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Resident Petitions Scottsdale To Regulate Sober-Living Homes

A quiet Scottsdale neighborhood has become the most recent location to deal with the growing issue of sober-living homes.

Resident Angela Ashley said she only learned about them when a neighbor decided to move.

"Evidently, this lady who wanted to stay in the neighborhood had so many problems with the people in the sober home that she was frightened for her children, and sold her house and moved away," Ashley said.

Sober-living homes are places to live for people who are coming out of treatment centers. They’re described as a way to extend a resident’s recovery before fully re-entering their previous environment. And the concept is relatively new.

"Well, a couple years ago, if you’d asked us what a sober-living home was, we would not have been able to answer you, because we didn’t know they existed," said David de la Torre, Chandler’s Principal Planner.

Chandler came up with regulations for sober-living homes and other residential care homes – among other provisions, they have to be separated by at least 1,200 feet and have to provide parking on-site. The size of the house helps determine how many people can live there.

"The goal of the regulations is not to prevent them from locating in the city, it’s to integrate them successfully into the neighborhoods, so the neighborhoods retain their residential character and there’s no negative impacts created on the neighboring properties," de la Torre said.

In Scottsdale, Ashley is hoping for a quarter-mile buffer, a little bigger than Chandler’s. She also wants some sort of registration, so neighbors know when a sober-living home opens in their neighborhood, as well as rules on parking and the number of people living inside.

"Nothing is stopping a regular person who doesn’t have any experience in sober living to lease out the house to nine more men. So, I’m just asking the council to be pro-active," Ashley said.

Ashley collected signatures from her neighbors on a petition, and presented them to council members. But she also sat down with her neighbors, as well as Gonzalo Ardavin. He owns and operates Carla Vista Sober Homes, which runs the home in Ashley’s neighborhood.

"When we were able to sit down with the neighborhood committee and really explain our program, how we operate, the type of folks we have, our background checks on all our individuals, our random drug testing, the comfort level came back. The support was there," Ardavin said.

Ardavin said he supports rules and regulations, as long as they’re fair. Carla Vista runs 13 sober-living homes in Arizona. He said they tend to have around ten to eleven residents, who stay an average of six to nine months. And, he said, each city has handled regulating the homes differently.

"It’s been one of those situations that it’s not clear, I think it’s a big challenge for each city," Ardavin said. But he said each city is dealing with the same basic set of issues and concerns.

"I think the primary issue is fear. It starts off with fear, and it’s understandable. My opinion is it’s just lack of education," he said.

Ardavin also said it's important that residents are integrated into the neighborhood and community in which they live.

"I think it’s imperative. It’s dignity. Many of these individuals, believe it or not, they’re your co-workers, they’re your family members. I myself am a recovering alcoholic and addict – I’ve been there," Ardavin said.

Ardavin said Carla Vista plans to open more sober homes around the Valley and out-of-state. In addition to its Arizona facilities, it also has homes in Colorado.

He said he’s worked with various Valley cities on their ordinances, and thinks regulations can raise the bar, and set a standard for sober-living homes.

Ashley doesn’t think she’s asking a lot, and she doesn’t want to stop sober-living homes from opening in her city.

"With my research, I realized that study has shown that sober homes do have a positive effect on these people that are going through, get them back into society," Ashley said.

And even though Scottsdale doesn’t currently regulate sober-living homes, Ashley is hopeful that will change.

Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.