City: Zoning rules broken

WARREN – A 3rd Ward home owned by a state representative has come under scrutiny by the city’s Engineering, Planning and Building Department and by neighbors for the way it is being used.

It’s been determined the house at 3171 Foster Drive N.E. is ”no longer being occupied as a single-family unit,” according to a violation letter from the city, but instead as some sort of rooming or boarding house, which is not allowed in this zoning district.

The matter has some residents in the neighborhood upset and looking for answers, like just what exactly is a sober house, a term that’s being used to describe the home’s use now.

”From what we understand, I guess it’s considered a sober house,” said president of the Garfield Neighborhood Association Rick Ritchie, who’s wondering what is that type of facility. ”Does it mean sober from alcohol, sober from drugs? We’re not certain what that definition means.”

The letter last week from Building Official Chris Taneyhill to owner Tom Letson doesn’t use the term ”sober house,” but it does say that Taneyhill’s investigation determined the sleeping rooms and basement are being rented and the rooms and spaces are being offered ”to be used for short periods of time but not intended to be used as a permanent residence.”

Taneyhill found Letson in violation for use and occupancy and gave him until Aug. 20 to make the corrections. Letson can appeal to the city’s Platting and Planning Commission.

Letson said Friday afternoon he had not received a copy of the violation letter that was sent Thursday, but that he has rented the home to two people.

”I wrote up a lease and leased it,” said Letson, a Democrat state lawmaker from Warren in his last term. ”I have leased it to someone and rumor being what it is, it’s interesting, it’s not as though most of the world doesn’t know that I own the house. It’s a shame no one wanted to talk to me about it.”

Letson, however, would not really say if he knew of the intended use before he rented the home.

”I had reason to believe there is a necessity for people that have actively participated in addiction rehabilitation and I have had those discussions with many people,” including the two people who rented the home, Letson said. ”I believe there is an incredible necessity for that type of assistance because everybody complains about the world and no one wants to help the world get right. That type of living arrangement helps people move from addiction to healthy life.”

When asked if the Foster Drive N.E. home was the proper location, Letson said, ”to help people that are asking for help, everywhere is the right place,” but stopped short from saying even if that meant violating zoning laws.

John Brown, 3rd Ward councilman, brought the matter to city council’s attention and asked for the review.

”Bottom line is, it is zoned residential A and the neighbors want them to comply with our zoning ordinance,” Brown said.

Among the concerns had by Ritchie, who lives on Overlook Drive N.E., are safety and property values; a facility like this in a residential neighborhood, he said, ”kind of slowly erodes the quality of the neighborhood.”

His preference: Find a location in the city that is properly zoned for such a facility.

”There are proper areas for that type of facility, and ours is not that type of area,” Ritchie said.

Diane and Joe Hernandez, who live on Halsey Drive N.E., say they’re worried about the integrity of the neighborhood they’ve lived in since 1995.

They say the type of boarding house-type set up doesn’t fit with the single-family home setting in the neighborhood; one of the ”nicest neighborhoods,” in Warren, Joe Hernandez said.

”If it’s illegal, get it out of here. That’s all we want,” Joe Hernandez said.

Deputy health commissioner Robert Pinti said his office ”will move in concert” with Engineering, Planning and Building and would not interfere with that office’s orders.