By Tim Pallesen
A federal judge has granted a preliminary injunction to stop Delray Beach from enforcing its controversial transient housing ordinance against the Caron Foundation.
U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas stopped short of ordering the city to grant Caron’s request to open a sober house at 1232 Seaspray Ave.
But he said Delray Beach must continue to process Caron’s request for a reasonable accommodation there without violating federal laws that prohibit discrimination against recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.
Responding to outrage over sober houses near the ocean, city commissioners approved the transient housing ordinance on Feb. 21, one day before rejecting Caron’s request for the Seaspray house.
“This sequence is highly suspect and strongly suggests that the city acted with an improper discriminatory motive,” Dimitrouleas wrote in his 29-page ruling.
The transient housing ordinance lowers the number of times that bedrooms can be rented to three times per year. The city’s previous ordinance allowed six rentals per year.
“The turnover rule would prevent Caron from effectively running its program,” the judge wrote. “The house would essentially be inoperable.”
The preliminary injunction will remain in effect until Caron’s lawsuit goes to trial to determine whether a permanent injunction should be granted and the city ordered to pay damages. Dimitrouleas wrote that Caron has shown “a substantial likelihood of success in demonstrating that the city has discriminated” when the case goes to trial.
Caron attorney Jim Green offered Delray Beach one last opportunity to settle the lawsuit and avoid a trial.
“I know emotions have been running high but I hope the city and the portion of the community that’s been hostile will reconsider now and work toward an amicable resolution of this controversy,” Green said.
Delray Beach City Attorney Brian Shutt declined comment. Other city officials could not be reached late Friday.
Dimitrouleas agreed with the city’s argument that Caron hasn’t provided enough medical and financial justification as yet for its request to house seven patients at its Seaspray sober house.
But Green and Caron vice president Andrew Rothermel expressed confidence that Caron can provide the additional information that the city wants.
“I don’t think the judge wants to see us come back after the city puts us through a lot on nonsense on that,” Rothermel said.