By Tina Richards
The Orange Planning Commission upheld a permit issued to David Tous, 7366 E. Saddlehill Trail, for a sober living facility, rejecting an appeal filed by neighbors at 7726 E. Saddlehill, who also want to open a group home for people recovering from substance abuse.
While such facilities are legal in residential neighborhoods, a City of Orange ordinance prohibits two group homes within 300 feet of each other. That means Kathryn Rathvon and Victor Republicano, who bought their Saddlehill property last year with the intent to open a sober living facility, cannot do so because Tous’ permit supersedes theirs.
Tous filed his application for a sober living permit in April; it was approved May 29. Several days later, Rathvon and Republicano filed their application, but it was denied. The couple appealed the approval of Tous’ permit, claiming that it was obtained under false pretenses.
You beat me to the punch
During the Nov. 2 planning commission hearing, Rathvon and Republicano testified that Tous had filed his application for the sole purpose of thwarting them. They claimed that he had no intention of opening a group home, and that, by law, an application containing “misleading information” could be revoked.
Tous challenged the allegation, noting that he was troubled by his new neighbors’ desire to “profit from others’ addictions.” He said he believed charging people $20 to $30 thousand, or more, a month was distasteful and immoral. “My efforts, my intentions, speak for themselves,” he explained. “I’ve put in for a business license; I’ve worked with fire and building inspectors; I’ve prepared the place for those with addictions and created adequate parking for nine cars.”
Planning Commission Chair Adrienne Gladson emphasized that Rathvon and Republicano had to “prove falseness” if Tous’ permit was to be revoked. The pair recounted a docket of angry comments and perceived threats made by Tous and other neighbors who opposed their group home. They produced a witness who catalogued even more angry words from neighbors that, he said, “illustrated community opposition to the group home.” It was clear to the newcomers, they said, that the neighbors would do anything to stop them.
“The neighbors aren’t here [at the meeting] to support Tous’ group home,” Republicano said, “They’re here to oppose ours.”
First come, first served
With two group homes already operating in Orange Park Acres, neighbors are indeed unhappy with the prospect of another one. Angry words between neighbors, however, did not constitute “proof” in the eyes of the planning commission. “I listened hard for material evidence,” Gladson said. “I didn’t hear anything to make me believe staff didn’t make the right decision.”
“We’re dealing with a 300-foot radius,” Commissioner Daniel Correa summarized. “Tous put in his application first; we have to go by the ordinance and allow him to proceed. We can’t assume it’s not objective.”
Commissioner Ernie Glasgow asked City Attorney Gary Sheatz if there was a time limit for the facility to open. Sheatz reported that there was no specific timeframe, it just had to be “reasonable.” And, he noted, the facility would be considered open for business with just one client. The city would not, however, be obligated to check on it as long as Tous’ business license was current.
After acknowledging that neighborhood animosity was beyond the scope of the commission, that it was tasked strictly with land use issues, commissioners voted 5-0 to reject the appeal and uphold David Tous’ permit.