Hackensack Mayor, Council, and Residents Scrutinize Proposed Sober Living Home

In a recent special meeting, the Hackensack City Council dove deep into the regulation and approval of cooperative sober living residences (CSLRs) managed by New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA). The dialogue circled the CSLR application at 125 Willow Street, a focal point for concerns from the mayor, council members, and residents.

A representative from the DCA delineated the foundational principles and functionalities of CSLRs, outlining their mission to aid individuals recovering from addiction by offering a communal living environment in areas zoned for single-family homes. Established to foster recovery and solidarity among inhabitants, these facilities have notably maintained low records of associated violent crimes, the representative confirmed.

The council opened the floor to community members, drawing a spectrum of concerns ranging from the operational past of the applicant, alleged deceit in the application process, to the controversial choice of reference with a purported “questionable criminal background.” Despite heated exchanges and concerns over a perceived flawed system that might enable individuals to dodge rigorous scrutiny, the DCA representative asserted that the applicant had satisfied all stipulated requisites for licensure.

Several residents pointed out the facility’s proximity to parks and daycares and encouraged a deliberation on the possibilities of setting distance limitations through local zoning laws and municipal licenses. Resident Della voiced distress over the burgeoning profit-driven recovery industry, probing into the restrictions on CSLR licensures. Amid the discussions, queries about the cap on occupants in the sober living home took center stage, where the council emphasized stringent compliance with state and bureau regulations to avoid licensing a non-compliant unit.

Zoning official Bridget McLaughlin highlighted a potential clash between the CSLR presence and the prevailing zoning laws, which strictly shunned boarding houses in the designated region, drawing attention to a prevalent regulatory gray area. This spurred a broader conversation on whether current laws should be adjusted to pave the way for CSLRs in areas primarily constituted of single-family homes.

Residents and council members, including Kathleen Canestrino and Stephanie Von Rudenborg, pressed the DCA on details surrounding the applicant’s reference requirement, urging for a revisit to the application in light of new information. The concerns escalated to encompass fears over the potential inadequacy of the existing background check system, which currently limits scrutiny to applicants and not to references or other individuals associated with the application, a stance firmly upheld by the DCA.

As the discussion transitioned to finer details, it emerged that the lease for 125 Willow Street amounted to $4,653.11 monthly for the entire building, with rent determinations left to the discretion of the sober living operator and the residents. The dialogue extended to touch upon potential tax breaks, an area where council officials acknowledged their unfamiliarity, steering individuals to consult CPAs or attorneys for advice.

Mayor John Labrosse, participating remotely, beckoned for “more due diligence” and a contemplative approach to doing the “right thing” before any progression in the matter, expressing discontent over alleged deceptions presented to the city officials.

Concerns over the management of residents’ medication in the CSLRs also emerged as a pronounced point of contention. The regulatory official stated that individuals were personally responsible for their medications, usually stored in lockboxes in their rooms, adding that the facility generally abstains from admitting individuals needing medication-assisted treatment.

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