NORTH MANKATO — The city of North Mankato has denied a sober house’s request to expand from six to eight clients.
The Belle House, which opened last summer as a sober house for recovering female addicts, had requested to expand the number of clients it can house because it wasn’t making money with just six.
But the city, in a 3-2 ruling made public Tuesday afternoon, said the Belle House is already housing three times the normal allowable number of unrelated persons living in one single-family dwelling.
The ruling also said there is evidence of other facilities operating successfully with six or fewer clients.
The ruling said granting a so-called “reasonable accommodation” would place an undue financial or administrative burden on the city of North Mankato, although the ruling didn’t elaborate on why.
Also, the ruling said granting the request would have created a fundamental alteration to North Mankato’s land use and zoning scheme, “and is not a reasonable accommodation.”
“We’re obviously disappointed by the outcome,” Belle House owner Darcy Wennes said. “We’re going to explore other alternatives.”
Eight clients were needed, owner Darcy Wennes said at Monday’s hearing, to keep the business a profitable venture and to keep the doors open for the women who needed it.
But on Tuesday, he didn’t sound as grim. He said they’ll be exploring other alternatives and would try to do what they could do to keep Belle House open.
Council Members Bill Schindle, Billy Steiner and Bob Freyberg represented the majority, voting against the expansion. Mayor Mark Dehen and Council Member Diane Norland voted to grant Belle House’s request.
The Belle House is run by Wennes, a recovering drug addict himself who has been sober for more than a decade. It was Wennes’ way of both building a career as a chemical dependency expert and counselor, and filling a need in the region. There are no other sober houses for women in the area.
He opened Belle House last summer at 2107 Northridge Drive with six clients.
Since opening, he said, there have been few problems. And when there are problems, he said, he takes care of them. When women staying at Belle House break house rules, they are discharged. Wennes said he’s discharged five women so far for violating house rules.
Neighbors, however, expressed concern about women following the house rules. They urged the council to follow state law that limits the number of unrelated persons in one household to six.
Neither Wennes nor his attorney could immediately be reached for comment.
At a hearing before the City Council Monday, North Mankato City Attorney Mike Kennedy said the decision could not be appealed at the city level. Any recourse would need to be taken to the state court system.