Council discusses ordinance to control sober homes

Tuesday, October 16, 2018 0 Comments


The Town of Miami Lakes and a home operating as a drug treatment center are at odds over residents’ complaints that recovering drug addicts are allegedly causing problems in their neighborhood.

The accusations led to a proposed ordinance as the first step to mitigate their fears and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s bill to crack down on corrupt drug treatment homes, as part of his efforts to fight the opioid epidemic.

But the operator of Florida Recovery Life disputed the accusations and indicated the residents are painting the sober home with a troubled brush, where police are providing 24-hour surveillance near the property. 

At the October 4 Town Council meeting, council members gave their initial approval for an ordinance, which requires sober homes to comply with code restrictions including obtaining a certificate and license with the town, minimum housing standards to prevent overcrowding and a minimum mandate of separation of the houses.

The proposed ordinance calls for two adults to one bedroom and a maximum of six adults in one house.

In June, the residents turned to council members for help after they complained about recovering substance abuse patients prowling around on their properties, searching their cars for money and drug dealers allegedly visiting one home.  

But council members’ hands were tied since a federal law allows drug treatment centers in residential neighborhoods under the ADA and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or SAMHSA. 

Drug addition is considered a disability, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and drug treatment centers can be placed anywhere under the Fair Housing Act.

Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid reached out Rubio (R-Miami) about leading efforts to repeal the federal law.

“I spoke to Rubio on the phone in dealing with the issue because it’s terrible,” said Cid. “And he told me what we can do as a town to stop it. Sober homes are not the right place for our town.”

Congress recently passed a sweeping bipartisan opioid package, sponsored by Rubio, which fights unscrupulous treatment homes that collect thousands in private insurance payments from addicts and their families.

For the past year, Rubio has been working with Democratic Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg to fight the opioid crisis in Florida.

“Great job by Senator Rubio on passing this very important piece of legislation,” Cid said.

According to Miami-Dade County records, the sober home is located at 8821 N.W. 153 Terrace and belongs to Rody Blanco and Jenny Del Pino, who are renting the property as a drug treatment center.

Their relative, Angelica Pacheco, a registered nurse, is running the center, which is regulated by DCF.

The 4,839 square foot home, with an estimated value of $832,354, has six bedrooms and four bathrooms.

Pachecco sent a general request to the Town of Miami Lakes denouncing the “discriminatory comments” made about the center.

“The mayor of Miami Lakes makes discriminatory comments about the residents of the sober home,” Pacheco said. “These comments are abusive to these people who are in recovery and they are demeaning and humiliating. If they want to know more about the sober home please call 305-331-2083 instead of making frivolous allegations.”

Pacheco said she invited council members on numerous occasions to the home to learn more about the center to no avail.

Instead, two police cars are parked near the home 24 hours and seven days a week, she said.  

Pacheco dismissed residents’ claims about her patients causing problems and alleged drug dealers visiting the home.

She said federal laws protects the sober home, which houses eight people all under the age of 26, despite Miami Lakes’s attempt to tweak the code.

“We are not going anywhere,” Pacheco said.

Pacheco said the center has passed several fire inspections and was never hit with a code enforcement violation from Miami Lakes.

She said she chose Miami Lakes for the treatment center so the patients could live in a good environment while in recovery, which could help them live normal and productive lives.

“I could’ve chosen Opa-locka for lower costs but I wanted to bring the patients to Miami Lakes so they can see how good life can be,” she said. “Their parents’ insurances are paying a lot of money to get them treated. They like living here.”   

 After a threat of foreclosure on the home, Pacheco said homeowners are seeking a mortgage modification. 

According to records, the original mortgage for the property was $4,143 per month.

Town Attorney Raul Gastesi told councilmembers though the sober home is in bankruptcy, a judge indicated Miami Lakes can do what “it needs to do.”

“We can’t sue for money or past liens,” Gastesi said. “But we can enforce our code for issues like building, health and safety.”

Gastesi encouraged residents to report any suspicious activities near the area under the county’s See Something, Say Something campaign.

“Residents reported a white van and the police busted it,” Gastesi said.  

Miami Lakes police Town Commander Major Javier Ruiz said the police were called to the drug treatment home to break up a fight among the patients in the neighborhood.

“But there’s no spike in crime,” he said.

In other Council actions:

• Council members gave their initial approval for an ordinance to amend the town’s land development code to permit standing metal seam roofs for single-family and two-family buildings.

The proposed ordinance stemmed from the damages Hurricane Irma caused on residents’ roofs.

According to town staff, the metal seam roofs can sustain Hurricane high winds and aare highly recommended by FEMA.

• Lawmakers gave their initial approval for an ordinance to amend the town code to exclude hemp derived projects and commercial and industrial activities related to medical marijuana treatment facilities and independent testing laboratories related to state law.

If approved, it would allow a company to take over a portion of the Nutri Force Building, where 100 employees will conduct studies and laboratory testing on non-euphoric cannabis, which is low in tetrahydrocannabinol or THC and high in Cannabidiol or CBD.

The owners said the product is not a plant but oil and powder and not used to make people high. Instead, it would relieve joint pain. The owners, who worked with the University of Florida and University of Miami on the issue, said they will not grow the plant at the lab.

Council members see the move as a big economic growth opportunity for the town.

• Council members approved a resolution to update the town’s strategic plan including making schools safe since the Stoneman Douglas School shooting massacre that took the lives of 17 students and teachers, a top priority.

The revised version of the plan includes creating Miami Lakes Autism Charter School in conjunction with private providers; creating a special population center for developmentally disabled adults; and establish Autism Shines in Miami Lakes.

Cid said the goal is to identify a facility in the town and allow outside vendors to run the programs for people with Autism.



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