Zoning Boards Face Difficulties Approving Drug Rehab Centers

fairhousingIt seems like more treatment centers are continuing to move away from hospital-type institutional settings and into more of a residential feeling or atmosphere. While clinicians as well as clients may prefer this, neighbors of the facilities are often less than thrilled to have drug treatment facilities next to them. This sentiment has been dubbed NIMBY (not in my back yard).

In many areas throughout the country there are county and municipal zoning boards and planning commissions that have to make the decision whether or not to allow a facility in a particular area. Sometimes they get sued after making a ruling one way or another, so it can put them in a difficult position. In those cases, judges and/or juries have to decide what is allowable by the law and whether or not discriminatory practices have been in place.

Examples of this can be found throughout recent history all over the country. One from this week included a private treatment center in New Jersey that had originally gotten approval from their local planning board to convert an office building into a 13-bed clinic. It was delayed by a lawsuit from area residents for months, but a judge just upheld the ruling and granted the facility to begin renovation.

Are there risks with having a drug and alcohol rehab center in a residential area? Yes, but not usually the ones residents are most concerned about. Having an open dialogue with treatment facility managers and local regulatory agencies is going to be much more productive in the long run for everyone involved rather than generating an “us vs. them” attitude. That may be easy for someone to say when it seems like a distant problem, but the Fair Housing Act guarantees the right against discrimination.