My Turn: Haven House could set dangerous precedent

Haven House Inc. has proposed a transitional living facility in the Tall Timbers neighborhood southeast of Glacier Valley Elementary School.

In a rush to open the facility by mid-March 2014, Haven House did not fully consider the zoning regulations applicable to its leased property at 3202 Malissa Drive.

In January, the City of Juneau ruled, “Haven House best fits the definition of a halfway house” and therefore is not permitted to operate at this address. The applicable zoning district is D-5.

Haven House appealed the city’s decision to the planning commission.

Then, Haven House retained one, then two, and now three attorneys to further its cause. Haven House claimed the city violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the state and federal constitutions. It alleged the city also violated the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Haven House is preparing complicated litigation to find a legal loophole that would enable it to operate at 3202 Malissa Drive regardless of the hardship it puts on the neighborhood.

In effect, Haven House is trying to shoehorn a halfway house into the city’s definition of a “group home,” which was never intended to be used for a post-corrections facilities. This is a slap in the face to organizations such as REACH, which honestly do work with disabled people.

Now, many of you may know some of the board members, directors or other employees of Haven House. Some of these folks have a fine reputation for years of selfless charitable work and deservedly garner adoration by many people in Juneau. Many in Juneau admire the work that Haven House has done in prisons.

The present issue is not about the mission of Haven House or even the proposed halfway house. This has far-reaching importance for all of Juneau, even beyond the Tall Timbers neighborhood. Like D-5, every other residential zoning district is also approved for group homes.

If the lawyers of Haven House succeed in their campaign to broaden the meaning of “group home,” this loophole will remain on the books for all kinds of halfway houses in Montana Creek, Tee Harbor, Riverside, North Douglas or perhaps your neighborhood. This is not what the city or the people of Juneau intended.

In effect, zoning is a contract between the city and its residents. People move into a neighborhood in reliance on the zoning that the city has applied to that neighborhood. It is too late to change the meaning of “group home” after people have purchased homes, moved in and started to raise families in residential neighborhoods zoned for group homes.

The city correctly observed that an “option available to Haven House Inc. is to find a location in a zoning district where halfway houses are permitted. These are light commercial, general commercial, mixed use, mixed use 2, and rural reserve.”

This alternative is the right one for everyone in Juneau. Our city government should stick to this decision.

• Sammy Legg is a Juneau resident and lives in the Tall Timbers neighborhood near where Haven House is located.

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