- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2004

BALTIMORE (AP) — Local officials are considering two measures that would allow drug-treatment clinics and group homes to open without public approval, but some communities fear that the bills could tear apart fragile neighborhoods.

Drug treatment and disability advocates say the legislation would help to bring in needed social-services providers. They have threatened to sue the city unless it complies with the federal Fair Housing Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

The proposals would allow drug-treatment clinics to open in areas zoned for medical offices, such as those of dentists or pediatricians. Group homes, including programs for recovering addicts, would be allowed in any residential area.

The measures have sparked debate over the rights of addicts as disabled people protected under federal law compared with community groups’ demand for a fair and open government process.

Residents in areas with lower rents feel especially vulnerable because they fear that drug clinics and group homes would flock to their neighborhoods to avoid high rents elsewhere.

“I’m uncomfortable any time you put the communities in a position where you strip their power away,” said Jacquiline Johnson, 58, of Edmondson Village.

Mayor Martin O’Malley’s administration has presented the bills as a way to remove economic status and race from the zoning process, making it just as easy to open a treatment center or group home in tony Guilford or Roland Park as in Walbrook and Park Heights.

City Planning Director Otis Rolley III has said he will press for passage of the bills. The current city code requires public hearings and council approval for treatment clinics and group homes, a process that sets a different standard for the disabled, he said.

Cities across the country are debating the thorny issue.

Last year, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision that city officials in Covington, Ky., violated the ADA when they refused to issue a zoning permit to a company that wanted to open a drug-treatment center and group home for recovering addicts.

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