Update: Clarkson Street group home to appeal permit revocation

Update below: The Colorado Court of Appeals has overruled a Denver judge's decision to allow Open Door Ministries to operate a treatment program for recovering addicts in an historic mansion on Clarkson Street -- the latest twist in a long-running zoning battle in the neighborhood that was the subject of my 2011 feature "Meet the Neighbors." ODM now has only a few weeks to either appeal the decision to the Colorado Supreme Court or make drastic changes to its Lighthouse boarding home, which neighbors contend was started with an improperly issued permit, one that the appeals court now says must be revoked.

See also: "Judge's ruling further muddles group home flap"

ODM acquired the 6,700-square foot Bennett-Field house at a short sale for $700,000 more than three years ago, planning to use it as a residential-treatment facility for recovering male addicts and alcoholics. Neighbors, however, complained that the area was already saturated with group homes, and ODM's bid for a "transitional housing" permit for the operation was twice denied by city officials.

A city anti-clustering ordinance requires that large residential-care facilities be at least 2,000 feet from each other and that no more than two can exist within a 4,000-foot radius of any newcomer. There are already three such facilities less than 4,000 feet from 740 Clarkson.

But ODM did obtain a room-and-board permit for the property, allowing it to move its clients into the house. (One judge subsequently ordered them to operate certain portions of their program off-premises.) That R&B permit was obtained before ODM even purchased the house, on December 30, 2010, the last day such a permit could be sought before the area was down-zoned in a manner that prohibited such uses.

Next-door neighbor Jesse Lipschuetz took ODM to court, arguing that the city never should have issued the permit. Denver District Judge Ann B. Frick agreed; but she also gave weight to ODM executive director David Warren's argument that his organization had relied in good faith on the city's action and would suffer harm if the permit was revoked. Eighteen months ago, Judge Frick granted summary judgment to ODM.

But the current appeals court ruling maintains that Frick's court didn't have authority to address the issue because ODM hadn't complied with the notification requirements involved in filing its cross-claim. That decision doesn't address the neighbors' ire over the city's confusing and often conflicting zoning actions, but the result is -- at least for now -- a victory for residents of the block who believe the area already hosts too many group homes.

Whether there will be further rounds of legal argument is unclear. Lipschuetz and Warren could not be immediately reached for comment.

Update, July 31: Since our Tuesday report on the court decision revoking the permit for the LightHouse boarding home in Capitol Hill, we've heard from David Warren, executive director of Open Door Ministries, which operates the facility. Warren expressed his surprise and disappointment with the Colorado Court of Appeals decision and said ODM would appeal the ruling.

He also issued this statement: "The LightHouse has now been in this location for over three years. Not once have we had a police call to our facility. The home has proven itself as a good neighbor. We have replaced the main sewer line, put in a new electrical service, added a fire escape, added interior fire protection, and many other improvements.... The men live there voluntarily, pay rent, work, and are a part of the community. The change from residential care facility to boarding home has limited who we can house, but we feel that it has worked for our mission as well as for the community. We've had very good relations with some of the neighbors and desire that same relationship with all of our neighbors."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast