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Delray to Boynton: Your moratorium on sober homes is ‘unconstitutional’


Delray Beach and Boynton Beach differ on their attempts to regulate group homes that include sober homes, causing some tension between the neighboring cities in southern Palm Beach County.

Earlier this month, Boynton issued a six-month moratorium on group homes, saying staff needs time to understand and evaluate recently updated federal guidelines. On Monday, Delray Beach’s mayor called the move “unconstitutional” and said the moratorium wouldn’t pass any legal challenge.

Delray wants ordinances that would allow the city to collect data on sober homes so it can make substantial regulation changes.

“It’s interesting in purposes of headlines, but it’s not going to survive a legal challenge and we’ve learned that,” Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein said of Boynton’s moratorium.

Glickstein says Boynton’s ban on new group homes — whether temporary or permanent — violates federal discrimination laws.

Citing attorney Jim Cherof’s recommendations, Boynton officials on Tuesday said they disagree. Cherof didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Regarding his take of the constitutionality of it, I don’t believe (Glickstein) is a constitutional attorney to make that sort of statement,” Boynton Beach Mayor Steven Grant said.

Who is right and what are the potential ramifications? That remains to be seen.

As sober homes continue to open throughout Palm Beach County, cities are trying to figure out how to regulate them. They’re fielding complaints from residents saying the homes bring too much noise, police and paramedic presence, and disturbances. And while many of the homes might have the best of intentions, there are those who don’t.

“That has been the hottest topic, the most pressing issue, in our cities around here with respect to single-family environments,” Mike Rumpf, Boynton’s head of planning and zoning, previously told The Palm Beach Post.

The cities have to be cautious with their actions because the addicts who live at the homes are disabled and federal law says cities cannot discriminate against them.

Monday night proved to be the first step for Delray Beach in regulation.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Board unanimously approved changes to ordinances that allow the city to collect data on individual sober homes so they can bring forward substantial changes in the way sober homes are regulated, under guidelines released by federal officials in November.

“Last night was a first step in probably what is going to be a six-month process on material changes to our ordinances,” Glickstein said Tuesday. “We’re doing it methodically and with a lot of expert guidance.”

The changes to Delray’s land development regulations — which will appear before the city commission in January for approval — would require group homes that operate under “reasonable accommodations” that exempt them from local regulations to annually re-certify through the city.

Here’s how that breaks down:

Sober homes can request through a city a “reasonable accommodation” to exempt the home from local regulations on the number of unrelated people that can live in the residence. (Most cities, Delray included, cap it at three unrelated people.)

To get the “reasonable accommodation” exemption, sober home operators must prove the number of unrelated people residing in the home is crucial to recovery.

Delray Beach presently requires sober homes to certify for “reasonable accommodation” only once through written request. The new regulations would force the homes to seek “reasonable accommodations” each year.

“We want to know as much as we can (about) who is in our town and what are they doing, to the extent that we legally can learn,” Glickstein said.

This first step will eventually lead Delray Beach to explore changing city ordinances to further regulate the bustling sober-home industry.

Boynton, which appears to be the first city to pass a moratorium, said its move is necessary to give staff time to review the updated guidelines pertaining to group homes released Nov. 10 by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development, and see if changes need to be made to city regulations.

The moratorium, which stops new homes from opening, ends in six months. The city commission first voted on it Dec. 6 with no member of the public commenting. On Monday, the commission voted a second time and held a public hearing. Again, no one from the public came to speak.

Next, the topic will go to the planning and development board for a vote, and then back to the city commission for the final vote. However, the moratorium became active with the first vote.

Boynton’s ordinances don’t lay out steps for processing a moratorium, so Cherof is being conservative and has decided the planning and development board should take a look at it also, Rumpf said.

Grant said if someone applies to open a sober home under a reasonable accommodation request, the city will say the business can’t open until the moratorium is over.

“We’re just holding off on group homes,” he said.

Commissioner Joe Casello stands behind the moratorium .

“The legality of it as far as Boynton Beach is concerned… our lawyers said it is constitutional and we’re going forward with it,” he said.

But an outside attorney hired by Delray disagrees.

“It’s difficult to sort of suspend the constitution,” Terrill Pyburn told Delray city officials Monday. “We have some concerns that that is not necessarily the best way to proceed.”



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