Muskie Harris to ask for use permit for group home again | Arkansas Blog

Monday, March 23, 2015

Muskie Harris to ask for use permit for group home again

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2015 at 3:14 PM

click to enlarge The historic Harris house, for which Muskie Harris is again seeking a conditional use permit.
  • The historic Harris house, for which Muskie Harris is again seeking a conditional use permit.
Muskie Harris, the former Razorback football player who operates a group home at 20th and Broadway for men with first-time alcohol and substance abuse arrests, is again seeking a conditional use permit for the home from the Capitol Zoning District Commission. His application will be heard by the Mansion Area Advisory Committee on April 9 agenda and by the commission on April 16.

Both the committee and commission denied the permit in February 2014. Harris and business partner Lancet Lamb sued the CZDC in April 2014, saying the commission had violated the U.S. Fair Housing Act. That suit is still pending in Circuit Court; Judge Tim Fox has asked Harris to file a brief by April 7.

Harris incorporated the Muskie Harris Rehabilitation Service in 2013 to operate the group home and opened it in October 2013, a month prior to seeking a conditional use permit from the commission. The CZDC staff recommended at that time that the conditional use permit be granted as long as the house met state and city zoning laws, was kept in good condition, that none of its residents had been convicted on drug or alcohol charges and there was no drug use in the house.

Harris said the residents were part of a program that allows first-time offenders arrested on alcohol or substance abuse to complete recovery programs to get the charges against them discharged.

The commission rejected the application, saying the use of the house, designed by Charles Thompson and constructed circa 1895, as a group home did not meet “urban design goals” of the Mansion Area Master Plan.

There was strong, vocal opposition at meetings of the Mansion Area Advisory Committee and the Downtown Neighborhood Association when the house was first occupied, but Boyd Maher, executive director of the CZDC, said the only feedback received lately has come from a neighbor.

We have a call in to Harris to ask why he’s applying for a permit again rather than letting the lawsuit play out and details on the group home’s occupants. Federal law considers persons with drug or substance abuse problems to be disabled, which allows them to live in group homes so long as they meet zoning rules. That law would seem to apply to the house.

Harris said in an interview last year that the men come to the house from 90-day recovery centers such as Serenity House, Recovery Centers of Arkansas and Hoover House. They are required to work, attend Narcotics or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and pay rent, which includes meals. 

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