Sober house vote in St. Paul


After months of discussion, the St. Paul city council is set to vote on an ordinance regulating sober houses on Wednesday.

City councilmember Russ Stark explained in a telephone interview that, at present, “There’s no registration per se. There’s 34 or 35 sober houses that have been identified, meaning they have self-identified with the building inspectors. There’s likely to be more than that out there.”

Under St. Paul zoning laws, any housing unit can have up to four unrelated adults. The Federal Fair Housing Act protects people with disabilities, requiring that the city make reasonable accommodations for them.

St. Paul Planning Department proposal for city definition of sober houses:

A dwelling unit occupied by more than four (4) persons in recovery from chemical dependency and considered handicapped under the Federal Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988 that provides a non-institutional residential environment in which the residents willingly subject themselves to rules and conditions intended to encourage and sustain their recovery. The residents of a sober house are similar to a famly unit, share kitchen and bathroom facilities and other common areas of the unit. Sober houses are financially self-supporting; i.e. this definition does not include facilities that receive operating revenue from governmental sources. Sober houses do not provide on-site supportive services to residents, as defined in section 321.01 of the Legislative Code other than basic informational referrals.

“With the new proposal,” Stark said, “there would be a form that a new sober house would be asked to fill out — a request for reasonable accommodation form. It would ask how many residents would be living in the unit and basic contact information for the operator. It would also include information about parking. It’s a request for reasonable accommodation to bypass the 4-adult limit.”

The originally-proposed ordinance would have required 330 feet between sober houses with five or six residents and 660 feet separation for sober houses with seven to ten residents. In effect, that would allow two of the smaller sober houses in a single block, but only one larger sober house. The restriction applies to RL-R4 residential districts.

A substitute ordinance offered June 25 provides for 330 feet of separation between sober houses and limits the size of sober houses to 10 residents “per unit.” The substitute ordinance refers to “property containing one or more sober house units.”

Both ordinances contain detailed provisions for adequate parking spaces.

A debate over regulation of sober houses heated up in the spring, when new sober houses were proposed for the Merriam Park area, which is already home to several sober houses.

The Union Park District Council (which includes the neighborhoods of Merriam Park, Lexington-Hamline, Snelling-Hamline and Desnoyer Park) has been at the forefront of ongoing discussions on regulation of sober houses. Union Park District Council wants tighter regulations than the city ordinance would provide, including a larger separation between sober houses, legal definitions of who qualifies as a sober house resident, and a city-wide list of sober houses.

Additional information on sober houses is available from the Minnesota Association of Sober Houses.

According to the Union Park District Council, city council discussion of the sober house ordinance will begin after 5:30 p.m. The meeting convenes at city hall at 3:30 p.m.

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