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Lakeside Park Residents Protest Third Sober-Living Home in City

Residents of a Lakeside Park subdivision protested a third Oxford House sober living home set to operate in the city.

Roughly thirty residents attended a meeting Monday at the city building to air grievances about the new use for 109 Farmcrest Court.

The property was purchased by Anthony and Amber Stoeber last month, according to Kenton County property records.

The Stoebers, according to the property records, also own 208 Erlanger Rd. in Erlanger which is also used as an Oxford House location.

There are numerous Oxford House sober living homes across the region and the country. The organization describes itself on its website as:

Oxford House is a concept in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. In its simplest form, an Oxford House describes a democratically run, self-supporting and drug free home. Parallel to this concept lies the organizational structure of Oxford House, Inc. This publicly supported, non-profit 501(c)3 corporation is the umbrella organization which provides the network connecting all Oxford Houses and allocates resources to duplicate the Oxford House concept where needs arise.

The number of residents in a House may range from six to fifteen; there are houses for men, houses for women, and houses which accept women with children. Oxford Houses flourish in metropolitan areas such as New York City and Washington D.C. and thrive in such diverse communities as Hawaii, Washington State, Canada and Australia; but they all abide by the basic criteria.

Each House represents a remarkably effective and low cost method of preventing relapse. This was the purpose of the first Oxford House established in 1975, and this purpose is served, day by day, house after house, in each of over 2000 houses in the United States today.

In Lakeside Park, two other locations are already operational at 2695 Mary Jane Court and 247 Applewood Drive.

The newest one set to operate on Farmcrest motivated eighteen families to hire counsel, local attorney Chris Wiest.

"This has turned us upside down," resident Dave Hellmann said. "A week ago I'm at the back of my house on my patio enjoying the holiday, and four days later I have my house up for sale! It makes no sense. I hope for all the world that these programs work. But what if it doesn't? What do we do? Nobody has an answer. No one can answer that question, is what it looks like to me. It stinks!  

"When is it going to stop? When is enough enough? I don't want to move. I love this community. I love it here."

Lakeside Park Mayor David Jansing said that he has been investigating the complaints and that he has talked to the overseers of all Oxford Houses in six states, who suggested an open house to explain the program to neighbors.

"We are trying to establish what types of legalities we have to stop any of these type of establishments, Oxford House, or any other company that would run a sober house, if we did not want them in the city," Jansing said. "I originally had the owner of this property who agreed to come tonight to answer any questions you might have, but after he received multiple harassing threats and so forth, phone calls, text messages and things like that, he thought it would be better off if he didn't show up tonight."

Prior to Monday night's meeting, Mayor Jansing sent a letter to residents, which in part said:

When the first one opened on Mary Jane Ct., there was a small amount of criticism from the neighbors. I would safely believe that the vast number of people living on Farmington at that time were probably not aware of the facility opening on Mary Jane Ct. A couple years ago, another facility opened on Applewood. Just like each of you, Council & I are very concerned. I can also tell you that in the three years of the one being open on Mary Jane Ct. and the almost two years of the one on Applewood, there have been very minimal problems that were immediately addressed. I have been in contact with the folks at Oxford House since Tuesday evening. Just like for the first two facilities in the city, they want to continue to work with us. Their goal is be a good neighbor. Should any issues arrive, just like it has been all along, they want to be notified. They have a no nonsense policy and if someone messes up one time, they are gone.

I am not in anyway trying to defend the facilities being in our city, but simply trying to explain to you how well they police themselves. We didn’t know what to expect when the first facility opened so it was a wait and see approach. I would encourage each of you to take some time to read the attached letter.

As disappointing as it was to find out about the third facility coming to our city, it was that much or more to find out that threats and harassing phone calls, text messages, etc., have been received by the owner of the property. This type of behavior is not only unacceptable, but also illegal. All this information has been shared with the Police Department.

You have no doubt heard this many times, whether you believe it or not,  during the past four days, but here it is one more time, “Our Hands are Tied at the City and State Level”. If you don’t like the FHA rules and regulations, contact your Federal Legislatures in Washington DC.

Wiest, the attorney hired by some local families, said that the new Oxford House on Farmcrest would be in violation of city code, though it would be able to apply for a variance at the board of adjustment, a move that has not been done yet.

Wiest urged the mayor and council members to be reasonably accommodating to the concerns of neighbors, such as possibly reducing the number of men living in the house form twelve to nine, for example. 

Residents of an Oxford House pay all the expenses to maintain it, according to the organization's website, which notes that there are more than 2,300 such houses total.

The website said that in 2017, residents of the houses paid rent, utility and other household expenses of more than $116 million.

Wiest argued that there are court precedents to support limitations on Oxford House, even if the house is legally permitted to operate. For example, he argued that the organization cannot maximize its profits at the expense of residential zoning, and said that there is no way twelve cars could fit in a driveway and on the street in the Farmcrest neighborhood.

Resident Rob Grimes said that the neighborhood is zoned as single-family, but claimed that Oxford House skirts local zoning laws by claiming that its inhabitants are disabled.

Under the current zoning, only three non-related people can live in the same house.

109 Farmcrest is a four-bedroom house with an additional bedroom added to the basement. It is just over 2,500 square feet, according to the property listing on the real estate website Zillow.

Grimes said that he obtained police department records showing that the two existing Lakeside Park Oxford Houses, which are home to women only, have required responses from first responders, including for overdoses and drug use. In February, Grimes said, citing the records, a bonfire built by the residents of an Oxford House, got out of hand and damaged the house next door.  

All in all, Grimes said there were 40 incidents just at one of the houses.

Grimes was angry that Lakeside Park will now have three of these operations in the city.

"Why is Lakeside Park carrying the water for Kenton County and the state of Kentucky to fight the opiod crisis?," he asked.

In Kenton County, according to the organization's website, there are two Oxford Houses that operate in Erlanger, and one in each of Covington, Ludlow, and Ft. Wright. Outside of Kenton County, there are three in Florence, and one each in Fort Thomas and Newport.
 
"These guys are slum lords," Grimes stated. "And they are targeting Lakeside Park!"
 
Miguel Rodriguez, a retired law enforcement officer who worked undercover in narcotics investigations, said that the house will hurt Lakeside Park.

"Without a doubt. These people are drug tested by each other. I know, it's sad, isn't it?," Rodriguez said. "These people got into trouble, and now they have nowhere to go. They are supposed to go to this house and work. Part of the money they earn goes towards their rent. Guess who pays the other part? But these people need long-term care to fix their problem. This is not about rehabilitation, this is about money."

In 2018, when the first Oxford House was planning to open in Lakeside Park, the operators submitted more information to the city, as requested by the city attorney. The details included information that the residents operate like a family, each helping to cover expenses and maintenance. There is no drug counselor or house manager on site. 

"Oxford House is nothing more than a single-family residence," the organization told the City of Lakeside Park in 2018. "Oxford House residents are encouraged to rent single-family dwellings located in good neighborhoods. This means Oxford Houses are usually located in areas zoned for single-family dwellings."

Rodriguez and other residents remain concerned.

"You all are 100 percent correct, and I'm with you," Rodriguez said to the crowd on Monday night. "There is going to be drug use in that home. There is going to be drug activity in that house. Are people going to spend the night in that house? Absolutely. Are they supposed to? No. Did I buy drugs in halfway houses? Absolutely."

Mayor Jansing thanked everyone for coming and sharing their concerns.

"We're going to find a solution," he promised.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer and Michael A. Monks

Photo via Kenton Co. PVA