City eyes ‘recovery house’ zoning

Facilities support individuals working to overcome addictions

City Council on Monday gave permission for staff to investigate how best to amend the zoning ordinance to regulate drug and alcohol “recovery houses.”

The discussion was in response to a recent inquiry from a party who hopes to buy a property in order to establish such a facility.

Recovery houses are “safe, healthy, family-like, substance-free living environments that support individuals in recovery from addiction … centered on peer support and a connection to services that promote long-term recovery,” according to the Substance and Mental Health Services Administration. Unlike halfway houses, they don’t need to be licensed in Pennsylvania — although the state is working on a licensing protocol.

“Having been through this (in a previous job) with methadone clinics, when there’s an application and a room full of people who are angry, it’s harder to legislate,” City Manager Ken Decker told council.

The city’s current zoning law addresses halfway homes and group homes, but not recovery homes, which are like “three-quarter” houses, according to Decker.

Such facilities are “considerably less structured and (less) rigorously controlled than a halfway home,” according to vertavahealth.com.

The city would be looking to amend the zoning ordinance to ensure that every recovery house would “be a good neighbor,” according to Decker.

Among issues it would seek to keep from causing problems is parking, he said.

There are other “spillover effects” as well that it might make sense to deal with before they create issues, he said.

Solicitor Tom Finn may be looking to other municipalities for models, Decker indicated.

“I’d rather be proactive than reactive,” said Councilman Bruce Kelley. “I would rather be looking at establishing some standards.”

Altoona’s low housing prices help make it attractive for recovery homes, especially in conjunction with a population in the region that can make use of such facilities, according to Decker.

There’s no necessity for the city to get something in place before the interested party applies for permission to set up a home, as it is only approval for such a project that would trigger “grandfather” rights and preclude the application of proposed new rules, Decker said.

The city can’t prohibit recovery homes, but it can regulate them, Finn said.

“The state is still trying to get a grasp of what they are and do,” Finn added.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.


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