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Maricopa County approves group home code changes


Clear guidance for code enforcement is one of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors’ many stated priorities.
That was the goal in one staff-initiated code reform the board unanimously approved at Wednesday’s meeting, one dealing with a set of changes to group home regulations.

Tom Ellsworth, director of planning and development for the county, said staff-initiated regulation changes meant to bring clarity and federal regulation compliance. Some light was shed on ambiguities by a recent group home application, Ellsworth said.

Ellsworth said the changes were processed through the county’s Enhanced Regulatory Outreach Program. The changes were discussed during three stakeholder meetings, including the county’s December Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, where approval was unanimously recommended.

“We intend these to be more up-to-date and more accurate,” Ellsworth said. “This updates definitions and ongoing regulations.”

One main definition change, Ellsworth said, was a split of group homes into two types: community residents and recovery communities.

“Community residents will be six to 10 individuals living in a single-family-like setting — all with disabilities,” Ellsworth said. “Recovery communities are multifamily-like settings, free from alcohol and other drugs, aimed at helping those recovering from addiction.”

Ellsworth said recovery communities will be allowed in R-3, R-4 and R-5 zoning districts. Community residence group homes will be allowed in any rural and residential zoning in Maricopa County.

Supervisor Steve Gallardo asked Ellsworth how youth foster or group homes would be characterized. Ellsworth said those simply are categorized as six- to 10-person community residences.

Supervisor Thomas Galvin asked how code changes will help with enforcement.

“The amendment provides clarity on what is and isn’t a group home,” Ellsworth said. “This will not cover detoxification facilities. It will allow us to have a hearing officer consider reasonable accommodations, using an appeals process, in applying code and enforcing code.”

Ellsworth said recovery communities will require approval through the county’s special-use permitting process. Those permits involve public notice and a hearing.

Community residences can be approved through a registration process for land-use permits. Those have no public-notice requirement and are treated the same way any single-family home in the county would be if requesting special land use.

Wednesday, the board also unanimously approved zoning changes for The Bungalows at Norterra. The apartment development in the North Phoenix area, set to include almost 200 units, had significant opposition from area residents.

Board Chair Bill Gates asked for a standing moment of silence in memory of Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Rosa Mroz, who was struck as a pedestrian in a Feb. 2 accident and died a few days later. Gates talked about the many constituents who reached out to him with praise for Mroz, including one who characterized her as a caring mother.