Neighbors raise concerns over Sunnyvale ‘sober home’ proposal in Paradise Valley

Just to the east of this intersection is a proposal for a sober-living facility that has neighbors raising stark concerns how the proposed operation could impact the neighborhood. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

A collection of Paradise Valley residents are expressing concerns regarding the prospect of a behavioral health residential treatment center moving in next door.

Along Sunnyvale Road in the Town of Paradise Valley is a row of million-dollar homes that, for years, has been a picturesque representation of suburbia in the Valley of the Sun, long-time residents contend.

A Blue Sands Recovery Center proposal for a luxury sober-living facility at 7102 E. Sunnyvale Road — where the proposed rent would be $9,000 a month and with monthly projected treatment service revenues exceeding $100,000 — may be threatening the neighborhood that once was.

The identified statutory agent of Blue Sands Recovery Center is Tempe resident Christine Stevens, according to the Arizona Corporation Commission. Ms. Stevens declined to comment for this article.

The proposed property is owned by Tom Hopkins, a best-selling author and sales expert.

Paradise Valley Municipal Presiding Judge J. Tyrrell Taber at 8 a.m. Tuesday, June 27 will be overseeing a reasonable accommodation hearing, which according to town code, is the threshold for allowing a behavioral health residential treatment center within town limits.

Outlined in Resolution 1252, which was adopted by Paradise Valley Town Council in 2012, are provisions — things like the proposed uses for the property, how it could impact the existing neighborhood and safety standards — for what is understood as “reasonable accommodations” for the disabled in a assisted-living or sober-living situation.

“The hearing officer has indicated that he will allow Blue Sands Recovery, LLC and the Town of Paradise Valley to present witness testimony,” said Paradise Valley Town Attorney Andrew Miller in a June 14 statement to the Independent. “We also anticipate that the hearing officer will hear comments from adjacent neighbors. The hearing officer ultimately has discretion as to the conduct of the hearing.”

Town records show The Law Offices of Amie Mendoza, on behalf of Blue Sands, filed its request for a reasonable accommodation for the proposed sober-living facility on April 17 and was denied that request in an April 27 response from the town.

It appears the legal argument is Blue Sands believes not allowing a sober-living facility at the proposed location is a violation of the Fair Housing Act while the town believes the proposed operation needs to meet the threshold and standards of provisions outlined in Resolution 1252.

The April 27 response to Blue Sands was co-authored by Mr. Miller and Attorney Deborah Robberson.

Residents living next to and in the vicinity of the proposed Blue Sands operation have retained Jordan Rose of the Rose Law Group as their legal representation in this matter.

The legalities of sobriety

Municipal leaders across Arizona say regulation of sober-living facilities is a malaise of legality, but local jurisdictions are entitled — through both state and federal law — to regulate the operations within a sober-living facility.

A sober home or sober-living facility, as classified by both state and federal guidelines, seeks to help drug and alcohol addicts achieve sobriety. The 1968 Fair Housing Act was created to eliminate discrimination, allowing housing choices for all Americans despite, among other things, race, color, religious preference or gender.

The civil rights-era act established the Office of Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funnels grant dollars for outreach efforts to cities across the nation.

The law’s 1988 amendments seeks to ensure all Americans, including recovering drug addicts and alcoholics, are treated fairly when seeking a place to call home.

The oftentimes home-based business is a rehabilitation effort where residents of the facility — which by state law can house up to nine residents plus one employee — learn to live new lives free of alcohol or controlled substances.

Fueling regulation pursuits here in Arizona was the adoption of HB 2107, which provides legal framework to provide checks and balances to who is inside and how a sober-living facility is allowed to operate.

Both the town of Gilbert and city of Prescott have established specific guidelines for sober-living operations in residential neighborhoods.

“People who are in recovery are deemed by the federal government to be disabled,” said Prescott City Attorney Jon Paladini in an April 26 interview with the Independent. “What we can do, however, is regulate through the impacts that they create or also regulate the operation of those types of group homes to protect the vulnerable population, who in this case are the people in recovery.”

Mr. Paladini points out Prescott took the approach of focusing on ensuring top-notch operations to help people who are helping themselves. He says around 2013 the city of Prescott — a community of about 40,000 residents — had more or less 150 sober-living facilities.

In addition, the city of Scottsdale is in the midst of developing similar standards adopted by both Gilbert and Prescott to better regulate the operations within sober-living facilities.

A view of the property that will be the subject of a June 27 reasonable accommodations hearing at the Town of Paradise Valley. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

Community concerns

Paradise Valley residents who live along Sunnyvale Road say they are compassionate to the plight of those who suffer from substance abuse, but an operation such as Blue Sands doesn’t belong in their neighborhood.

Concerns raised revolve around the safety of children, the potential for high-traffic volume and the idea a recovering addict could bring an unsavory dynamic to the neighborhood.

“We live on Sunnyvale in Paradise Valley and this happens to be my next door neighbor,” said Nicole Goldberg in a June 12 phone interview.

“He has had the house on the market for quite some time and he is trying to rent it out for a drug rehab. There is no zoning in Paradise Valley for businesses — I don’t want a business with 10 drug-addicted men on my street. This is not what the neighborhood was designed for. We are going to fight it.”

Ms. Goldberg says she was caught off-guard when she was notified of the business proposal next door.

“If I wanted to open a business in my house I am not allowed to do it,” she pointed out of general residential zoning throughout the Town of Paradise Valley. “Why should that type of business be allowed here while another one isn’t allowed?”

Paradise Valley Realtor Robert Banovac says substance abuse — and those affected by it — is a problem no demographic is immune.

“One in 13 Americans suffer from some kind of abuse,” he said in a June 13 phone interview pointing out he serves as the property owner’s Realtor. “Many families in Paradise Valley are affected with this — they may not want to talk about it. A lot of people who live in Paradise Valley and have these issues want to help but they often have to send loved ones away.”

Mr. Banovac says what is being proposed is a far cry from a back-alley methadone clinic.

“We have a group from Malibu that is in the process of doing real, high-end treatment facilities,” he said pointing out monthly fees are in the tens of thousands of dollars.

“This is a protected class, they are disabled. How can you discriminate against a protected class? The Town of Paradise Valley is under a rock and a hard place on this. They can’t legislate against it because it is a direct violation of fair housing.”

Mr. Banovac says his client was seeking to do something that would be a positive for the community — not a negative.

“It is just a shame for the community that these neighbors are so concerned,” he said. “It is just a shame people won’t make the effort to learn more about these things.”

Paradise Valley resident Linda Mattes says she and her neighbors are aware of the importance of providing a place for people to help themselves.

“The bottom line is we are not hardened people,” she said in a June 12 phone interview. “Yes, they are addicts and they need a place to stay, but I don’t think that Paradise Valley is the place to do it.”

Ms. Mattes says she and her neighbors are a united front.

“In our proximity we have a high school, a middle school and two elementary schools — we are not happy about this,” she said. “I would say that this entire community is united in that we are totally opposed to the plan.”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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