By Bryan Boggiano
The city commission hopes to regulate recovery home and community residence abuse through a new ordinance they warmly welcomed at their Aug. 16 meeting.
According to city documents, recovery homes (also known as sober homes) effectively help individuals achieve sobriety but must be operated and appropriately located.
Typically, they are single-family homes or other units in residential areas with groups of unrelated individuals that emulate a family environment. This, the documents state, is important for reintegration and recovery.
But, as cases of substance abuse rise, so have the number of these residences, leading to clustering and regulation-related issues that affect the overall productivity of these homes.
Running Brook Hills, which has a cluster of closely located recovery homes, is one neighborhood affected by clustering. In response, city staff worked with a consultant, Daniel Lauber, who provided a legal framework the city could follow to regulate these facilities.
The city’s proposed ordinance acts within the confines of the Fair Housing Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act since people with substance abuse are considered people with disabilities.
Specifically, the ordinance defines family as community residences, recovery residences, and congregate living facilities.
Under the new code, any residence of four or fewer unrelated individuals is a family and not subject to further regulation. If there are more than four people, the code states there must be a reasonable accommodation using the least drastic means to achieve a legitimate government interest.
The code defines a family in community residences as either a family community residence (relatively permanent tenancy) or transitional (usually weeks to months but less than a year).
Both must be located more than 750 feet or nine lots, whichever is greater, from the closest existing community residence, recovery community, or congregate living facility.
Both must also be licensed and certified. A family community residence must also be certified.
A family community residence must apply for reasonable accommodation if it does not meet the certification or spacing requirements. If a transitional living does not meet spacing or certification requirements or is in a single-family district, they must also apply for reasonable accommodation.
Also, if the community residence houses more than ten residents and is not a state-licensed community residential home for seven to 14 residents, it must apply for reasonable accommodation.
In single-family districts, recovery communities would not be permitted unless they exist and obtain and maintain a Florida Association of Recovery Residences (FARR) certification within six months of code adoption.
In multi-family districts, recovery communities are allowed if they fulfill spacing requirements and have state certification. They must apply for a reasonable accommodation if they are within the spacing distance of another related community.
At their July 10 meeting, the Planning and Zoning Board voted 5-0 to forward a favorable recommendation to the city commission in favor of the ordinance.
On Aug. 16, residents and commission members welcomed the proposed ordinance.
Naomi Clapman, a resident of Running Brook Hills, said allowing sober homes to operate without accountability is negligent and has adverse effects on the neighborhood.
“We hope that this ordinance leads to further, stricter rules for similar businesses, which fundamentally alter our neighborhoods,” she said. “We believe the circumstances that have arisen in my neighborhood…is a prime example of why this ordinance needs to be adopted and passed.”
Ultimately, Vice Mayor Shawn Cerra moved to approve the ordinance, which Commissioner Joshua Simmons seconded.
“This is a major step forward to ensure that all of our property owners are held to city expectations that are fair and equitable,” Cerra said.
The commission voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance and sent it to a second and final reading on Sept. 13.
“These homes provide the basic necessities or the resources for individuals who need the support to put their lives back together…,” said Commissioner Nancy Metayer Bowen. “This is the first step to making sure that we are putting accountability in place to help limit the clustering in these communities.”
- Bryan has a degree in journalism from the University of Florida and earned his masters in geosciences from Florida International University, where he focused in atmospheric sciences. His interests include weather, entertainment, and municipal government.
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