The rambunctious energy of Miami Beach may not immediately come to mind when trying to find a place for drug addicts to begin their journey toward recovery.
But in one quiet corner of the northern section of the city, away from the rowdiness of South Beach, a proposal to convert an existing 12-bed assisted living facility for the elderly into a 56-bed detox center has incensed many neighbors who fear the facility will bring crime and lower property values and disturb the largely residential neighborhood.
At the corner of Rue Granville and Normandy Drive, the main westbound route out of North Beach, the assisted living facility is a one-story pale yellow building fringed with palm trees behind a wooden fence with a wrought-iron gate. The wooden fence gives way to chain link, which encircles the two homes next door.
If the owners have their way, the properties would be combined for a two-story center with an 11-space parking lot.
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North Beach residents have long clamored for more investment in their neighborhood — so much so that the city commissioned a town planning firm to develop a soon-to-be-finished guide for future redevelopment of the area. But a detox center wasn’t what many folks had in mind, and angst is mounting in advance of an Aug. 23 meeting where the planning board is expected to consider approving the facility.
Ten homeowner associations and several nearby daycare centers and schools are in opposition. In a community where redevelopment plans can draw sharp lines among neighbors, the detox center appears to have near-unanimous opposition.
“They could do this next to Mount Sinai,” said Mickey Minagorri, a homeowner. “Why don’t they do it there?”
They’re going to destroy the whole neighborhood. It’s going to turn into South Beach
Freaky Santi, a 30-year- old artist
The team behind the proposal, called Normandy Living, includes Rick Yune, a star from the first “The Fast and the Furious” movie, and Mark Epley, executive director of the luxe rehab center in the Hamptons.
Epley faced a room full of disgruntled neighbors at a public meeting in June, when he explained the new high-end facility would serve patients who would pay out of pocket for the first phase of kicking a drug habit: detoxification.
According to an operational plan being reviewed by the Beach’s planning department, the facility would be secured and provide transportation to residents who opt out of the program, instead of allowing them to walk away on their own.
Speaking to residents, Epley described a facility that offers a holistic approach to getting clean, where patients would stay about a week before moving to a longer-term rehabilitation program.
“We incorporate yoga. We incorporate meditation. We incorporate acupuncture,” he said.
Neighbors are not impressed.
Freaky Santi, a 30-year-old artist, is staying in North Beach temporarily. But she wants to relocate her family and two young children to the area. If this facility gets built, she said she’ll reconsider.
“This is a very family-friendly neighborhood. It’s very safe,” she said. “They’re going to destroy the whole neighborhood. It’s going to turn into South Beach.”
While there is widespread anger about the plan, some aren’t too bothered.
Anthony Spiezio, 26, lives down the street from the site and said he’s OK with the detox facility because “everybody deserves a second chance.” The location might be perfect because of the lack of nightlife and low drug activity in the area, he said.
“But I can understand how families would be scared of having that in their neighborhood,” he said. “I’m a single dude renting a place here. I don’t really have concerns.”
The planning board will decide whether to give the new operator permission to run a detox center and expand the bed count, but the debate has a substantial wrinkle — the possibility the city could be challenged on the basis of discrimination against people with disabilities.
“A person undergoing detox treatment is considered disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act,” said Eve Boutsis, deputy city attorney. “There can be implications under the ADA or FHA.”
In 2013, the city of White Plains, New York, was sued by the operator of a short-term detox center after the city’s building authority ruled such a facility, which would have gone in a former nursing home, would not fit in the site’s zoning. The case was later thrown out, and the operator lost an appeal.
In other similar situations, cities choose to stay away from legal entanglements. A recent report in the Palm Beach Post chronicled the spate of “sober homes” in different Palm Beach County municipalities and residents’ frustration with poorly-supervised facilities in their neighborhoods.
According to the Post, cities are wary of trying to ban such homes after Boca Raton lost $1.3 million in a failed attempt to do so.
It should be noted that sober homes are longer-term living arrangements that come at the end of the rehabilitation process, after detox and treatment. But either way, residents’ concerns are echoing in Miami Beach.
“Drug and alcohol people — they’re not decent people,” said David Avan, a 71-year-old businessman who lives and owns property in Normandy Isle.
Another concern for residents like Avan, as voiced on a flier circulated in the neighborhood, is declining property values. A 2014 study of Virginia homes titled “Not in My Backyard” found that neighboring treatment centers are associated with an 8 percent reduction in home values, and centers specifically for opiate addictions can see home values drop by up to 17 percent.
Avan, agreeing with the title of the study, said detox and rehab centers are necessary parts of society but don’t belong in residential neighborhoods.
Miami Beach is still reviewing the application and has hired a medical facility consultant to analyze the plan. City planners are determining whether the proposal meets the city’s decades-old definition of an assisted living facility.
The city’s code describes such a center as smaller scale, with six to 16 residents “in order to provide a noninstitutional environment.”
This definition, neighbors argue, should keep the detox center from opening.
I think in every community there is room for this
Mark Epley, executive director of the luxe rehab center in the Hamptons
“I was actually on the planning board in the 1980s when the [assisted living facilities] regulations were adopted,” said Neisen Kasdin, a former Miami Beach mayor and land use attorney representing two of the homeowner associations that oppose the center. “They wanted the facilities to fit into the neighborhoods and not be institutional.”
In a letter sent Friday to the city’s legal department, Kasdin contends the application does not have enough information because it doesn’t explicitly say the facility would be a detox center. He also argues the facility is prohibited in residential zoning because city rules don’t define detox centers. Even if the center is treated as an assisted living facility, he says, city regulations limit the number of residents to 16.
Kasdin concluded by asking for the Aug. 23 vote to be deferred.
When he spoke to the community, Epley appeared to be aware of the typical concerns of neighbors of a detox center, including the strain on emergency services. He added that the facility would do a lot of screening before residents were welcome.
“I think in every community there is room for this,” said Epley.