Homeowner Disputes Rights of Group

Alcoholics Anonymous may have to relocate from Fort Sherman Chapel

Joyce Hargrove

September 20, 2010

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) may lose its 28-year meeting spot at the Fort Sherman Chapel next to the campus soon if one neighboring homeowner decides to proceed with a lawsuit.

What started as a petition to keep AA out quickly became a city ordinance problem, according to one AA member.

"The meetings are illegal," said Ed Kok, commercial litigation attorney and nearby homeowner since 2000, adding that he is independently capable of filing such a lawsuit for what would be a misdemeanor punishable by a $1000 fine.

Homeowners unhappy with parking problems challenged the use of the chapel and if it was in accordance with the city zoning laws, said Mike Dolan, local homeowner since 2002.

According to Kok, the chapel is zoned under R8, which means that no one can meet without a special-use permit.

The 130-year-old structure, originally home to the Fort Sherman military and now on the national registrar for historic places, has housed AA meetings since 1982, according to Dorothy Dahlgren, director of the Museum of North Idaho, which owns the chapel.

Kok added that he is not clear on why AA still meets there without a permit.

"Why are they so selfish? AA acts like they own it," he said. "Do they want their pride or for us to live peacefully?"

Terry Godbout, homeowner since 1996, said although AA is loud enough to hear several houses away, he still would not sign a petition if offered.

Midge Thysell, local homeowner since 1990, stated that at times AA is noisy and occasionally a loud radio blares, but "They have been friendly to me and have even invited me to picnics and barbeques."

Several homeowners agreed that the NIC students are just as much at fault when it comes to parking issues.

A couple residing nearby, who wished not to be identified, admitted the 7 a.m. meetings have raised parking issues along with the loud radios, motorcycles and second-hand smoke that travels into their yard.

Homeowners since 2005, the couple, who resides there just part-time, said they are trying to be good neighbors even if they're not there much.

"You can't piss people off," Kok said. "We've been blocked in and blocked out. They wake us up, keep us up and flip us off. It's a 355-day meeting in our yard."

Kok said the problems have worsened over the past five years and have had serious impact on the neighborhood.

The consensus among the AA community seems to be that the person wanting them out the most could very well benefit from the AA program himself.

"One drunken attorney doesn't want us there!" an AA member bluntly put it.

From his understanding, Dolan said it's not just AA they want out -- it's all functions taking place there.

With any problems that have arisen, he found "They (AA) are pretty reasonable to talk to."

Fred Behrmann, homeowner since 2002, said it's noisy early in the mornings and parking is a hassle.

Behrmann said the issues have been going back and forth for some time and there seems to be lack of accountability, but unfortunatley, "No one is stepping up to the plate."

Kok said he has written three letters to the museum but hasn't heard a word from them or from AA for that matter.

"No return calls, no 'I'm sorrys'." The anger comes from a long time of being ignored, he said, then added that he's mainly annoyed with people who say to your face that there's nothing you can do.

When asked if he showed up drunk at an AA meeting to confront them, as several AA members stated, Kok said, "That's a lie! So now they're resorting to character assassination -- it shows the character of those who attend the meetings. There's not a judge in the district who would believe that defamation." "I will follow through with the lawsuit," Kok said. "It won't be cleared up until they move. I won't stop."

Dahlgren said she hopes this will all be resolved peacefully in a few weeks. Dahlgren added that AA has been longtime standing in the community and the building would be prone to vandals if AA wasn't there on a daily basis.

There's tens of thousands of dollars worth of money tied up in that building, she said, from grants and rent money over the years. Dolan said AA has done more work on the grounds than any other group.

If Fort Sherman Chapel closed, it will have historic significance because it's one of the oldest buildings still in the area and the last remaining of the three buildings from the original fort, he said.

One AA member said he likes the fact that the meetings have been held there for so long. Additionally, hed stated that the chapel in particular provides 12-step addicts who have presence in the community a safe place to go.

Buildings often lose leases, he said, and they must go elsewhere, but he feels it would affect NIC, as well as AA, limiting meeting options, as it would for many. He said it really wouldn't affect him personally because each group is autonomous but felt it would affect each individual.

"Is it going to be the death of AA? By no means," he said, "but I believe it would be detrimental to the community to do away with that meeting."

The building was given to the museum in 1984 by the Athletic Round Table, a philanthropical Group that had ownership since 1942 when it was saved from demolition, renovated and rented out as a church, Dahlgren said.

The North Idaho College Sentinel

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