An agenda item outside the norm is on the agenda for the Lehi City Planning Commission on Thursday, May 11. Forum Builders, in partnership with I Am Recovery, has requested a conditional use permit and “reasonable accommodation” request to operate 10 group homes for addicts in recovery called Mendenhall Estates, located at 230 West 400 South, in Lehi.
The Mendenhall Estates subdivision was approved in 2021, with home lots ranging in size from .18 acres to .33 acres. Now the builder is asking for a conditional use permit to operate 10 of the homes as group homes for recovering drug and alcohol addicts.
Group homes are a permitted use in all residential zones as required by law. An application for a subdivision of group homes with four people each would have been approved at the City staff level and would not be necessary to go to a public hearing meeting. Conditional Use applications are administrative items that must be approved if they meet the code.
Group homes are legally permitted in all residential zones because people with disabilities are a protected class. “Disability” is defined in Section 57-21-2 of the Utah Code andincludes the following: (a) “Mental or physical impairment” includes but is not limited to blindness, hearing impairment, mobility impairment, HIV infection, mental retardation, alcoholism, drug addiction, chronic fatigue, learning disability, head injury, and mental illness.
In lay terms, the developer has vested rights to construct the ten homes and allow up to four individuals in treatment per home without further city approval. In this situation, the developer is asking for a “reasonable accommodation” request to increase the home occupancy from four people to eight. This request triggers the need for a public hearing and legislative deliberation.
The burden of proof will fall on the applicant to demonstrate that the requested accommodation (the addition of four individuals per home) is necessary and reasonable to improve chances of success for the residents and shall be linked to providing the same opportunity a non-disabled person would have to use and enjoy a dwelling.
“This project provides a highly unique opportunity to be a force for good and provide a much-needed service to the community. Research shows that rehabilitation is not nearly as effective if not paired with the transitional living component that we are working to provide. Additionally, a strong sense of community and camaraderie creates accountability, increases morale, and helps tremendously with recovery efforts.
Contrary to stigmas, this project is not a raucous and unsupervised group of people who will bring down the neighboring community. It is a highly supervised, 24-hour care operation dedicated to helping people better themselves and their communities. Residents in our community are folks who are actively pursuing recovery, not individuals who don’t want to recover or who are not committed to bettering themselves,” said Forum Builders and I Am Recovery in their application submitted to the City.
The developer’s application also briefly explained the facility’s day-to-day operation: ” I Am Recovery offers day treatment for clients until they obtain full-time work or school; and alsoprovides evening treatment for those that currently work full–time in the day. The clients generally have two weeks to 30 days or more of sobriety and are transferring from a Residential Facility or Detox Center. I Am Recovery clients are in active recovery; they are drug-tested weekly and at random. Sex offenders are not admitted. I Am Recovery staffs its operation with trained and licensed professionals on a 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year basis.”
According to I Am Recovery’s website, the organization provides “A strength-based program built around increasing and repairing support systems for the family and the patient. I Am is known for the highest standards in family support, peer support, counseling and custom treatment planning in Utah at an outpatient level.”
In the report provided to the Planning Commission, the city staff noted that it’s their opinion that three or four accommodations for eight individuals spaced throughout the subdivision seems more reasonable than the ask for all ten homes to be upgraded to eight occupants. A reasonable exception can be denied if valid reasons are provided because of traffic, water, sewer, and other capacity concerns for the subdivision.
Some Lehi residents have expressed concerns about the development and the group homes on social media portals.
The Planning Commission will hear public comments and deliberate the proposed request on May 11.