McHenry County officials want stricter regulations on sober living homes

New Directions Addiction Recovery Services President Chris Reed stands at the agency's residence in 2016 after the group closed the property on Ellsworth Street in Crystal Lake. Reed wants to establish a third sober home in McHenry County, but ordinance changes might affect his ability to do so.
New Directions Addiction Recovery Services President Chris Reed stands at the agency's residence in 2016 after the group closed the property on Ellsworth Street in Crystal Lake. Reed wants to establish a third sober home in McHenry County, but ordinance changes might affect his ability to do so.

WOODSTOCK – In December, Chris Reed bought a four-bedroom house in unincorporated Crystal Lake.

He thought flipping the foreclosed property into his nonprofit’s third sober living home would be a sure thing.

It was Reed’s understanding before he closed on the house that he wouldn’t need any special use or conditional permits to open a New Directions Addiction Recovery Services home in the Walkup Woods neighborhood – but now McHenry County zoning officials are taking steps to create new regulations for group homes and sober living homes that could dramatically alter Reed’s plans.

“It takes it from us, from having a confirmed project to a position of not knowing,” said Reed, who is president of New Directions. “The decision of whether we’re going to be able to open is no longer up to us.”

The McHenry County Zoning Board of Appeals held a hearing Thursday where officials discussed amendments to the Unified Development Ordinance, a document that regulates land use in unincorporated McHenry County.

Reed bought the house in December with plans to create a 10- to 12-person group home. The proposed ordinance changes, however, could limit his options.

At the hearing, Dennis Sandquist, McHenry County’s director of planning and development, described some of the proposed changes that would affect Reed’s plans.

One of those changes supplies the definition of a household as a family of individuals related by blood, marriage or adoption, including foster children – or a group of not more than five unrelated adults.

If adopted, the ordinance change would mean six friends living together would be a zoning violation.

The proposed changes also would require a sober living operator to get a license if he or she wants to run a home with six to eight occupants.

Another change would prohibit sober living homes from housing occupants currently using illegal or controlled substances. Still another would prohibit detoxification services at the homes; that’s something reserved for health centers, Sandquist said.

The proposed ordinance changes also would adopt requirements for bedroom sizes already described in the International Property Maintenance Code. A room for one resident must be at least
70 square feet, while a room for two occupants must be
120 square feet.

Using a bedroom for three or more people would be prohibited, Sandquist said.

To Reed, the proposed changes came out of nowhere, but county officials said the changes stemmed from growing concern among McHenry County residents about the property.

More than 50 people showed up to Nunda Township’s meeting earlier this month to express shock, frustration and disappointment that they felt after they heard of Reed’s plans to open a sober living home in the neighborhood.

“There is some concern,” Sandquist told the Northwest Herald.

Reed is concerned, too.

If adopted by the County Board, the amendments to the development ordinance would alter his business model. He relies on at least eight people living in the home at 4612 Tile Line Road to keep the home running in a self-sufficient manner – but having 10 people would be ideal, Reed said.

Reed planned to open the house to recovering addicts within a couple of months. He specified that it is not a halfway house, and people will not be court-ordered to go there.

New Directions closed on the house Dec. 28, but the home needs new appliances, new carpet, new paint and a refinishing of hardwood floors.

It would not be the first time Reed has opened a home in McHenry County – a place he contends needs recovery services more than ever.

Drug overdose deaths in McHenry County have increased in each of the past six years, according to the McHenry County Coroner’s Office. Fifty-six people overdosed and died in the county in 2016, and about 60 died of opioid overdoses in the county in 2017.

Reed opened a men’s sober living home in October 2016 and also owns The Other Side, a Crystal Lake sober bar established in 2013.

A five-person women’s home at 171 Lincoln Parkway originally was meant to house 12 people but saw backlash from neighbors during a public hearing in March 2016 to rezone the property. New Directions was requesting to rezone it as a two-family residential home and receive a special use permit for a group dwelling. The home now is ready for occupancy.

Under the proposed ordinance changes, New Directions would need to get accreditation from a third party.

Reed said he has no other choice but to wait and see how county officials vote on the proposed changes to the Unified Development Ordinance.

“I’m waiting to see what the feedback is,” Reed said. “I would ask to look at these new regulations and see if they really fit, and if they’re actually appropriate to put on all group homes in McHenry County.”

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