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Residential Health Center Sues The City Of Fort Myers

Sovereign Health of Florida

A residential treatment center filed a Fair Housing Act lawsuit against the city of Fort Myers. The health facility said the city is "discriminating" against its clientele.

Sovereign Health of Floridaopened in the Riverside Drive community in late 2014. The center has about 20 residents being treated for mental illness or recovering from substance abuse.

Connie Ramos is spokesperson for Sovereign. She said the city of Fort Myers denied the center’s application for a permanent business tax receipt various times. 

"They have been bullied to some degree by being pushed out and meeting with this resistance from the city," said Ramos. 

The Fort Myers city attorney says it could not grant Sovereign a business tax receipt because it was missing proper licensing.

There’s also the question of whether the facility is a “drug rehabilitation” center. Sovereign says it’s not. The facility offers a “holistic” approach to mental wellness like yoga and group therapy sessions. And it doesn’t have an onsite pharmacy. 

But Fort Myers city attorney Grant Alley says zoning laws in that area are very specific.

"The zoning allows for assisted living and residential care but it does not allow for social services," said Alley. 

Credit Sovereign Health of Florida / Courtesy
This is the front view of Sovereign Health of Florida. The residential health facility is located in the Riverside Drive community in Fort Myers.

He also said Sovereign’s neighbors have complained about people knocking on doors late at night, people entering onto their property and wandering the streets.

Connie Ramos, Sovereign’s spokesperson, said the business is not going anywhere. 

"They want to be here. They want to keep city of Fort Myers on the map," she said. 

City attorney Alley said they’re going to take both parties into consideration. 

"We're working hard to make sure that we can protect the community and also protect the property rights of the business," he said. 

Alley said he hopes the city, the Riverside Community and Sovereign can all come to an agreement without spending taxpayer money on a lawsuit. 

Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of Morning Edition at WUSF Public Media, and former reporter and host of All Things Considered for WGCU News.
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