Fairfield state legislators join fight against Newport Academy

State Sen. Tony Hwang and Reps. Laura Devlin and Brenda Kupchick discussed their legislative efforts to assist the fight against Newport Academy at a neighborhood meeting at St. Timothy's Church on Oct. 17.

State Sen. Tony Hwang and Reps. Laura Devlin and Brenda Kupchick discussed their legislative efforts to assist the fight against Newport Academy at a neighborhood meeting at St. Timothy’s Church on Oct. 17.

Rachel Scharf / Hearst Connecticut Media

FAIRFIELD — With the help of both lawyers and politicians, neighbors are continuing to fight against the establishment of residential treatment centers in Greenfield Hill.

At a neighborhood meeting on Thursday, Oct. 17, state representatives vowed to put forth legislation that would assist residents in their ongoing legal battle against these proposed sites.

Newport Academy, which operates a series of adolescent addiction and mental health treatment centers throughout the country, plans to open two six-bed treatment facilities at 3236 Congress St. and 2495 Redding Rd.

In March, the town granted Newport Academy a building permit for residential group homes.

Group homes must be treated as single-family residences under state and federal anti-discrimination guidelines. Their permits can supersede local zoning regulations, such as this case of Newport Academy establishing a non-single family home in the AAA residential zone of Greenfield Hill.

Residents have organized in staunch opposition to the facilities, forming the 501(c) organization Neighbors for Neighborhood Preservation, Inc. The group has worked to get the word out about Newport Academy’s plans, as well as fight the facilities in court. To date, they have raised over $31,000 to pay for legal fees.

Following the Zoning Board of Appeals’ denial of their petition to overturn Newport Academy’s building permit, the group’s legal team is organizing a court appeal.

Group member Collin Baron, an attorney whose colleague is representing the group, said they filed the appeal last week and expect it to be heard in Bridgeport Superior Court within the next four to six months.

The group’s argument, Baron said, will hinge on proving that Newport Academy is not in fact a group home, which he said implies a supportive community where residents have an intent to stay. These facilities, he said, are actually medical treatment centers, given that patients will reside there temporarily and receive intensive medical attention.

This will be difficult to prove in court, however, because there is currently no agreed-upon legal definition of group homes that differentiates them from medical facilities.

This is where legislation may play an important role. State Sen. Tony Hwang and Reps. Laura Devlin and Brenda Kupchick announced at Thursday’s meeting that they are currently drafting a statutory definition specifically stating that group homes are permanent residences, and medical treatment centers are not to be included in that category.

“A group home is a home,” Hwang said. “What Newport is trying to do is put in a medical, transitional facility under the guise of a group home. That to me is a clear breach of that intent, and as lawmakers I assure you, we’re going to be unified.”

This clarified legal definition, Hwang said, could be of immense use to attorneys, who could invoke it during their court appeal.

Hwang said they hope to propose this legislation within the month and have it ready to discuss once legislative session resumes in February.

“I want you to know that you have our full support,” added Devlin, who represents Greenfield Hill.

Reached for comment, a representative from Newport Academy said they are committed to following all legal guidelines and remaining open and transparent during the approval process.

“With each home in all of our partner communities, Newport abides by all necessary laws and regulations, and will continue to do so,” said Kristen Hayes, Newport’s Senior Director of Communications.

Neighbors for Neighborhood Preservation will also attempt to block Newport Academy’s Certificate of Need application, which is currently under review by the state Office of Health Strategy.

They plan to take an active role at the Certificate of Need public hearing, which OHS will schedule and announce in the next few months. This hearing will focus on the facility’s medical care, rather than zoning compliance.