Overland Park ‘sober living’ house can move forward, despite some opposition in Shannon Valley subdivision

Shannon Valley

Some Shannon Valley residents have opposed plans to establish a "sober living" residential facility in a four-bedroom home in the subdivision, above, but Overland Park officials say the concept is protected under federal housing law and can go forward. File image.

A planned “sober living” house in Overland Park’s Shannon Valley Estates subdivision falls under federal Fair Housing Act protections and can be operated without additional use permits or hearings, city officials say.

The decision has left neighbors no clear path to continue their opposition, which included a fundraising page for possible attorney fees, a website and, briefly, a petition against the plan.

One of those neighbors, Rosalind Price, said concerns about safety and property values remain. The next steps are unclear but the group will hold at least one more meeting, she said.

One possibility is to ask the city to provide some notification to neighborhoods in the future.

However, according to a 13-page letter from Jack Messer, the city’s director of planning and development services, similar facilities are legally free to open without any notification to or interference from the city, and it’s not uncommon for them to do so.

The four-bedroom house at 9119 W. 113th Street was the family home of artist Kar Woo, who founded the non-profit Artists Helping the Homeless. That organization is running the home.

Once it’s operational, the Concord House, as it will be known, will sleep as many as eight people. The house members will come only by referral and will not include sex offenders or violent criminals, Woo said.

Artists Helping the Homeless also plans to have a staff member living on site.

The home will be similar to Oxford Houses, which already exist in Overland Park, Woo said. The non-profit already runs four other sober living homes around the Kansas City region, but this would be its first one in Johnson County.

“We are thankful to the city for working with us to allow this,” Woo said, adding he remains hopeful that the neighbors will feel more comfortable as they learn more of the facts about the home.

Neighborhood opposition

The city learned about the plans December 17, after getting questions from alarmed nearby residents.

Some neighbors worried that the home would provide a revolving door of residents from jail, detox and homeless shelters whose presence would intimidate older residents and children in the area of single-family, 1980s-era homes.

Those worries persist, said Price, who lives about a block from the future Concord House.

For instance, the area doesn’t have much in the way of public transit to get residents to their jobs or school. Price said the prospect of a group of residents waiting outside for rides could be intimidating to families with kids.

She added she was especially concerned that the Shannon Valley Homeowners’ Association did not send out written notices to elderly residents once the plan became known.

Neighbors who oppose the idea started a website named “Keep Shannon Valley Safe,” as well as a NextDoor group and a GoFundMe page for possible attorney fees that had raised $7,500 as of Thursday.

Price estimated that 130 of the neighborhood’s more than 520 homes association members have identified themselves as concerned. Association board members did not respond to the Post’s request for comment.

City’s response

Still, federal anti-discrimination laws and court cases prohibit the city from interfering in how the home is run or doing additional inspections, according to Messer’s letter.

A U.S. Supreme Court case that allows Oxford Houses to operate across the country would also apply to Concord House, he said.

The case holds that people with disabilities – which include those with alcohol and drug addictions – qualify for reasonable accommodations under the federal Fair Housing Act. As such, the city can’t apply further zoning restrictions and permits, Messer’s letter said.

That also includes the city rule that no more than four unrelated people may live together in one building.

Neighbors were to meet again this week on the subject, but Price said it’s unclear what options they still have.

She said it appears the other homes run by the non-profit have had a good success rate.

“I will be hopeful this will be so seamless that the neighborhood doesn’t notice it,” she said.