‘Sober home’ concerns likely to spur new Scottsdale regulations

Scottsdale resident Angela Ashley in 2014 displaying a citizen petition meant to encourage Scottsdale City Council to develop sober-living facility regulations. (File photo)

Fueled by resident concern and invigorated by the actions of other Arizona municipalities it appears the city of Scottsdale is developing rules and regulations to quell the fears of local neighbors of sober-living facilities.

The city of Scottsdale 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 27 is hosting a public open house for proposed text amendments to the local zoning code that addresses sober-living facilities at the Via Linda Senior Center, 10440 E. Via Linda.

Back in 2014 Scottsdale resident Angela Ashley gathered about 300 resident signatures to encourage Scottsdale City Council to develop regulations for how a sober home can operate within city limits.

Since that time, both the town of Gilbert and city of Prescott have adopted certain provisions to provide both neighbors and city leaders better information of who is in a sober home, who is operating the home-based business and assurance that each operation is licensed by the state of Arizona.

Municipal leaders across Arizona say the regulation of sober-living facilities is a malaise of legality but local jurisdictions are entitled — through both state and federal law — to regulate the operations within a sober-living facility.

A sober-living facility, or sober home, as classified by both state and federal guidelines, seeks to help drug and alcohol addicts achieve sobriety and reintegrate into society at large. 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 state law says can house up to nine residents plus one employee — learn to live new lives free of alcohol or controlled substances.

Through its zoning code 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.

A draft ordinance amendment provided by City Hall Wednesday, April 26 shows potential changes to the established zoning code would require an increase of separation between facilities from 750 feet to 1,200 feet, the reporting requirement of a state license to conduct operations and a limit of six non-related adults identified as “disabled” being able to reside in the sober-living facility.

Two residents who spoke with the Scottsdale Independent say they are seeking regulation for a burgeoning industry encroaching their neighborhoods while municipal leaders contend a happy medium can be struck between operator, neighbor and municipality.

Safety and security

Scottsdale residents Judy Pollick and Ms. Ashley say they are working to have safety and security measures put into place to help residents understand better the operations of sober homes within city limits.

“The solution is putting together rules and regulations,” Ms. Pollick said in an April 25 phone interview. “Everyone wants to reinvent the wheel, but the truth is you don’t need to — the wheel is already there.”

Ms. Pollick, who has spearheaded the latest effort to generate local interest in developing sober home regulations in Scottsdale, says HB 2107 established the framework to establish local controls for operators of sober-living facilities.

“They can put in safety measures and security requirements. We are not saying we don’t want sober-living homes what we want to do is protect the residents of the sober-living homes and the surrounding community,” she pointed out.

Ms. Pollick points out certain sober home outfits run top-notch operations and, as municipal leaders agree, owners of those facilities already exceed new rules passed in other cities and towns in Arizona.

“The city may establish the rules and regulations as to how these sober-living facilities can operate,” she said of HB 2107 provisions that, in part, are based on legal precedent established in the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I am concerned as with others that have happened in Scottsdale that they (city leaders) have an image they are concerned with,” she said. “They like to think of them as group homes — it is not a group home. A group home is an elderly care home. These are individuals who can stand on their own two feet and who are trying to make positive changes in their lives.”

Ms. Ashley says she agrees with the notion Scottsdale can effectively regulate sober-living facilities to the benefit of both neighboring homeowners and residents of the facility.

“There is no reason that we can’t have ordinances that just address sober homes,” she said pointing out current zoning stipulations aren’t enough. “It lumps sober homes with care homes and it doesn’t distinguish the difference because the city doesn’t have a clue what goes on in these sober homes and if they are licensed or not.”

Ms. Ashley says residents like Ms. Pollick and others are looking to establish common sense regulations.

“We are pushing licensing, registering with the city,” she said. “Our objection is lumping them into group-care homes in the zoning code. A sober home does not really have services, it is there to help them transition into the community.”

But Ms. Ashley does point out sober-living facilities fill a need for any community but those services need to be licensed and registered with the city of Scottsdale and state of Arizona.

“They do have a good purpose. A happy medium with us is licensed and registered so the city knows who they are and where they are,” she said. “We should have some idea of who is actually in the home. We are looking for more regulation and more monitoring. No one is saying they can’t be here.”

Setting a standard

The municipalities of Gilbert and Prescott have similar ordinances to each other — both look to belay similar but unique resident concerns respectively.

“The town council recently adopted ordinance amendments requiring: group homes to provide to the town a copy of their state license; providing for a minimum separation between group homes and recovery residences of 1,200 feet; and that the number of residents are not to exceed five unless state law authorizes a limit of 10,” said Kyle Mieras, Gilbert development services director, in an April 25 statement.

The proof of licensing requirement works to weed out bad operators, municipal leaders say.

“All of these provisions are subject to the federal requirements mandating reasonable accommodations, upon request of an operator,” Mr. Mieras said of the ordinance’s framework.

“These requirements were developed in conjunction with input from operators and the public to meet the needs of residents, including the residents of group and recovery homes. The amendments have been received favorably by the community.”

The city of Prescott took the rules several steps further out of necessity, City Attorney Jon Paladini explains.

Jon Paladini

“People who are in recovery are deemed by the federal government to be disabled,” he said in an April 26 phone interview. “What we can do, however, is regulate through the impacts that they create or also regulate the operation of those types of group homes to protect the vulnerable population, who in this case are the people in recovery.”

Mr. Paladini points out Prescott took the approach of focusing on ensuring top-notch operations to help people who are helping themselves. He says around 2013 the city of Prescott — a community of about 40,000 residents — had more or less 150 sober-living facilities.

Also, a collection of clusters of about 25 to 30 sober homes in close proximity to each other emerged within city limits that raised concerns of hundreds of Prescott residents, Mr. Paladini says.

“Part of the problem here is peoples’ perceptions,” he said.

“There is this unproven assumption that sober-living homes or the residents of sober-living homes increase crime or drug use or affect the value of neighboring homes. But when you have these clusters it then becomes an institutional area or a social services areas that runs counter to the purpose of the Fair Housing Act.

Mr. Paladini says at one time in 2013 it is estimated that nearly 2,000 of Prescott’s estimated 40,000 population were residents of a sober-living facility.

Mr. Paladini points out zoning codes were amended and provisions for who can own and operate a sober-living facility along with licensing and reporting requirements helped single out bad operators.

He says sober-living facilities help turn lives around and there is a place in any municipality for that to occur under the right circumstances.

“There was a money-making opportunity for a lot of operators who maybe did not have the best interest of their clients or patients in mind — that is where we have seen such a spike in operators,” he said.

“We are trying to protect the vulnerable population from the less-legitimate operators, but there are operators who provide a necessary community service. They need a place to go to get to that first year of sobriety, which is the most critical time of recovery.”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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