Council: Narconon not city's business

Florida Freedom Newspapers/June 3, 2008

Destin - The Narconon drug-treatment program can open a "community residential home" for recovering addicts in a single-family neighborhood, city staffers say.

"We have determined that they are abiding by the state statutes," said Destin Planning Manager Ken Gallander. "Now they have to get licensing from the state."

Debbie Ross of Narconon Gulf Coast said that while Narconon has looked at a home in the Emerald Breeze subdivision off Emerald Coast Parkway, it has no firm plans, no contract and no lease.

"We do want to expand," Ross added. "We're looking for an area that would suit our needs."

According to, the organization was founded in 1966 by Arizona prison inmate William Benitez, based on the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. By applying Hubbard's principles, Benitez "and dozens of other inmates were able to permanently end their addictions to heroin," according to the Web site.

Benitez has since built Narconon into a worldwide network of drug rehabilitation centers.

Randy and Debbie Ross say on the Web site that Narconon helped their son with his drug addiction after four earlier attempts failed. They converted their Destin home into a 14-bed treatment center offering 1.3 staffers for every client.

In 2007, the Rosses twice tried to buy houses in Miramar Beach as a 28- or 30-bed "educational center" for patients who have already completed a 30-day stay in treatment. Some residents objected to having a rehab center in their neighborhood, while others were concerned about Narconon's ties to Scientology.

Ross said the Destin home they want to open would be much smaller. It would have about six adults who have been in Narconon's program for at least two months.

"We've been in the community in our 14-bed facility on (Scenic Hwy) 98 for several years," Ross said. "We're a low-key place. These are people who want to get better, people who are here because they want to change their lives."

City Council members say they've heard from residents who object to Narconon. At Monday's council meeting, city land use attorney Scott Shirley told officials that "community resident homes" are sanctioned by state statute: As long as Narconon obtains a state license, has no more than six residents in the home and all the residents are off drugs, state law trumps city zoning.

Clients who were still using drugs could be removed, but the home could not be shut down.

Shirley said the city can require Narconon take out a business license, which would allow staffers to check at renewal time that Narconon's state license is still valid. However even if the community home doesn't meet Destin's home-business rules, the city still can't stop it from opening, he said. The most it could do is issue a code-enforcement citation if the home has more than six residents, he said.

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