State laws may override city’s in sober living homes | News


Can sober living housing within a city limits be regulated? That question came up at Monday’s Somerset City Council meeting when resident Monty Gover requested council members look at whether they are permitted under R-1 (single-family residential) zoning.

However, the issue may come down to whether state laws override or dictate how local governments treat such facilities.

Gover referred to the previous council meeting, when North Main Street resident Kristi Jenkins raised concerns over there being two sober living homes next door to each other – across the street from her – with plans for a third one to open soon.

While Gover is not a resident of that area, he is someone who has studied the city’s zoning ordinance extensively throughout the years and has brought various zoning concerns to the council.

In this instance, his question was about the wording under the definition of R-1 zoning and the concept of “single-family.”

Gover quoted the city’s ordinance as designating a family unit: “…Unless all members are related by blood, adoption or marriage, no such family shall contain over five persons.”

Therefore, Gover argued, any home with more than five non-related residents should only be allowed under the R-3 (multi-family) zoning in which one would find apartment complexes.

City Attorney John Adams asked Gover, “Would you like to file a complaint?”

To which, Gover replied: “I don’t need to file a complaint. I’m just pointing out that it looks like you’re not obeying an ordinance. If that’s the way you want to run government, that’s fine.”

Responding to councilors’ questions, Adams confirmed that as long as the owner of the home has a valid license, nothing in the process would “trigger” city officials’ involvement.

“Until we get a complaint or something, there’s nothing that would trigger an enforcement action,” Adams said.

And, as Mayor Alan Keck noted, there are complexities to the issue.

“It may be that these aren’t allowed in R-1, but I don’t want to make that decision shooting from the hip,” Keck said.

Complicating matters are laws on the state level that may prevent cities from regulating sober living residences.

After the subject was raised at the previous meeting, the Commonwealth Journal was contacted by attorney Daniel Lauber from Illinois, who stated that he wrote the model zoning ordinances for community residences for the American Planning Association and is a fair housing/zoning attorney.

“Somerset can use zoning to regulate sober living homes under the federal Fair Housing Act. It’s the state of Kentucky that ties the hands of local Kentucky governments,” Lauber said.

He said that Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS) 100.984 is the issue, in that it restricts the abilities of local governments to zone for community residences.

That KRS states: “Any sponsoring private or governmental agency shall be permitted to operate a residential care facility in any residential district, zone, or subdivision subject only to compliance with the same limitations upon area, height, yard, screening, parking, number of dwelling units, and number of occupants per dwelling unit as apply to other residences in the district, zone, or subdivision.

“For purposes of determining the number of occupants in a residential care facility, or in any of the dwelling units which comprise the facility, employees of the sponsoring agency providing services to persons with disabilities shall be counted only if their permanent residence is maintained at the facility.

“No conditional use permit not otherwise required for other residences within a zone or land use category shall be required for the operation of a residential care facility.”

That would seem to indicate that, in the eyes of state law, the only people who count as “residents” are employees whose live full-time within the home, not people who are in the recovery program.

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