No detox centers will be allowed to open in Lake Park after officials approved a moratorium this week.
The six substance abuse treatment centers in the town licensed by the Department of Children and Families can continue operations but not expand, town Attorney Tom Baird said. Lake Park will not accept applications for new detox or rehab centers.
Mayor Michael O’Rourke said the measure equates to holding the line.
“This is just a moratorium until we can get a better handle on what’s going on in our town as it relates to treatment facilities and sober homes,” he said.
Lake Park, a town of 2.3 square miles and 8,568 residents, has six rehabs and 40 sober homes, according to a staff report.
Rehabs, where addicts get clean, are regulated by the state. The changes will not have any effect on sober homes, which are not licensed and are largely unregulated.
Sober homes are where recovering addicts and alcoholics live when they get out of rehab. No treatment is supposed to occur at a sober home.
Lake Park’s ordinance removes substance abuse treatment centers, or rehabs, as a use allowed by special exception in all Lake Park’s zoning districts. The Commission unanimously passed the ordinance at its meeting Wednesday.
West Palm Beach Attorney James K. Green, who has successfully challenged housing regulations in Boca Raton’s city code that affected sober homes, said if a legal challenge arises, the town will have a difficult time defending the zoning ordinance.
Moratoria for land uses are generally allowed under Florida law, unless they target people with disabilities, he said.
“It’s an exclusion. Whether you call it a moratorium or you call it a future ban on new substance abuse treatment facilities, doesn’t matter,” Green said. “It targets people who are in recovery who are considered qualified persons with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
Lake Park cannot isolate itself from uses that are protected under federal discrimination law, Green said.
The town was sued in 2009 by Women of Dignity, which operates three residential facilities, for not allowing more than three unrelated people with addictions from living together as a family. It settled the lawsuit by creating a procedure for people who want to do so to request reasonable accommodations.
Baird, who is a member of Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s Sober Homes Task Force, said the town is on solid legal ground removing treatment facilities from its zoning, just as other towns have removed other uses.
Lake Park deleted substance abuse treatment facilities as a use because the town has more than enough to serve its existing population, he said — not because they serve people with addictions. If one of the six current facilities leaves the location, there’s a six-month period where a new facility could move to the same location.
Additionally, there are 24 treatment facilities within roughly two miles, in the three neighboring municipalities of Palm Beach Gardens, North Palm Beach and Riviera Beach, Baird said.
“It would seem that for a town with a population of about 9,000 residents that six substance abuse treatment facilities is sufficient to accommodate the needs of the residents of the town, should they need those facilities,” he said.