Naked NIMBYism in Falmouth

Toward a Dubious Falmouth First
Article would regulate 'recovery houses'

An article in the Town Meeting Warrent seeks to regulate the operation of recovery houses, also known as "sober houses," or homes for those living with the disease of addiction and committed to treatment and recovery. If this article moves forward to passage, Falmouth will likely possess the distinction of another first - this one of a dubious and unfortunate nature.

Falmouth has always prided itself, and rightfully so, in being a leader - a community of firsts - in many important public policy areas.  We were among the first to identify protection of open space as both an economic and environmental priority.  The town and the 300 Committee have acres in every village to solidify that legacy.  We were a leader in curbing smoking in our bars and restaurants.  That one came with a bit of a nudge and a struggle, but the town nonetheless understood and agreed in the end that the public benefits outweighed the protestations at Town Meeting.  The protracted debate on wastewater and reducing nitrogen in our coastal resources has been a front-burner issue precisely because Falmouthites care enough to be environmentally conscious and responsible, wanting to leave a Falmouth not only suitable but thrivable for future generations.

It is with this history of progressiveness in mind and as a backdrop that makes the existence of Article 7 on the upcoming Fall Town Meeting warrant confusing, and a bit maddening.  The article seeks to regulate the operation of recovery houses, also known as "sober houses,"  or homes for those living with the disease of addiction and committed to treatment and recovery.  If this article moves forward to passage, Falmouth will likely possess the distinction of another first - this one of a dubious and unfortunate nature.  We will likely become the first community to face adverse action from the United States of America twice on this important public health issue.

Back in 2001, the town signed an enforcement agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  The agreement, under the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed, in the town's "best interest to avoid further administrative proceedings and the potential for protracted and costly legal proceedings."  Those are Uncle Sam's words, not mine.   If this sounds a bit ominous, it's because it was and is.  The town faced serious sanctions and fines from the federal government for openly violating the civil rights of people - our people  - our Falmouth citizens - seeking to begin a new way of life in their own community.

The article on the warrant seeks to do precisely what the enforcement agreement with the government said we could not - limit the ability of recovery homes to operate in our community.  At a recent meeting of the Planning Board to discuss zoning issues, Attorney Ed DeWitt offered an admonition to the Planning Board to rationalize support for this ill-advised local legislation.  "Essentially, anyone can hang up a shingle in Falmouth and say, ‘I'm a sober house',"  he said, offering that oversimplification as justification to approve the article.  Note to Ed:  disdain and vituperation aimed at a legally protected segment of our community is no way to promote public policy. Ask Falmouthite Adam Byron if that's the case.  He should know.  Adam is the President of Commitment Living, a company which operates two recovery houses in Falmouth, and another two in nearby communities.  He has roots here. 

He is part of the fabric of Falmouth.  He grew up in this community, is raising a family (triplets) here with his wife, and is also a regional leader in providing safe and supportive housing for people in recovery.  His recovery houses are good neighbors - they have hosted open houses to acquaint local law enforcement, area residents, and treatment organizations  with his model for providing a path down the road to recovery.  Many employees of his company began their journey as residents in one of his homes.  Simply put, it works.  To limit these miracles from occurring in Falmouth simply out of fear and discrimination is not only un-American, it's just flat out wrong.

When article 7 appears on Town Meeting floor for discussion on November 7th, Town Meeting Members should vote it down.  They should sound a collective and enthusiastic "NO" against this naked attempt at NIMBYism, not simply as a prophylactic against federal legal action against the town, but because it's the right thing to do.

This article is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.

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