St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman won't sign a recently approved ordinance that regulates sober houses.

The ordinance, approved unanimously by the City Council this month, still takes effect. Coleman just doesn't approve and knows that a veto wouldn't stand a chance.

He said in a July 18 letter to council members that he agrees that "a clear definition of sober houses is necessary to ensure both that reasonable accommodations are made for those living with addiction and that the integrity of our neighborhoods is protected."

He also agrees with parking requirements and a condition that operators must provide information to the city.

His problem is with a disputed provision that requires a 330-foot distance between sober houses -- although the city could allow houses to be closer together on a case-by-case basis.

Opponents say that's discriminatory toward sober-house residents, a federally protected class because chemically dependent people are considered disabled.

The Planning Commission had recommended the city adopt an ordinance excluding the distance mandate, and city attorneys noted that the requirement could be illegal.

"As always, I am concerned about putting the city at risk of lengthy and costly litigation," Coleman wrote.

Regulating the homes for recovering addicts has been a complex issue, with the city trying to square the concerns of neighbors with the rights and safety of sober-house residents.

City Council President Kathy Lantry declined to comment.

CHRIS HAVENS