Sober house in waterfront mansion? Delray Beach residents say no way

The prospect of a drug treatment center moving into a foreclosed, million-dollar mansion in a ritzy shoreline neighborhood on A1A in Delray Beach has beachfront residents up in arms. And they’ve already begun to fight City Hall.

James K. Green, attorney for the Caron Foundation, a nonprofit provider of alcohol and drug addiction treatment, said the organization wants to locate a treatment center in Delray Beach, but he refused to name the location, citing client privacy protections.

But nearby homeowners know exactly where the center is being proposed, and large numbers of residents have brought their complaints to both the Planning and Zoning Board and City Commission. Not only do they hope to block a so-called “sober house” from moving into their single-family neighborhood, they say city ordinance prohibits large numbers of “transients” in their community.

The Caron Foundation’s attorney takes a different tack. He said the federal Fair Housing Act was expanded some years ago, placing people recovering from drug and alcohol abuse into a protected class.

Green blamed the outpouring of opposition on “the affluent homeowners and Realtors who are alarmed at the prospect of people with disabilities moving into their backyards. But federal law protects this.”

Whatever the reason for the opposition, there’s no question it has touched a nerve. About 200 residents showed up at a City Commission meeting earlier this month to slam the sober house — and the item was not even on the agenda.

A similar-sized crowd packed City Hall for the planning and zoning meeting.

City Commissioner Adam Frankel, who called the Caron facility “a high-end sober house,” said he is “not in favor of any transient housing in single-family areas.” He said he thinks other commissioners agree.

Meanwhile, the city’s “transient residential housing” ordinance may soon get an even more restrictive makeover.

Planning and Zoning Director Paul Dorling said current law bans from single-family districts all homes that have a turnover of more than six residents per year. A proposal in the works would toughen that restriction to three turnovers a year. The Planning and Zoning Board voted 6-0 last week to recommend the City Commission adopt the change. Commissioners will hold a public hearing in January.

The proposal already has its fans. Andy Katz, vice president of the Beach Property Owners Association, said the proposed ordinance wouldn’t affect A1A alone nor would it just impact sober houses.

“The rules apply citywide,” said Katz, who objected to the city’s failure to make the law stricter during a revision in 2009.

Frankel said he wanted more stringent sober house rules two years ago, but the rest of the commission “at the time” wasn’t in agreement. Two years and three new commissioners later, Frankel said the sentiment among city leaders seems to have changed.

But to deny the recovery center, Green said, is “discrimination against people with disabilities who need stable, transitional housing.” He urged commissioners “not to rush into it. There is not a problem.”

Some city residents and the BPOA, which one political observer described as a “sleeping bear,” appear to disagree.

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