YORKTOWN, N.Y. – The Town Board last week unanimously approved a settlement with Release Recovery, ending litigation over its use of a house on Underhill Avenue as a sober home.
But not before hearing from a former town supervisor who urged the board to immediately address a shortcoming in the town code: its definition of “family.”
“The issue for Yorktown is whether a sober home is a family,” Susan Siegel told the board before it took action on a proposed resolution affirming Release Recovery’s ability to operate a group home for recovering addicts in a residential neighborhood. “Definitions matter. That’s why I’m strongly urging the board to take a fresh look at our zoning code and how we treat this issue.”
The Town Board, under the administration of former Supervisor Michael Grace, sowed the seeds for litigation in March 2015 when it issued a special use permit to Tom McCrossan and Mark McGoldrick, who had bought the 8,470-square-foot home at 482 Underhill Ave. in 2014, to operate a for-profit sober living residence under the name of Constellations Recovery. The business, which was able to house as many as 14 recovering drug and alcohol addicts at a time, shuttered in the summer of 2016 in the wake of the overdose death of an 18-year-old who was living there, and in May 2017, McCrossan and McGoldrick sold the property to Justin Gurland, Matthew Rinklin and Zachary Clark. The trio reopened the business under the name of Release Recovery.
However, according to the conditions set by the town, the property’s sale rendered the permit null and void. The Town Board revoked the special use permit in July 2017, triggering the litigation.
Interim town attorney Richard Abbate, in a summary he presented at the board’s meeting on Tuesday, June 5, said the new operators challenged the town’s decision, arguing it constituted discrimination, but, he said, “the action was discontinued without prejudice,” meaning that it could be brought again. In an accompanying legal challenge, the operators contended they had not violated the terms of the special use permit because one of the principals of the former business remained involved in the new business.
In addition, he said, those seeking sober home services are considered a “protected class” under the law.
Abbate also noted that sober living residences are not included in the list of uses requiring a special permit under town code.
“The town cannot regulate or put conditions on how a business operates,” Abbate said. “The town can regulate items that are subject only to the zoning code.”
Abbate said the code defines a family as “one or more persons occupying a dwelling unit and living as a singe housekeeping unit with kitchen facilities and other rooms in common.”
“This is exactly what’s happening at 482 Underhill Ave.,” he said. “This is what makes it an ‘as of right’ use.”
When resident Dan Strauss asked why “a special use permit was granted in the first place,” Abbate said that while he was not representing the town at the time, he suspected that because the use of the house had generated so much opposition, it may have been considered a tool to quell the outcry.
During the second courtesy period, Siegel again implored the board to explore what the town could do to regulate sober living residences, should more decide to locate in the community.
“The issue becomes a family,” Siegel said, “and our definition is unbelievably, ridiculously outdated.”
To which Councilman Ed Lachterman replied, “It’s a very slippery slope.” Referring to the possible use of a term such as transient, he said, how would that apply to a child returning home from college, for example. And, he said, “The term family has become more inclusive,” not less.
“I think while we’d like to do something,” Councilwoman Alice Roker said, “I’m not quite sure what there is to do.”
Abbate said the action taken by the board would end current court action on the matter as well as prevent future action. It also would save the town “hundreds of thousands of dollars” on attorney fees and related court costs.