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Halfway Homes in Bucktown, West Town Spur Neighbors' Lawsuits

By Emily Morris | April 18, 2014 6:50am
 Lawsuits were filed against A Fresh Start Sober Living, a city zoning board and the homes' owners.
A Fresh Start Homes
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CHICAGO — Bucktown and West Town residents on Wednesday filed two lawsuits against a chain of halfway homes that are accused of operating without proper zoning and being magnets for drug crime and harassment in their neighborhoods.

The suits come less than two months after A Fresh Start Sober Living, a business that takes in adults recovering from substance abuse, opened its location in West Town in the face of neighbor complaints.

Along with the Bucktown house, which has been around since 2011, A Fresh Start operates seven other homes in Old Irving Park, Roscoe Village and Northbrook.

Emily Morris tells DNAinfo Radio about residents' complaints about neighborhood halfway houses:

The lawsuits allege that other Fresh Start homes in the city draw increased criminal activity, excessive traffic and harassment, among other grievances.

One suit, which centers on the West Town halfway house at 530 N. Marshfield Ave., alleges the home's opening in February "has directly caused" theft, emergency intervention for drug-related problems, traffic, noise, loitering and harassment.

The suit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court by Sanchez Daniels & Hoffman LLP on behalf of "the Marshfield residents."

The other suit, which focuses on the Bucktown "Winchester House" at 2128 N. Winchester St., alleges that after the home opened, cigarette butts were flicked at neighbors' dogs. The dogs also were verbally harassed, the document alleges.

According to the Winchester House suit, filed by the same attorneys on behalf of Bucktown residents Jeff Morrison and Heidi Rinehart, the home has brought "visible drug trafficking," "instances of sexual harassment and verbal intimidation," along with noise, smoking, littering and loitering.

The conditions have created an "impairment of home values" and an "unsafe environment" for the neighbors, the complaint alleges. 

Both suits also name a city zoning board as well as the alleged owners of the two properties who lease their single-family houses to A Fresh Start.

Among those named is Scott Lee Cohen, who resigned from the Illinois lieutenant governor's race in 2010 and is now accused of not getting the proper zoning for the Winchester home. Cook County Records show that the home is actually owned by Gustavo Montes, who owns and operates a laundromat with Cohen in the city.

Cohen could not immediately be reached for comment.

In February, just after the West Town home opened, some of those recovering at the Bucktown halfway house spoke out about how the facility has helped them and why residents shouldn't fear them.

Few 911 calls have been made to the 2100 block of North Winchester Street recently, police said.

A review of 911 calls made to the block from January through mid-April found only a couple of parking-related complaints, one criminal damage to a car, a car-towing and a burglar alarm that turned out to be false, according to police.

As for the Marshfield block, starting in February, there were some Chicago Fire Department-related calls for medical emergencies, police said. There were also a couple of parking violation calls and a suspicious person call.

According to the complaints, the Winchester house has been used by as many as 22 adults at once, while more than 10 adults have lived at the Marshfield house.

The lawsuits also claim that because the houses do not provide counseling services or treatment and are not being used as single-family homes, they should have special zoning.

A Fresh Start applied for the Winchester house zoning in 2013 but withdrew the application after 40 residents signed a petition opposing the house, one of the lawsuits claims.

The suits also challenge whether the adults living in the homes can be classified as people with disabilities whose housing is protected under federal law.

The houses have had a "significant adverse impact on the general welfare of the neighborhood," each suit states.

Steven Polin, an attorney who represents A Fresh Start, said he has seen the suit pertaining to the Marshfield home, but that as far as he knows, his client hasn't been made aware of the Winchester suit.

"We're studying the lawsuit and we're considering our options," said Polin, who declined to answer further questions.