Fla Town Temporarily Bans New Sober Homes

Dated: 12/14/2016

Views: 620

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. – Dec. 13, 2016 – In a move aimed at examining and possibly limiting the proliferation of sober homes in Boynton Beach, the City Commission approved a six-month ban on new applications for group homes.

Sober homes fall under the category of group homes, said Mike Rumpf, the city's director of planning and zoning. So could homes for the elderly or foster children.

The commissioners unanimously approved the moratorium without discussion, and no one from the public came to the podium to speak.

City staff requested the halt to have time to review the updated guidelines pertaining to group homes released Nov. 10 by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development, and see if changes need to be made to city regulations. The temporary ban went into effect with Tuesday's approval. But the moratorium also will be on the agenda for the next commission meeting for a public hearing, Rumpf said.

Cities across Palm Beach County are trying to figure out how to regulate the homes but have to be cautious because the addicts who live there are disabled and federal law says cities cannot discriminate against them.

Boynton Beach appears to be the first municipality to introduce a moratorium.

In Delray Beach, Boynton's neighbor to the south, officials are talking about adopting ordinances to regulate the recovery industry as early as January. In November, Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein told The Palm Beach Post he has asked the city attorney whether the city can impose a similar moratorium.

The moratorium gives some relief to those Boynton Beach residents who have complained to city officials for months, at least, about the sharp increase of sober homes opening in their single-family home neighborhoods. Residents say they bring an increase in traffic, noise and attention from police and paramedics.

"That has been the hottest topic, the most pressing issue, in our cities around here with respect to single-family environments," Rumpf said.

The moratorium won't close down existing homes, but will stop new ones from opening up. In Boynton, a business tax receipt and certificate of use are needed to open a sober home. Over the past six months, there have been times when Boynton sees two or three applications a week, Rumpf said, and other times they get one or two a month.

The temporary ban shows an "effort on the city's part to consider these impacts on residential neighborhoods," Rumpf said.

While attorney Jeffrey Lynne said he believes the moratorium is well intended, he said it's problematic. Lynne, an expert on drug treatment laws who often speaks out about unethical industry practices, called the moratorium "heavy handed" and "discrimination, whether intended or not." He said if the city is interested in weeding out the ill-intended sober homes from the legitimate ones, a better way to do so is to institute an ordinance that requires any recovery residence that wants to open in Boynton be certified by the Florida Association of Recovery Residences.

However, he said, "if the end result is to make it so the bad players are forced out of the city and good players are welcomed with open arms, I will support it."

The November guidelines were done at the request of U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, after hearing from her constituents about the proliferation of sober homes in their neighborhoods.

For Rumpf, a point of interest in the Nov. 10 report is the question: "Can a local government deny a group home's request for a reasonable accommodation without violating the Fair Housing Act?"

Here's a section of the answer: "In addition, a group home's request for a reasonable accommodation may be denied by a local government if providing the accommodation is not reasonable – in other words, if it would impose an undue financial and administrative burden on the local government or it would fundamentally alter the local government's zoning scheme."

Rumpf said a zoning scheme is based upon intensity and density. A sober home might bring more traffic, more noise and more attention than another single-family home. It could be more intense than what a neighbor expected when they moved in, Rumpf said.

"It leaves us with a challenging study. We'll see where it goes," he said.

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