Open Door Ministries loses a round in battle over 740 Clarkson Street

An effort to operate a faith-based, residential drug and alcohol treatment program in a vintage mansion in Capitol Hill suffered a major setback yesterday when a Denver zoning official ruled that the area is already overloaded with group homes. Granting a transitional housing permit to Open Door Ministries for 740 Clarkson Street would only "add to the institutionalization of the neighborhood," the official declared.

The ministry's proposal to bring its program for adult male recovering alcoholics and addicts to the 6,700-square-foot house, also known as the Bennett-Field house, touched off an uproar among single-family households on Clarkson, as detailed in my August feature "Meet the Neighbors." The dispute has brought to light some of the more confusing aspects of Denver's zoning code.

Last year, ODM, which had taken over the LightHouse program from another Capitol Hill ministry and needed to find new housing for it, applied for a permit for a "large residential care" facility for the Croke-Patterson mansion on 11th Avenue. But a city ordinance requires that such facilities be at least 2,000 feet apart, and there were already several in the immediate neighborhood. The organization backed off purchasing the property in the face of local opposition.

Instead, ODM executive director David Warren announced last spring that LightHouse was moving to the Bennett-Field house, which had been obtained at a short sale for $700,000. Even before the purchase, Warren had acquired a boarding house permit for the property, hours before a change in the zoning code went into effect that would have prohibited such use. That triggered a lawsuit from next-door neighbor and attorney Jesse Lipschuetz, who contends that ODM actually intended to run a "large residential care use" facility at the property. A Denver judge issued an injunction prohibiting Warren and ODM from operating many components of its treatment program (including curfews and drug tests) on the premises.

More than a dozen men now live on the premises, although Warren acknowledges that it's not the operation his group intended. He argues that the program fits the city's definition of "transitional housing." But after reviewing neighborhood comments and the location of other group homes in the area, zoning official Paul Vadakin shot down that application.

"There are currently six residential care uses within 4,000 feet of the subject site," Vadakin notes in his letter. "The subject property is located in a neighborhood with an overconcentration of uses contributing to the institutionalization of the neighborhood."

ODM can appeal Vadakin's ruling to the Board of Adjustment, but its executive director says no decision has been reached yet about their next move. "ODM is evaluating our options but no decisions have been made," Warren says. "We continue to operate the facility as a boarding home, as we have been since May."

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