Large mental health facility approved for Woodmont area; plus, take our Poll




Artist renderings courtesy Valley Cities Mental Health.

by Jack Mayne

A 20,000 square foot mental health and medical facility along Pacific Highway in far southeast Des Moines has been approved despite objections of nearby residents.

The facility was approved by a city-hired hearing examiner, and it does not need the further approval of the Des Moines City Council, according to City Manager Tony Piasecki.

A public hearing called by Des Moines Mayor Dave Kaplan will be held on the proposal this Tuesday night (Aug. 18) from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Woodmont Elementary School. The hearing is to allow the developer to explain how they will operate the facility and to respond to citizen questions and concerns.

The project
Valley Cities Counseling and Consultation of Kent will build a 19,665 square foot mental health evaluation and treatment facility with 24 beds, a 25,340 square foot detoxification facility with 40 beds, a 34,160 square foot main office building, a 7,200 square foot dispensary clinic, and an 8,340 square foot common meeting facility at 26915 Pacific Highway South:

Hearing examiner Theodore Paul Hunter, after an April 3 public hearing, approved a Conditional Use permit “to allow phased construction of a medical and mental health recovery campus,” but added some conditions the developer must meet.

Approval came despite objections of several nearby residents of the Woodmont neighborhood who complained the facility was too close to schools, libraries and their homes where children lived.

The objections
During the April hearing, many nearby residents argued against such a facility in their neighborhood.

Jamie Culver testified he was especially concerned about the proposal’s proximity to a local elementary school and library and said the recent opening of a house for heroin addicts has caused problems in the neighborhood.

Megan Culver, another local resident, testified in April that she, too, has had a number of problems with the nearby “heroin house” on 6th Avenue South. Problems include property damage, people knocking on her door in the middle of the night, and slow police response times to disruptive incidents at the halfway house.

Culver said treatment facilities should not be located adjacent to residential zones and that the city should focus on helping children, not drug addicts.

Terry Potvin testified his property would be approximately 40 feet from the detox facility. He said he has two grandchildren that live with him and is especially concerned that a six-foot fence would not “adequately address privacy and safety concerns.” He believes the proposal is incompatible with the existing land use patterns in the area and expressed concern over the facility’s proximity to the school and the effect that it will have on neighborhood property values.

Chelene Bird, an adjacent property owner, said the community already has problems with drugs and prostitution and believes that the proposed facility would increase these negative impacts. She, too, was concerned the proposed six-foot fence is not high enough to address safety concerns and that additional landscaping would only provide “more hiding places” for illicit activity.

Bird said allowing the facility would destroy the quality of life in the adjacent residential neighborhoods.

Bryan Whiting, another area resident, said he was concerned that patients will roam the residential neighborhoods and that the facility would overwhelm police and fire services. Whiting testified in April that, although he recognizes these facilities are needed somewhere, they should be sited away from residential areas.

CEO cites successes
Ken Taylor, the Chief Executive Officer of Valley Cities Counseling and Consultation, headquartered in Kent, defended the application.

He noted similar objections of a facility involving 24 apartments for people with severe mental illnesses when it was proposed near a residential area in Auburn five years ago.

Now that Auburn site is being doubled and there is no opposition from neighboring residents or the community.

Taylor said Valley Cities was formed in 1965 as a non-profit community mental health agency, “dedicated to providing holistic, integrated mental health services for people of all ages.”

Valley Services says it currently provides services in six neighborhood clinics, including Auburn, Bellevue, Federal Way, Kent, Midway and Renton, and will open a clinic “soon” in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of south Seattle.

Valley Cities’ website says its services include “licensed mental health counseling; chemical dependency treatment for adults; domestic violence services for survivors and perpetrators; homeless outreach services and housing programs; family support programs; and specialized veterans services that deliver counseling and family support services to veterans, active duty military, and their families.”

The company says it serves all age groups, low-income families and “the most vulnerable in our communities.”

Open by next spring
At the April hearing Taylor said the first phase of construction would involve building the mental health treatment facility by the spring of 2016. The detox facility would be built as the second phase of construction. The goal is to have all the buildings operational by 2018.

