Part of his argument was that academic research shows that occupants of a halfway house stay sober longer if there are more people to lend them support.
To that end, Grabitske questioned three residents of Belle House as a lawyer would question his or her witnesses.
“We have like a sisterhood there,” one of the women said. “We’re there to support each other through hard times.”
“Kind of like a family environment?” Grabitske asked. “Yes,” she responded.
The attorney, attempting to meet his legal standards of reasonableness and necessity, asked Wennes if an occupancy of six people is financially viable in the long-term.
“I can’t predict the future, but it hasn’t been so far,” Wennes said. He said his first year in operation has showed him that he can barely break even with six occupants, but that’s as long as nothing major breaks. And even with a maximum occupancy of six he more often has about four clients.
Kennedy had witnesses of his own, including City Planner Mike Fischer. The law allows opponents of requests like these to succeed if they can prove one of two things: that the request is either a substantial burden to the city’s finances or is a fundamental change to zoning laws.
Fischer admitted the city hasn’t spent a lot of money on services to Belle House. Wennes has called police twice after his clients were very drunk – he said one had drank almost a gallon of vodka in a 24-hour period – but they haven’t broken any laws.
But the second question was different.
“In your opinion, is having eight unrelated persons in a residential unit a substantial change in North Mankato zoning ordinance?” Kennedy asked. Fischer said it was, because the R-1 zone allows for only two unrelated people.