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Scappoose group home on track for approval

Proposed home to reconnect children with parents who are recovering addicts tentatively OK'd

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Scappoose City Planner Brian Varricchione fields questions to concerned citizens. A proposed group home in Scappoose for recovering alcohol and drug addicts appears to have a green light from city officials, despite continued opposition from its neighbors.

Scappoose officials at a Monday City Council meeting addressed concerns from citizens opposed to a family wellness home in the affluent residential community of Columbia River View Estates.

The house, run by the nonprofit Iron Tribe through a contract with Oregon Department of Human Services, would be geared at reuniting parents recovering from alcohol and drug addiction with their children.

Scappoose City Planner Brian Varricchione said the city could not deny Iron Tribe the home on the basis the community does not want recovering addicts in the neighborhood, as such a move would be a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.

Under provisions of the act, recovering drug and alcohol addicts who are no longer using are classified as disabled and are afforded legal protections to ensure they do not suffer housing discrimination, he said.

Varricchione touched on other concerns earlier raised by the community at an April 21 meeting, such as whether Iron Tribe would need a business license or whether the amount of occupants proposed — about 10 to 14 — would be a potential barrier.

Varricchione said that, under the city’s legal definition of “family,” an organization could house up to five unrelated individuals in a home without requiring city permission.

Harold “Bear” Cubbedge, executive director of Iron Tribe, said he is currently working on putting together a reasonable accommodation request to submit to the city, which would allow for 10 unrelated individuals to live in the house. Cubbedge said the organization is also moving forward with a wellness home in St. Helens, which has already approved such numbers as a single-family dwelling.

Scappoose City Attorney Shelby Rihala said the wellness home would not require a business license under provisions of the city’s municipal code, nor does it require a home occupation permit as there are exemptions for nonprofit organizations. Varricchione also quelled concerns from opponents about whether the organization had acquired a building permit for its construction, which he confirmed was approved for partitioning existing space in the home into an office area. by: FILE PHOTO - Scappoose residents living in Columbia River View Estates expressed opposition to the Scappoose City Council Monday over the presence of a wellness home in the neighborhood, geared at reuniting those in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction with their children.

Despite Varricchione’s research indicating Iron Tribe had not violated any city laws and was within its rights to use the home as proposed, attendees asked multiple questions of the council related to building permits, seemingly seeking to find a violation on the part of Iron Tribe.

Don Sallee, Scappoose’s building official, said he walked through the house to look for any code or building violations, but found none.

One audience member asked whether the city would be overseeing the home to make sure its occupants weren’t violating rules.

“What is the definition of someone living there? Is it 14 days?” asked City Council President Larry Meres in response to audience concerns. “If one was to set up a camera living across the street and saw one individual coming in and out of there consecutively for 21 days, is that considered the person living there?

“I would not advise that type of activity,” Varricchione said.

“It’s not going to be on the city,” Meres replied. “But if one has a camera, what’s to stop them from monitoring them coming in and out of the house? It’s not going to be me. I got my own problems.”

Varricchione said he does not envision the city placing a staff person at the property 24 hours per day. “These are some what-if scenarios I don’t have the answers to,” he said.

When one audience member asked Varricchione, “Why?” he replied, “These are not land-use regulation issues.”

Amanda Komp of Scappoose asked who would be in charge of monitoring those living in the home.

“Is the state the one that’s going to monitor the people going into the house and make sure that they aren’t actually individuals that have been ex-convicts or sex offenders that we can discriminate against, and actually make the determination that those people are following the rules so we aren’t discriminating against a disability, but we know what they’ve been involved in in the past?” she asked.

City Councilor Jason Meshell said DHS is responsible for ensuring all laws are followed. If laws are broken, he said, the city is responsible for enforcement.

Others at the meeting opposed allowing recovering addicts into the neighborhood.

“I have to put new doors in because I don’t want the people in my home,” said Tari Semmler, who lives in the Scappoose neighborhood and noted that, with the construction of the J.P. West Bridge, commuters may have to travel through her property.

“If they’re going to be traveling through my property and through the cow fields, or whatever, just to get to town, just so they don’t have to go around, we need to know what’s up,” Semmler continued. “If they need to have a job, there is no bus, nobody here in town will hire a felon. And I know — my son is a felon, they won’t hire them. They will have to go to Portland.”

Cubbedge reiterated to the Spotlight Wednesday that those living in the house would mostly be mothers and children and that residents would not be coming from correctional facilities.

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