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Rehab Center in Residential Neighborhood

Visitor Question: An application has been submitted to our land use board asking that a private residential property be rezoned to allow for a high end drug rehabilitation center to be allowed to use this land (approximately 44-63 acres).

This land is located in a rural area but zoned residential. The land would require septic services, well water services, etc. The master plan of the community calls for businesses to be attracted to our community for tourism and light industry.

Many residents are opposed to this being zoned to allow a business such as this in a residential area. What types of questions can be asked at the public hearing concerning this application and re-zoning effort?

Editors' Reply: A key variable in this matter is whether the "rehabilitation center" is a residential facility or not. In other words, do people being treated become temporary residents who stay overnight and live in the facility for a period of time?

If so, then you need to become aware of the legal limits of regulating what are popularly called group homes. The federal Fair Housing Act and other federal laws have been interpreted by courts to require that land use regulation not be tougher on people with certain disabilities than on the general population.

If you and your neighbors need to know the details on this, the best reference may be this government memo.

If this is your situation, also notice that current drug users are not protected from discrimination under these government guidelines.

Many courts have ruled that group homes, which include residential drug treatment facilities, cannot be excluded in single-family residential neighborhoods simply because of the nature of the people being served.

Locations can exercise their land use authority over group homes, but they cannot be more strict than they would be with other groups of people who are not related.

For example, if no more than four unrelated people are allowed to reside in a single-family neighborhood, the group home ordinance or conditional use permit for a treatment facility could not say that no more than three people could reside temporarily at the treatment center at the same time.

Now if by "rehabilitation center," you mean more of a clinic where people come for individual and group counseling, and to meet with mental health professionals about drug use, you do not need to worry about the many complexities of the definition and regulation of group homes.

But unless your particular state has an unusual law, a rehabilitation center of this outpatient medical variety, which is closed at night and where no one resides, really would not be permitted in a residential zone. It would be akin to a medical office, and should be allowed only in the zoning district where a medical office is a permitted use.

Regardless of what type of rehabilitation center is being considered, we know of no laws that would change the fact that the center would be required to meet all health and sanitation laws pertaining to drinking water, waste disposal, and so forth.

You also mention that your master plan calls for tourism and light industry. If these types of uses are specifically mapped for the land in question, of course you and your neighbors can and should use that argument against the rezoning.

You ask about what questions can be asked. Here are some:
1. Will people seeking treatment receive room and board, and stay overnight?
2. If so, how many people will be staying at one time? What staff will be staying overnight?
3. What controls, if any, on leaving the facility will be in place? What safeguards will you have in place for assuring that no drug use occurs on the premises? What rules will you have in place concerning drinking, noise, visitors, and so forth?
4. Will the population receiving treatment consist of current drug users?
5. If patients do not stay overnight, how frequently do they visit the facility?
6. If non-residential, how many different patients would be expected to travel to the facility each day? (This question is related to traffic generation, a standard topic to be considered during rezoning.)
7. What experience does your company and the future manager of the facility have in operating similar facilities? What kinds of conflicts with neighbors have you experienced in other locations?

We hope these ideas will move you a little further down the road in deciding how to oppose this rezoning.



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