Editorial: Subject to regulation

May 10, 2012|Editorial from The Aegis

The Town of Bel Air, and any other local government with zoning laws on the books, can regulate through those laws where apartment buildings, townhouses, single family houses and assisted care facilities go. Similarly, they can regulate where medical facilities such as doctors offices, professional centers and hospitals are built.

Zoning laws were designed to protect land owners from being unreasonably burdened by potentially obnoxious uses of the land on neighboring properties. An extreme example would be that a night spot that features live music and alcoholic beverages isn't appropriate in a residential area, so zoning laws generally don't allow such things.

Curiously, however, there is a school of thought that says turning a single family house from the abode of a mother, father and three children into a long-term, recovery center for five or more people with drug and alcohol problems is a relatively minor change.

That school of thought says any restrictions on such medical business facilities constitutes a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act. If it does, the Fair Housing Act is in serious need of amendment.

A new medical addictions treatment facility is proposed in the town limits of Bel Air and a group of people who have seen the effects of the existing 13 such facilities turned out earlier this week to voice opposition to the ever-increasing number of addictions treatment centers concentrated in residential areas. One person went so far as to call a grouping of five such medical facilities within a two block area in town a "community killer."

Make no mistake: group home treatment centers with the goal of easing recovering addicts and alcoholics back into civil society are a good thing. Furthermore, having them near the kinds of social services available in a county seat like Bel Air is a good idea. There is, however, a limit to what constitutes a reasonable concentration of such facilities in a given area. At some point, having a high concentration of group home treatment centers in a neighborhood tends to defeat the purpose of putting them in neighborhoods in the first place.

Just as other necessary and rather innocuous operations ranging from in-home day care businesses to the size of offices in residential-office zones can be regulated, so too should group homes be subject to a measure of regulation.

It is certainly true, as the group home businesses have said in the past, that people have a right to live where they want to live, a right guaranteed by the Fair Housing Act. People don't, however, choose to live in group homes where they're being treated for addictions problems. They choose a health care provider who operates and maintains group homes and the provider assigns its clients to homes. Such an arrangement is inherently more subject to regulation than the act of trying to lease an apartment or buy a house.

Hopefully, all the clients in the group homes will find their way to a healthy state that allows them to live independently and move into unfettered apartment or house situations. Until then, they're living in medical facilities, assigned there by a health care provider, and medical facilities are subject to a different level of regulation.

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