Miami Beach moves to overhaul zoning and regulations on “sober homes”

Normandy Living street view and a rendering (via Miami Herald)
Normandy Living street view and a rendering (via Miami Herald)

For years, residents near the corner of Normandy Drive and Rue Granville paid little attention to a 12-bed assisted living facility for elderly Miami Beach residents in a quiet corner of the city’s North Beach neighborhood.

That all changed last year when the new owners of the facility, Normandy Living LLC, sought to build a new two-story 56-bed detox center, including 11 parking spaces in the neighborhood, currently zoned RM-1 for multifamily residences.

Outraged neighbors protested and in December the city’s planning board refused to hear an application to modify a conditional use permit for an “adult congregate living facility,” (ALCF) at the site. The city defines such facilities as largely “assisted living facilities,” for seniors, and in a letter to Normandy Living said the proposed detox center, or “sober home,” as such facilities are usually called in Florida, was similar to a hospital because it required 24-hour supervision, medical staff to administer medications and generally did not match current city definitions of an ALCF.

Now the owners of Normandy Living LLC, who include martial arts star Rick Unes of “Fast and Furious,” fame and Mark Epley, the director of a luxury drug and alcohol detox center on Long Island, are suing Miami Beach for $15 million alleging the city worked secretly to block its application before the planning board by hiring a consultant to find that its application did not meet the definition of an ALCF.

Vincent Vaccarella, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer representing the plaintiffs, did not respond to several requests from The Real Deal for comment on the case. Miami Beach officials said they do not comment on pending litigation before the city. Neighborhood residents say, however, that city regulations are clear that the neighborhood’s RM-1 zoning would prevent any expansion of the existing facility and city regulations clearly define an ALCF as being limited to a senior living facility. They also point to a 2014 study from Longwood University that showed an 8 percent reduction in home values in neighborhoods where detox facilities are located, and a 17-percent reduction in home values near facilities that treat opiate addition.

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Margueritte Ramos of the Normandie Sud Homeowners Association said that with a new master plan for the area, “North Beach is really on its way, we have so many great things happening in North Beach, and we really didn’t want to have a detox center in an area that it wasn’t zoned for.”

City officials are now moving quickly to update regulations governing ALCFs. Two weeks ago the city commission passed a 180-day moratorium on any new permits for ALCF facilities, and last week the city’s land-use committee unveiled a series of proposed new regulations and zoning requirements for ALCF’s that will class such facilities into 10 new categories, each with specific regulatory and zoning requirements.

Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán, who is behind both the moratorium and the regulatory overhaul, said that city regulations are out-of-date when it comes to such facilities and Miami Beach needs to update its comprehensive code.

“We’re going to have two things happen here: We’re going to clarify our definitions and have them match the industry and state rules,” she said, “and then we’re going to have zoning ordinances that say where is the right zone for what type of facility.”