Clarkson group home controversy: Operator says residents "real losers in this battle"

Update: I just heard from David Warren, executive director of Open Door Ministries, whose zoning permit for a boarding house at 740 Clarkson for recovering addicts and alcoholics was recently declared invalid by a Denver judge. "The city is not appealing this ruling," he notes. "I know this has been a contentious and confusing issue from the beginning...I didn't think a court would reinterpret a code that the city had consistently interpreted the same way for everyone.

"We have used the house for 15 months with 17 men without issue. Not one police call has been made. There is plenty of room (441 square feet for each man). The men pay rent, some of them voluntarily attend Bible studies, group meetings, and hold each other accountable. That is the way they have chosen to live because they realize how much they need each other. Open Door Ministries simply provides the structure and some of the resources to make it happen. These men are the real losers in this battle.

"ODM did rely on the rooming and boarding permit when we purchased the home. That is why we got the permit in the first place before we bought the property. We have filed a claim in court asking for our rooming and boarding permit to be re-granted on the grounds that we relied on the city in good faith before we spent $700,000 on this home. We hope that not only the court but every person in Capitol Hill will also see this logic and support our case. We love this neighborhood and we seek the welfare of every person in it, even those who are against us."

More details below. Original post, Friday August 24, 1:26 pm: A Denver district judge has ruled that city zoning officials erred when they granted a boarding permit in 2010 for a vintage mansion in Capitol Hill -- throwing into doubt the future operation of a faith-based, drug and alcohol treatment program at 740 Clarkson Street that's faced a barrage of protests and litigation from adjoining property owners, as detailed in my 2011 feature "Meet the Neighbors." Open Door Ministries acquired the historic Bennett-Field house at a short sale for $700,000, intending to use the 6,700-square-foot property for its LightHouse program, a residential treatment facility for recovering male addicts and alcoholics. Neighbors, however, complained that the area was already saturated with group homes, and last fall the Department of Zoning Administration denied ODM's bid for a "transitional housing" permit for the operation.

As a result, the ministry has had to conduct many of its counseling and treatment services for residents of the house off-site.

Even before it purchased the house, though, ODM had acquired a rooming and boarding permit allowing it to house its clients there. Such a permit wouldn't have been issued under the new zoning code implemented in 2010, but the ministry was able to get the permit grandfathered by applying on December 30, 2010 -- just before the cutoff for such applications under the old code. That triggered a lawsuit from neighbor Jesse Lipschuetz against the Board of Adjustment -- and Judge Ann Frick's recent order, which declares that the zoning department didn't have the authority to "grandfather" a boarding permit and that the permit should be revoked.

At this writing ODM director David Warren has not responded to a request for comment on the ruling. But the ministry has sought a stay while it pursues its appeals, arguing that it relied on representations from city officials about its ability to operate its program at the Clarkson location.

The ruling comes as welcome news to owners of single-family homes who opposed commercial and institutional conversions of homes on Clarkson. In addition, the property directly north of LightHouse, which had been converted to a "women's empowerment center" known as Pomegranate Place, has recently suspended much of its programs and events and may be shutting down.

"Although most women we talk with agree that there is a need for a place like Pomegranate Place, a very small percentage actually take advantage of the offerings," founder Vaun Swanson recently announced on the organization's website. "There is a disconnection somewhere that we have been unable to pinpoint and address."

Swanson, who had obtained a "community center" permit for the property, also announced that she would probably rent or sell the property. Meanwhile, construction of a 42-unit apartment house around the corner at Eight and Emerson, the site of a former community garden -- and another sore point with some of the neighbors -- is now well underway.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Denver's group homes and shelters: What's on your block? (MAP)"