By Mary Thurwachter
Property owners turned out en masse at the April 8 Town Council meeting to oppose a proposed sober house at 118 N. Oak Ave., around the corner from the Ocean Avenue shopping district.
Phyllis Small, who owns property on the avenue, brought a petition with 300 names on it. They objected to using the multi-residence gated building for a sober house for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.
Permitting a sober house so close to a drug store that sells alcohol, and bars and restaurants that sell spirits, would be “a disaster,” Small said. “It does not seem logical where people are so tempted when they are attempting rehabilitation.”
She said people in the neighborhood “feared for their safety.”
But the council could offer little consolation.
“We cannot control sober homes,” Mayor Dave Stewart said, “because people are protected under federal law. Addicts are considered protected under federal law.”
The town’s attorney, R. Max Lohman, agreed.
“Once you’re in a protected class, there’s very little you can do,” he said. “I know it can be difficult. Delray Beach has wrestled with this and continually lost on merits (when taking the issue to court).”
“We don’t get to pick and choose the parts of the Constitution we like,” Lohman said. “There’s not a legally sufficient solution.”
Small said she still wished there were something that could be done.
“The perception of Lantana is that you can do anything here,” she said. “At least in Delray they fought it.”
She said that avenue property owners were already suffering with the bridge being closed (until November) and that having a sober house would cause property values to plummet.
Alan Ross, who has a shop on Ocean Avenue, criticized the town for not alerting them to news of the sober house.
“We found out two weeks ago at Moe’s gas station,” Ross said.
Stewart said the town was not approached (about the sober house coming in) and could not stop it.
“We have more right to control raucous noise than sober houses,” he said.