COOPER CITY -- Residents say they want cows and horses, not recovering addicts, to roam the ranches across from their neighborhood along Southwest 106th Avenue in western Cooper City.
A sober house, a residence rented to people who pledge to live in sobriety and attend support groups, popped up across the street on a 10-acre ranch zoned for agricultural use. Residents say the new neighbors make them uncomfortable and shouldn't be allowed to operate in a residential area.
"There's no structure, there's nobody I can tell who's running it," said resident Natalie Cooke. "I'm not against trying to make people have better lives. I'm against the streams and streams of people."
Now the operator of the sober house that's home to nine men and women recovering from anxiety, depression and substance abuse says he's leaving the property May 5 and moving his company, Crystal Clear Residential, to Hollywood. Cooper City said operator Nardy Harris hasn't complied with city codes.
Still, Cooper City officials plan to take action to regulate these types of houses so that more don't pop up unannounced. Hollywood has regulations that could impact recovery homes since no more than three unrelated people can live together in a home.
Harris says tenants are required to stay sober, go to treatment and attend Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous classes at off-site facilities.
Signs posted throughout the house lay out ground rules such as, "Absolutely no borrowing of money, cigarettes, clothing or any other personal items."
Another sign posted in the kitchen says, "Every client is blessed with this golden opportunity to get their life together, learn a new way of life."
Harris says neighbors just don't want this type of facility in their backyard.
"Is it wrong that people walk up and down the driveway, the sidewalk?" asked Harris, who makes his living by operating the sober house.
Harris pays $3,000 a month in rent to the property owner. He wouldn't disclose how much his tenants pay to live there, but he said most of the residents live off of disability and Social Security checks. He said the business makes him a small profit.
Cooper City doesn't have nearly the number of sober homes compared with recovery-friendly Delray Beach, which landed on a list of the Top 10 Best Sober Living Communities in 2008, despite city efforts to restrict the homes. Recovering addicts are protected under the Federal Fair Housing and Americans with Disabilities acts.
City Manager Bruce Loucks said Cooper City could restrict the number of unrelated people living in a house together and increase inspections for fire and safety violations.
"Our hands aren't tied, but we have to move cautiously," said Loucks.
The Florida House and Senate also are working on two bills that would define transitional living facilities, requiring a licensing procedure for providers and prohibiting facilities from operating within 1,000 feet of one another.
Cooper City resident Gabriel Balint says the 1,000 feet requirement doesn't satisfy him. He says if the sober house isn't gone by May 5, he'll place a for sale sign in his yard and move out of Cooper City.
"We see a lot of strange people stare ... You get that look ... I work from home but I travel a lot," said Balint. "I'm concerned about leaving my wife and kid."
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