Landing does need a special use permit.

"We have advised them of that," he said. "We do have a concern if they agree with us or not."

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The earliest Hope's Landing could appear before the city planning and zoning commission is in October.

A city staff meeting will be held Thursday to determine what can be done if Hope's Landing elects not to go through the permit process, Gaa said.

"We're looking at it from a legal standpoint," he said. "At the least, there will be a discussion at the planning and zoning commission meeting."

City Legal Counsel Haylee Cripe suggested legal action may be required to close the facility.

"We're clearly in a situation where they're not following the code," she said. "My plan is to put together a legal research memorandum explaining the code sections involved, and procedure and enforcement options."

Decker encouraged the residents to bring any incidents to the city's attention.

"We're only aware of heavy traffic and comings-and-goings at strange hours," he said. "We need to be aware if there's what you perceive as out-of-the-ordinary."

He added, "This is out of the ordinary anyway."

Smith said he understands the needs that the facility is trying to help meet.

"However, neighborhood safety and the well-being of our neighborhood has become an abundant concern," he said. "If a sober living facility opened in your neighborhood, how would you respond as a resident?"

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