Pubdate: Sat, 17 Mar 2007
Source: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
Copyright: 2007 The Palm Beach Post


U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks found a reasonable compromise 
in Boca Raton's years-long dispute with the owner of two homes for 
recovering addicts: Yes, the homes can be in residential areas; and, 
yes, the city can restrict the services offered at the homes.

The city argued that its ordinance requiring the homes to be in a 
medical or commercial district only aimed to protect the character of 
its neighborhoods. But during a weeklong trial in January, Judge 
Middlebrooks found that the sober homes did not stand out, did not 
draw additional cars or foot traffic and were not a burden on public 
resources. And he recognized the value of a sober home being placed 
in a residential area instead of a commercial area, where triggers 
for relapse were more prevalent.

To urge that the sober houses be moved out of neighborhoods, the city 
cited treatment and rehabilitation activities that were commercial 
and medical in nature at Boca House and Awakenings. But the law 
addressed only drug tests, which Judge Middlebrooks found did not 
"negate the fact that those individuals were living in the apartment 
building, making it their home." On that point, the city may recraft 
its ordinance.

But by attempting to limit the homes to certain areas, Boca Raton's 
ordinance, Judge Middlebrooks ruled, violates the federal Fair 
Housing Act by singling out disabled people - addicts - and applying 
different rules to them. That the city's discrimination was 
unintentional was no excuse.

The city also attempted to restrict the houses by a separate law 
limiting to three the number of people who could live in each house. 
While Judge Middlebrooks found that Steve Manko, who operates the 
sober houses, was acting often more for profit than the recovery 
interests of his clients, the judge agreed that the addicts need an 
opportunity to live in groups. But the judge also found "nothing 
wrong with the number three that the city has chosen. A city must 
draw a line somewhere."

Appropriately, Judge Middlebrooks drew the line on damages to $1, 
instead of the $20,000 sought for each of four recovering addicts and 
$926,000 for Mr. Manko, who had "unclean hands" in his history with 
the city. The better remedy, as Judge Middlebrooks ruled, allows 
addicts to live in a setting that enables recovery and allows the 
city to ensure that setting is safe for the addicts and their neighbors.
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