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November 13, 2023

Fitchburg sober house owner sues Zoning Board of Appeals over new restrictions

A white three-story house Image | Courtesy of Google Maps 69 High St. in Fitchburg

The owner and operator of Jeffrey’s House, a group of sober living houses in Fitchburg, has filed a lawsuit against the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals over its decision involving a proposed location at 69 High St. 

The lawsuit was filed by Jeffery Summers, owner and operator of Jeffrey's House, in Worcester Superior Court on Friday. 

The lawsuit follows a ZBA decision in September, which saw the board limit the number of residents and require a commercial kitchen at the organization’s proposed sober living facility.

The suit argues the ZBA’s decision to cap the number of residents at 12 is arbitrary, saying the building can legally accommodate up to 18 individuals. 

The lawsuit states the decision to require that the facility’s kitchen be upgraded to commercial standards is based on untenable grounds, and the board’s decision to compel Summers to pay outstanding fines is illegal, as Summers claims they were the result of racial prejudice from the City’s building commissioner. 

“I’ve been in Fitchburg for 12 years,” Summers said in a phone interview with WBJ. “For 11 of those years, I’ve been in court with the City of Fitchburg. It’s quite obvious to me that they don’t want me here.”

The lawsuit does not provide details on the exact nature of the alleged racism, but claims the City only began to take issue with alleged structural issues at the property when Summers, a Black man, purchased it from white owners in 2020.

Summer said the City is holding him to a different standard than previous owners. He says his research has shown all previous owners to be white. 

“For close to 70 years [the building] has been double occupancy,” he said, referring to the ZBA’s decision to mandate the sober house’s rooms only be allowed to have one resident.

69 High St. is a three-story structure that dates back to 1955. It previously held a veteran’s hospice, according to the lawsuit.  

Fitchburg officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment from WBJ. 

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