A new substance use recovery facility in Seward can operate without filing quarterly reports to the city and undergoing an annual review, after Seward determined those requirements discriminated against its future residents.
The facility will be the second in Seward under SeaView Community Services, a nonprofit with a focus on behavioral health. The city’s planning and zoning commission gave SeaView the green light to open a recovery facility on Second Avenue last month.
But that approval came with a catch: the commission could reconsider the permit each year and SeaView would have to submit quarterly reports. That was after the commission heard an earful from neighbors, who said they worried how it would impact public safety.
"If this is going to go in, then we owe it to the community to make sure we’re not disrupting the neighborhood," said commissioner Craig Ambrosiani at the April meeting.
SeaView later appealed that decision to the city, alleging it was discriminatory against those recovering from substance abuse. Attorney Siena Caruso said making the permit conditional violated the Fair Housing Act.
“The concerns that were raised regarding potential for crime or potential nuisance issues, that is within the purview of the Seward Police Department," she said. "It’s not within the purview of the planning and zoning commission to be a super-police power here. That’s not their job.”
The Fair Housing Act protects those with disabilities from discrimination when it comes to selling or renting propery. Historically, that’s included those recovering from drug or alcohol addiction.
Members of the Seward City Council, acting as the board of adjustment, agreed with SeaView and struck the condition from the permit. In its written findings, the city said conditions on SeaView’s permit were discriminatory and never before included in a conditional-use permit.
SeaView is the only organization that offers recovery housing in Seward. It currently has a facility on Sixth Avenue in Seward, with a waitlist of more than 80 people.
Neighbors of the new facility told the planning and zoning commission last month they’ve heard stories about disruptions in the area linked to the facility. Seward Police Chief Alan Nickell said the police department only heard one case involving a resident of that recovery housing complex and that the person didn’t commit any crimes.
The facility on Second Avenue will include recovery housing, substance use residential treatment and a medications for addiction treatment facility. Executive Director Christine Sheehan said there will be staff at the new facility at all times and the center will provide all transportation. Residents will go to outpatient treatment at the SeaView Plaza on Railway Avenue.
The council heard another appeal on a permit this week from a resident who disputed the commission’s zoning designation of the property. The council upheld the commission’s zoning decision but did agree to add more parking spots for the facility.