Scottsdale grapples with ‘sober home’ regulations as neighborhood issues sprout

Scottsdale City Hall is at 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. in downtown Scottsdale (File photo)

Scottsdale City Hall is at 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. in downtown Scottsdale (File photo)

A Scottsdale resident is crying foul over the city’s approval of an adult-care facility to operate in a neighborhood — a move the resident claims is in direct violation to the city’s own zoning code.

A Scottsdale resident, in an April 25 e-mail to city zoning officials and Councilman Guy Phillips, alerted city officials of concerns over a third adult-care facility commencing operations in a local neighborhood.

The resident — who the Independent is allowing to remain anonymous out of fear for reprisals against them — says the newest adult-care facility is a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.

“I am shocked that the city granted this clearance of zoning when Red Rock (Addiction Treatment Centers of Scottsdale) is in clear violation of Scottsdale City Ordinance 5.012, which prohibits adult-care homes within 750 feet of another adult-care home on the same street frontage,” the resident said in her e-mail to Scottsdale zoning officials.

“Red Rock is located less than 750 feet and only two houses away from another adult-care home located on the same frontage at 12816 E. Turquoise Ave. called the Sundance Center. Sundance is also next door to a third adult-care group home called The Retreat, located at 10195 N. 128th St.”

A sober home or sober-living facility, as classified by both state and federal guidelines, seeks to help drug and alcohol addicts achieve sobriety. The 1968 Fair Housing Act was created to eliminate discrimination, allowing housing choices for all Americans despite, among other things, race, color, religious preference or gender.

The civil rights-era act established the Office of Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funnels grant dollars for outreach efforts to cities across the nation. The law’s 1988 amendments seeks to ensure all Americans, including recovering drug addicts and alcoholics, are treated fairly when seeking a place to call home.

The oftentimes home-based business is a rehabilitation effort where residents of the facility — which by state law can house up to nine residents plus one employee — learn to live new lives free of alcohol or controlled substances.

In the resident e-mail, directed to Scottsdale Planning and Development Director Randy Grant, the resident asserts Scottsdale zoning license No. BH4889 for an adult-care facility was erroneously approved by a Scottsdale zoning administrator.

“Mr. Grant, how is it that the city of Scottsdale Planning Department does not know that Sundance and the Retreat are already conducting business at the corner of 128th and Turquoise?” the resident asked.  “I understand that the neighbors had contacted the city several years ago regarding the violation of city ordinance, which allowed the Retreat to purchase the home directly next door to Sundance in direct violation of City Ordinance 5.012 prohibiting two group homes from operating within 500 feet of one another?”

The resident claims the city is not following its own zoning rules.

“The city yet again failed to abide by its own rules by allowing Red Rock to operate at the same street corner,” the resident said. The resident alleges Scottsdale Zoning Administrator Jeff Barnes signed off on the proposed operations at the place of business.

“On what grounds did Mr. Barnes sign off on Red Rock’s clearance of zoning allowing them to operate at this location in violation of the city ordinance?”

City officials say they are still looking into the claims asserted by the April 25 e-mail.

“Code Enforcement is looking into Red Rock’s operations to determine if they are operating appropriately under their current designation,” said Kelly Corsette, the city’s communication director, in an April 27 written response to e-mailed questions.

“City code does not specifically address ‘sober homes,’ so whether — and how — this section of city code applies to any particular facility is determined on a case-by-case basis.”

According Mr. Corsette, the city does not have any regulations specific to sober-living facilities and does not track the activities of these types of operations.

“Because we don’t regulate the majority of sober living homes, we can’t provide statistics as to how many operate here,” he said. “The city has not received a large number of complaints about the conduct of individuals living in these types of facilities. We do get complaints and inquiries from time to time from people in neighborhoods who become aware of a facility near them.”

Neighborhood nuisance?

Scottsdale resident Angela Ashley in the summer of 2014 gathered about 300 signatures encouraging Scottsdale City Council to create local regulations for sober-living facilities within city limits.

The city of Scottsdale regulates adult-care facilities, which can fall under the guise of sober homes or sober-living facilities, through its zoning code, specifically Section 5.012, which states that adult-care homes are subject to the following criteria:

  • Floor area ratio: Is limited to thirty-five hundredths (0.35) of the net lot area;
  • Capacity: The maximum number of residents other than the manager or property owner at the home is 10;
  • Location: An adult care home shall not be located within 750 feet of another adult care home on the same street frontage or within 500 feet in any other direction of another adult care home;
  • Compatibility: The home and its premises shall be maintained in a clean, well-kept condition that is consistent in materials and design style with homes in the surrounding or adjacent neighborhood.

Mr. Corsette says not much came from Ms. Ashley’s petition as, at the time, staff was researching the topic when the city of Prescott’s regulations on sober homes was challenged in court.

“With that matter now settled and with new state legislation — House Bill 2107 — ready to take effect, staff is again developing recommendations in this area, which could be considered by the City Council in the future,” he explained of the complex regulatory issue.

Councilman Phillips says if what the resident says is accurate, the adult-care facilities are operating outside of city zoning regulations.

“If indeed two of the halfway houses, or wellness centers, as they prefer to be called, are within 750 feet of each other then without question it is the duty of city staff to deny or revoke their permit,” he said.

A limited chance for local regulations

Councilman Phillips says state protections are limiting local regulations.

Guy Phillips

Guy Phillips

“All residents should be concerned because state protection is nullifying municipal rights to afford their residents a safe, quiet and peaceful neighborhood,” he said. “No one is against helping others, but like every other state-sponsored venture, it is out of control.”

There’s an appropriate place for these types of operations, but Scottsdale neighborhoods should not be one of them, Councilman Phillips contends.

“When a person buys into a neighborhood they should be able to expect that it stays a neighborhood, not be changed into business ventures,” he said.

“Although these halfway houses may help people, their bottom line is making money through federal and state grants. It is difficult to make a positive case regarding recovery houses when neighbors report watching drug deals and are having to put up with lewd comments and harassment toward themselves and their children.”

Councilman Phillips says it’s, “unconscionable to expect our citizens to live under these conditions” and residents are speaking out about their issues.

“As a city council member I have received numerous e-mails, as I’m sure the other council members have as well,” he pointed out.  “All of the e-mails I have received complain about halfway houses and the unsavory characters that hang around them. It angers me because our citizens should expect their government would be able to take care of their concerns in a positive manner.”

Councilman Phillips says resident concerns need to be addressed at the city level.

“Right now our hands are tied as these halfway houses are protected by the state,” he said. “There is a bill going through the Senate to regulate these types of enterprises. In the meantime, we can listen to our residents and if violations are reported, as with the two that are closer than 750 feet, we should immediately address those concerns.”

Allowing these kinds of operations in residential homes hinders local regulation opportunities, Councilman Phillips says.

“The problem is the business owner would have to lease or rent,” he said.

“Right now they are using their own homes so they don’t have that expense. If the state is really interested in taking care of our drug-dependent population they would provide locations near hospitals or health care areas and set up a real treatment facility, instead of farming it out to individuals who are willing to use their homes in established neighborhoods for federal and state paychecks.”

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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