By Tim Pallesen
Delray Beach has given the Caron Foundation approval to operate two high-end sober houses near the ocean, ending a costly lawsuit that city commissioners feared they would lose.
The July 17 settlement came after a federal judge said it was likely that Caron could prove at trial that the city discriminated against recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.
“It is foreboding what’s going to happen at trial,” Matthew Mandel, the outside attorney hired to defend the lawsuit, told commissioners.
“The judge is trying to send us a message to say how he will rule if there’s a trial,” Mandel said. “I believe the city has no choice but to settle.”
City Attorney Brian Shutt estimated the city would owe at least $950,000 in damages and fees if it lost at trial. Shutt also urged commissioners to settle.
“We have run into an immovable object,” Mayor Woodie McDuffie concluded. “To pursue this further would be fiscally unconscionable.
“I see millions of dollars in damages,” McDuffie said before the unanimous vote to settle. “A city of our size cannot stand the loss of revenue of the magnitude this could reach.”
The settlement allows Caron to house eight recovery patients at 740 N. Ocean Blvd. and six patients at 1232 Seaspray Ave.
“We’ve established an absolute right to be there,” Caron executive vice president Andrew Rothermel said after the city gave up its fight.
Caron’s “Ocean Drive” program provides upscale housing and amenities for clients who pay $55,000 a month to live in the seaside houses while they undergo treatment at Caron’s facilities in Boca Raton.
Caron promises not to seek any additional sober houses in the city. The nonprofit treatment provider got the city’s permission to relocate its Seaspray Avenue sober house if it finds a more peaceful location.
“That house is in a neighborhood that’s so up in arms,” Rothermel said. “We might move if we could find a house with a greater degree of privacy.”
Neighbors have focused a webcam on the Seaspray house and put protest signs in their yards.
Ray Jones, who lives across the street, said the protest hasn’t ended because of the settlement.
“We still don’t want a boarding house in our neighborhood,” Jones said. “We are going to continue to fight in any way we can.”
But Cary Glickstein, another opponent, said that there’s nothing more the city can do to legislate against sober houses in single-family neighborhoods.
“This can only be summed up as a victory for Caron,” said Glickstein, the chairman of the city’s planning and zoning board and mayoral candidate. “The neighborhood got screwed.”
The issue at trial would have been whether the city violated federal laws that prohibit housing discrimination against recovering alcoholics and addicts.
Federal Judge William Dimitrouleas had criticized McDuffie and Glickstein for their public comments in an April order. The judge said Caron already had shown “a substantial likelihood for success at trial in demonstrating that the city has discriminated.”
Coastal residents called for laws to restrict sober houses when they learned in December that the city had approved Caron’s request to house seven patients at its North Ocean Boulevard house. The city then denied Caron’s request to open the Seaspray Avenue sober house and required both houses to have landlord permits.