Neighbors, ‘sober house’ owner talk but don’t agree
August 13, 2005
Limping along with the help of a cane, Greg Chandler followed Chris Edrington down and up a stairway Saturday in Edrington’s spacious, two-story Carbondale home.Chandler liked what he saw. He thought it was well-designed for the residential alcohol recovery program Edrington has opened there.But like other neighbors, he questions plans to rent the house at 1204 Catherine Court to up to nine recovering alcoholics. He also is suspicious about why Edrington opened the house without public notice, apparently taking advantage of federal law that treats alcoholism as a disability and requires towns to accommodate homes such as Edrington’s, regardless of zoning rules.”I feel that they’re using the issue of disability as a cloak,” Chandler said during an open house Edrington held at the Crystal Village home Saturday in an attempt to ease concerns over his so-called “sober house.”Speaking to neighbors who gathered in his living room, Edrington said he wasn’t trying to sneak the home into Carbondale, and apologized for giving the impression he had something to hide.He also voiced some concern for the men who will live in the home, given the public outcry over it.”I’m concerned about the atmosphere that they are going to live in, but I also think it’s going to turn out great,” Edrington said.Three men live in the home now, Edrington said. None were present for Saturday’s open house.Edrington lives in St. Paul, Minn., where he owns several sober houses. He flew to Colorado this week after opposition emerged from neighbors over his Carbondale property. But a spirited discussion Saturday ended with Edrington and his neighbors still deeply divided over the venture.”I think this is a commercial property in a residential area,” said one of the most vocal opponents to the plan, Catherine Court resident Renee Maggert.Edrington is operating the home as a business. Maggert said he should abide by zoning that allows only four nonrelated residents in a home.While the town apparently has limited say over how the home operates under federal fair housing laws, town trustee Scott Chaplin said it’s possible the home could be held to eight nonrelated residents; the same cap now applies under the town’s zoning for group homes.The town has other authority over the home’s operation as well, Chaplin said.”If there are problems, nuisances or anything like that, we’ll be on top of it,” he said.Edrington said he will monitor neighborhood concerns over issues such as parking, and will hold residents of his home responsible for their actions.”I think that we’re going to be a lot more low-impact than people think,” Edrington told Ed Cortez as the town trustee peppered him with questions during a look at the home’s basement.He said residents “will be accountable to me and the neighborhood or they won’t be here.”Still, neighbors remain concerned about the home’s potential impact on their property values, and even about the safety of their children.But others who attended Saturday’s open house said fears about how the home’s residents will behave aren’t warranted.”You have nine people in this house who are working to better their lives,” said Jack Wheeler, who described himself as a sober father who lives up the Fryingpan River Valley.Others said recovering alcoholics keep to themselves and support one another, and are less of a threat than others around town who get drunk.Edrington and program supporters encouraged neighbors to wait and see how the home does, and revisit the issue from there.But neighbors said they are uncomfortable with taking that chance, and also with Edrington’s tactics.”You come in here under the shadow of darkness. How are we supposed to trust you?” Maggert said.She also asked Edrington, “Why does a facility like this come in and say … we don’t have to abide by the rules?”Edrington says his plan for the house wouldn’t work if it were limited to four residents.Edrington worked for a property management company until earlier this year. He started St. Paul Sober Living following his own experience living in a sober house in Los Angeles.”I look at it as a labor of love,” he said.Edrington grew up in the Vail Valley and said he fell in love with Carbondale after visiting it. He said he decided a sober house was needed in Carbondale for men who have gone through the intensive residential alcohol rehabilitation program at Jaywalker Lodge, which opened earlier this year on Main Street in Carbondale.Edrington said he doesn’t plan to open any more sober homes in the town.Chandler said it’s possible the town will change its zoning to address homes such as Edrington’s, and was surprised Carbondale hadn’t previously anticipated the issue.”I’m kind of amazed, actually,” he said.