City can't trump state authority over Narconon

NW Florida Daily News/July 8, 2008

Destin -- Destin's hands are tied if Narconon Gulf Coast wants to open a home for recovering addicts in a city neighborhood, a city attorney says.

"I'm aware that you're tempted to shoot the messenger on this because it may not be popular with all the residents," City Land-Use Attorney

Scott Shirley told the City Council Monday. "It's something the city's required to accept."

Narconon Gulf Coast wants to open a "community residential home" for recovering addicts, in addition to the larger treatment center Narconon already operates in town. The possibility has generated a flood of calls to City Hall, particularly from Emerald Breeze, one subdivision where

Narconon has looked at buying a home.

Last month, Shirley told the council that under Florida law, the city couldn't prevent Narconon from opening a state-licensed home if it held less than six people. Councilor Destin said Boca Raton had recently fought against a similar rehab facility and asked Shirley to investigate whether Boca Raton's approach could be adopted in Destin.

In a word: No.

Shirley told the council Monday that the Boca Raton case had involved refurbished apartment buildings housing more than 300 addicts, and that the courts threw out the city's ban last year. Destin has an even less chance to ban Narconon, Shirley said, since state law specifically allows community homes.

Shirley said the city does have some options for action:

  • Write a code enforcement citation if the home violates garbage, noise or parking codes.
  • Lodge a complaint with the state if Narconon violates its license.
  • Ban a second home from opening within 1,000 feet of an existing home, the buffer distance set in Florida law.

Councilor Sandy Trammell said she'd visited similar facilities and they didn't depress property values or allow addicts, who are there to recover, to run wild in the neighborhood: The issue isn't danger, she said, but fear.

Councilor Jim Wood said that while he didn't like the state overruling local government, he'd visited Narconon's larger, primary facility and "I was not afraid of what I saw ... I was satisfied."

A number of residents opposed to Narconon weren't so satisfied. Some said Narconon's treatment program was ineffective, but Kisela said that it was up to the state to decide that when it issued them a license.

Narconon Gulf Coast director Debbie Ross has said the company doesn't have a house in Emerald Breeze or even a contract to buy one, but a number of Emerald Breeze homeowners showed up Monday nonetheless.

"There's a number of questions people have," Emerald Breeze's Lois Hoyt said. "Why is Narconon choosing this neighborhood ... There is concern it could affect property values."

Hoyt asked if the city could schedule a public hearing when Narconon applied for a business license. City Attorney Jerry Miller said that a business license application doesn't empower the city to review the merits of the business.

"I realize your hands are tied on this matter, (but) it's a business coming into our neighborhood," Emerald Breeze resident Carol James said, adding that she worried about the parking problems a home could cause in a small subdivision.

Kisela said the city would devote the resources necessary to handling code enforcement: "We can regulate noise, parking as well as trash ... We can at least keep the balance of the quality of life in the neighborhood."

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