GORHAM — The Town Council in special session Tuesday unanimously passed a 180-day moratorium on rooming houses.

The moratorium also became effective Tuesday. It buys time for the town to enact rules about rooming house operation following public concern about Courage House at 24 School St. in the village. The facility, considered a rooming house, will house up to 16 former prisoners in a sober living environment.

Bob Lowell / American Journal

“I’m looking at rooming houses in general,” said Town Councilor Lee Pratt, who sponsored the moratorium. “We need to get some regulations in place.”

A former town councilor, Bruce Roullard, of 46 School St., suggested from the public podium that rooming house rules could be similar to the town’s existing ordinance regulating fraternity and sorority houses. Those rules require an annual license and a fee.

Roullard didn’t feel that Courage House should be prevented from opening.

“The moratorium does not affect Courage House,” Town Councilor Ronald Shepard said.

Individuals in recovery from alcohol and drug disorders are considered disabled or handicapped under federal and state laws and any town attempt to regulate a sober house is limited.

After approving a moratorium 7-0, the Town Council ordered town staff to review and provide recommendations on “incorporating credentialing and additional standards for boarding houses, recovery houses and other related uses.”

Community Development Director Tom Poirier said Wednesday it’s unclear whether regulations would apply to current rooming houses. The matter depends on what language the Town Council might enact, according to Poirier.

Much of the public comment in Tuesday’s meeting focused on Courage House. Al Garcia, program director at Courage House, said following the meeting the first resident could arrive in the next few days.

Developer Susan Duchaine hoped the town wouldn’t shut down all rooming houses. “It can’t be worse than a fraternity,” she said.

The Courage House site used to be a fraternity house.

Supporting the moratorium, Sara Valentine of Libby Avenue urged the town to slow down and help facilities provide quality care. “Gorham can be a benchmark leader for other towns,” Valentine said.

Shonn Moulton, a former town councilor and Narragansett Street resident, said he is in favor of a second chance for future residents of Courage House and hopes it is successful, but he is also concerned about the safety of kids in the area.

Phil Gagnon, a former town councilor and board chairman, suggested a moratorium be retroactive. “Is this the right place,” Gagnon asked councilors. “It’s up to you.”

Citing her concerns about Courage House, Allyson Lowell of Gorham Residents for Responsible Growth asked the Town Council to think about issues and urged the board to do its research.

Town Councilor Virginia Wilder Cross said the town has done research. “We are spending time on this,” she said.

Considering the laws, Town Councilor James Hager doesn’t want the town sued. “We are reacting to something we never imagined,” Hager said.

The Town Council also sent a proposal to its Ordinance Committee to draft a recommendation for a new disorderly housing ordinance. “This would apply town-wide,” Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak said.

In other action Tuesday night, Suzanne Phillips, Town Council vice chairwoman, introduced an item not on the agenda seeking the board’s support for an asylum seekers’ fund. The matter was tabled to the Town Council’s July meeting.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 780-9089 or email [email protected]


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