The July 16 Cave Creek Town Council meeting packed the Council chamber. Previous hearings by the Planning and Zoning commission on the proposed residential treatment facility were also packed. But the meeting started out with the call to the public in which Jane Rhodes thanked the Town for not having fireworks in the middle of the fire season.
Town Manager Carrie Dyrek announced the dates of early voting. It starts on August 1 and Maricopa County will open ballot centers. The Town of Cave Creek will only have early voting at the Town Hall on Wednesday and Thursday, August 22 and 23. The primary election is Tuesday, August 28.
District #1 State Senator Karen Fann gave an update. The State budget is $10.4 billion dollars. Not only was there increased funding for education but some funds for cities and towns has also been restored. She said the budget is structurally balanced and with the economy there is currently a surplus of $263 million. $2.9 million was put into the border strike force to strengthen the border. She fights every year for revenue sharing for towns.
The Soberman’s Estate Special Use Permit was next on the agenda. Mitch Prager addressed the Council saying that he has been in recovery and sober for years and that he has lost family and close friends to the disease of addiction which drives his passion to open Soberman’s Estate. He has spent years helping others with addictions and sees this residential treatment facility as the next step. He said he chose the location because high profile clients don’t have many places where they can get treatment with their peers and high profile clients want low profile treatment.
Prager’s attorney, Heather Dukes, spoke to the Council addressing the requirements to obtain the SUP, laws regarding the American Disabilities Act, and Fair Housing laws. She said, both the ADA and Fair Housing support the right for people to reside in a group home in a location of their choosing.
The property would have no more intensive use than other properties in the area and its use would not be detrimental to the area. An existing conforming residence will be used with no exterior alterations so it will stay harmonious with the area. There would be no increased noise, dust or other hazards. Information, including a traffic study, showed there would be no impact on infrastructure or service agencies to provide service. The SUP conforms to the General Plan, Town ordinances and codes and does not interfere with other uses in the zone. The project meets the guidelines for an SUP, Dukes said.
Councilwoman Wright asked what the difference is between a sober living home and a behavioral health facility. Dukes explained that sober living homes do not provide care, there is no counselling or treatment. Behavioral health facilities have counselling and other treatment programs and are regulated by the Arizona Department of Health Services.
In answer to a question by Wright about the state’s fair housing law, Dukes said that if someone is currently using drugs or alcohol they are not covered as disabled. However if they have stopped the alcohol and drugs and are getting treatment for addiction, they are considered disabled. Clients at Soberman’s Estate will have already gone through detox.
Thomas Galvin, an attorney representing neighbors opposed to the treatment home, said neighbors would be adversely affected. Galvin kept referring to the facility as a boutique resort spa, as Prager had used that description to describe the living conditions for clients. He said it’s not about discriminating against people who are disabled, but about putting a commercial venture in a residential zoned area. He said the applicant shows there will be 14 employees, which also makes it a commercial venture, not residential.
He presented a list of conditions for approval that included limiting the number of clients to six, erect covered parking for staff and vendors, place limitations on non-emergency services and visitors, and the property must be ADA compliant. Several people spoke during the public comment but all reiterated sentiments previously expressed by attorneys for both sides.
The Council requested input from Town Attorney Bill Sims. Sims told the Council the law is changing on August 3 and facilities such as the one before them will no longer be subject to local zoning. The Town has a list of conditions that the applicant is willing to abide by. He said the Council “should follow the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Commission. It was a unanimous recommendation.” “Know full well that if you do reject it we have to come back together and try to cobble something together before you lose the right to impose the requirements.” Sims continued. “Which is August 3rd.” Mayor Bunch added.
Sims also said the Town does need to create ordinances to deal with future sober living homes and behavioral health facilities. Sims did recommend changing one of the conditions in the SUP to cap the number of clients in the home at one time to 10. Prager was agreeable to that.
Councilwoman Wright made a motion to continue the proposal and was seconded by Mary Elrod. The motion failed by a 2 – 4 vote. (Councilman McGuire was not present.) The SUP was approved by a 4 – 2 vote with Wright and Elrod casting the no votes.