City Council proposal angers residents concerned about unregistered group homes

The Downtown, Aviation, Economy and Innovation Subcommittee met Wednesday to discuss group homes and a grant for a historic building. (Nicole Neri/DD)

The Downtown, Aviation, Economy and Innovation Subcommittee held a discussion on the regulation of group homes and advanced a $250,000 grant for a downtown historic building to full Council.

Council debated a text amendment to a zoning ordinance regarding group facilities such as group homes for those with disabilities and assisted living centers.

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The proposed text amendment would change language and definitions throughout the ordinance and would allow certain living centers, such as sober living homes, to house up to six individuals, rather than the current five. Under existing Phoenix zoning code, there is an area of separation which must be observed between such homes. This amendment would allow homes to be placed within these areas of separation.

The effort to reform Phoenix’s code regarding group homes comes in the wake of a Department of Justice investigation into whether the city has violated a 1999 amendment to the Fair Housing Act, which restricts discrimination against persons with disabilities in zoning.

Many Phoenix residents present were upset and expressed concern over the growing number of unregistered sober living homes.

Some citizens, including Jeff Spellman, a member of Take Action Phoenix and the Violence Impact Project, were upset over questions and concerns that remained unanswered during preliminary meetings for this amendment.

“Really what’s been proposed in the text amendment does nothing to address the concerns brought forward,” Spellman said. “The city just doesn’t know how many sober living (homes) there are.”

Larisa Balderrama, a Block Watch Leader, has seen firsthand the problems that can come from unregistered sober living homes.

Two unregistered sober living homes are in her neighborhood, one right next door. She has recently seen daily cigarette and marijuana smoke, increased traffic, loitering, vandalism, parking issues, harassing behavior and a drug arrest.

“As you can see, the character of my neighborhood in just a few short months has changed dramatically as a result of unregistered, unregulated (sober living homes),” Balderrama said.

Wally Graham, a board member for the Arcadia Osborn Neighborhood Association, brought up concern over public meetings held before the amendment was brought before the subcommittee as well as the proliferation of group homes.

“Our voices are not being heard in the text amendment revisions,” said Graham. “We think that residents should be heard and (not just) come up to the mic and try to get it all in in two minutes.”

Graham also mentioned a position paper put together by members of the community and how it could provide valuable insight that can be used when revising the text amendment.

“We think our position paper has a lot of great information that could provide a perspective,” said Graham.

While there was debate and concern over much of the proposed amendment, Councilman Daniel Valenzuela showed gratitude over the points brought forward by citizens, describing the debate as “constructive” and “great feedback from our neighborhood leaders.”

The subcommittee also unanimously approved a $250,000 grant to go toward the Dud R. Day Motor Company Building, also known as the Phoenix Motor Company Building, located at Fourth Avenue and Van Buren Street. The vote passed with no debate.

The building, owned by downtown historic building developers Pat Cantelme and James Kuykendall, is to be the site of Charlie Levy’s third downtown concert venue.

The next Downtown, Aviation, Economy and Innovation Subcommittee meeting will take place on May 3.

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