By Jane Smith
Two large coastal cities in southern Palm Beach County passed group homes regulations in mid-July.
The new rules, designed to rein in rogue operators of sober homes while preserving the single-family character of neighborhoods, cover all group homes for people with disabilities. A sober home provides housing for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics. When they live together and maintain a sober lifestyle, they are protected by federal anti-discrimination and fair housing laws.
The new group home rules went into effect after the Delray Beach and Boynton Beach city commissions passed them unanimously on July 18.
“We are following the federal regulations and need to maintain neutral standards,” said Mike Rumpf, Boynton Beach planning and zoning director. “The courts are sensitive to actions taken not based on facts but on community concerns.”
As a result, Boynton Beach no longer has a distance requirement between new group homes. In June, Commissioner Joe Casello had asked for a greater distance than the 300 feet Rumpf had proposed.
“There is no justification to enforce the distance between the homes,” said James Cherof, Boynton Beach city attorney.
Delray Beach used a planning consultant from the Chicago area to help craft its group homes ordinance. With information supplied by city staff, Daniel Lauber said the city has at least 183 sober homes, far too many for a city of its size.
Lauber, who also wrote the group homes ordinance for Prescott, Ariz., recommended a 660-foot radius between new group homes. That distance requirement is part of the new group homes ordinance in Delray Beach.
In both cities, new group homes must be certified or licensed.
In Delray Beach, existing group homes have until April 1 to become certified or licensed.
Boynton Beach will require its existing group homes to become certified by Oct. 1, 2018.
For sober homes, that means certification by the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, a regulatory body based in Boca Raton.
The association’s president, John Lehman, spoke at the Boynton Beach City Commission meeting. Lehman said only 14 recovery residences were certified in Boynton Beach, but city officials estimate they have at least 50.
“We have a grievance form on our website where you can report a problem with a FARR-certified home or one without certification,” Lehman said. The certification is required by the state for recovery residences that receive clients from state-licensed treatment centers.
Neill Timmons, who runs two FARR-certified residences in Boynton Beach, said, “If the places are run well and staff supervises the clients, you should not have any problems.”
Both cities also have parking requirements that mirror ones for single-family and multifamily neighborhoods.
Boynton Beach recently upgraded its nuisance ordinance to include a 24/7 hotline for residents to call and complain about noise, parking problems, etc. City staff would investigate and, if warranted, the property owner would be contacted. The number is 732-8116.
“If nothing is done, then it would go to the magistrate for review,” Boynton Beach Mayor Steven Grant said. “Measurables are calls to the non-emergency number.”
Residents will play a significant role in telling the city what is happening in the neighborhoods, Cherof said.
“It doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “But over time, it should work.”
By Jane Smith