End discriminatory zoning

Our view : It's time to update city law on group homes

June 05, 2008

Should live-in drug and other treatment centers in Baltimore be allowed to locate in residential areas without any advance approval from the community? As a matter of fairness and federal law, the answer is yes. Although the issue has been batted around for years, a Justice Department investigation should persuade the City Council to do the right thing and change the city's discriminatory zoning policies.

Under a long-standing city law, smaller group homes for recovering addicts, alcoholics or mentally disabled people need City Council approval before they can open in neighborhoods. But more recent federal law and court rulings have determined that addicts and alcoholics seeking treatment are disabled and that applying different zoning standards to treatment facilities that serve them violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.

Facing a possible federal lawsuit, the City Council is considering a bill that would finally set the zoning laws right. Small, state-licensed facilities that house eight people or fewer would be allowed to open in any neighborhood where single-family homes are permitted. Larger group homes with nine to 16 people could be located in residential zones that allow multifamily dwellings. The zoning distinctions mirror state rules that govern placement of facilities for people who are mentally ill. State licensing requirements ensure that service providers have been scrutinized and are competent to run these group homes. What many residents seem most upset about are the unlicensed mom-and-pop operations that house a handful of recovering addicts or wayward juveniles with little supervision or structure, but the council bill doesn't cover them and that problem may require a different solution.

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