Des Moines officials “analyzed the environmental impacts of the project” and determined “the proposal would not have a probable significant adverse impact on the environment,” the hearing examiner’s report said.

But they did place eight conditions on the developer.

Valley Cities must “enter into a separate agreement” with Des Moines to “mitigate impacts on public services, and City Manager Tony Piasecki said that could include a payment for increased police services and other services provided to the facility.

There must be a “return to city of origin” agreement, which means that a patient, say from Auburn, must be taken to Auburn for release, and cannot be released in Des Moines. A similar agreement exists with people released from the regional SCORE jail in Des Moines, Piasecki said.

Other requirements include an agreement on lighting, parking and reporting items of archeological or historic significance to appropriate authorities.

The facility must have “a 100 percent site obscuring fence at least six feet tall along portions of the property abutting residential areas” and Valley Cities must “establish and enforce a strict policy prohibiting loitering.”

Mental Health Bias
CEO Taylor told the April hearing that state and federal courts have “recognized that Washington’s mental health system has serious problems and have both ruled that Pierce and King Counties, in particular, have consistently violated the constitutional rights of the mentally ill by holding them in jail or emergency rooms for extended periods while awaiting competency evaluations and treatment.”

He said his company’s facility would provide “a small step toward repairing this system and stressed that this proposal does not involve an incarceration facility but, instead, a treatment facility specifically designed to meet the growing needs of an underserved population.”

Taylor also told the hearing examiner that he recognized that neighboring property owners are concerned about the facility.

“He testified that patients receiving involuntary treatment (both mental health patients and detox patients) are under lock and key 24 hours per day and would not be able to leave the locked facility.”

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Should the Woodmont Recovery Center be built in Des Moines?

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34 Responses to “Large mental health facility approved for Woodmont area; plus, take our Poll”
  1. Jeff H. says:

    Tomorrow’s meeting is NOT a “public hearing by the mayor”. It was a grassroots effort led by local citizens that is being co-opted by the mayor.

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  2. Jeff H. says:

    Not one word about this “dispensary” in fact being a methadone clinic.

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  3. Joanne Nelner, RN says:

    Although psychiatric and drug rehabilitation centers are greatly needed, this proposed site makes no sense when there is a marijuana dispensary 2 miles down the road. I have to seriously question the validity of using state and federal funds to cover treatment for drug rehabilitation in this situation. I believe the residents of Des Moines should question government officials about healthcare funding to facilities where marijuana dispensaries have been locally approved.

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  4. Martin says:

    Are you effing kidding me! That’s all we need in Des Moines!!! More crazies and more junkies running through our neighborhoods! We don’t feel safe having the kids walk to the bus stop as it is! Now we have to worry about these crazies jumping them! And no I’m not talking about the ones there for depression or anxiety… I’m talking about the desperate addicts that will do anything for an easy score! It’s right next to the damn library and an elementary school! Dispensary=Methadone clinic! With a giant Detox Facility. Wonder what will be walking out of that place??? Fail Des Moines!!! You can’t even keep the mail thieves away! How are you going to police this? I feel for the people that are going through addiction (yes, I have family members that struggle with addiction) but this facility needs to be in an industrial district away from homes and schools! If it is soooo safe and great then let’s put it right next to North Hill Elementary where all the City Council Member’s kids go to school as well as live! It wouldn’t even be an issue. The plan would be dead in seconds if their kids were at risk!

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  5. Des Moines Mama says:

    It’s generally accepted in our culture that we try to keep drugs, guns, and porn away from kids and schools (even if they’re legal in other areas or venues). While I think that this treatment center is needed somewhere in our community, it’s really appalling to me that they are willing to build so close to an elementary school. Whether or not our city’s zoning laws allow it, this project should never have been approved, even on a conditional basis. Shame on whomever in city zoning gave this project the green light in this location!

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  6. Sandy P says:

    i understand people’s concerns for safety but i might be a good idea to look into the experiences of other communities with similar facilities because there is a tremendous need for facilities like this. My understanding is that the people using the facility are there because they have a problem, they admit it and are seeking help. They are willing to show up and be counted. If this was your son or daughter would you want them to travel far away for help? It’s possible, of course, that some may be ‘crazy’ in a way that presents a threat to the community or they may qualify as criminals. i venture that there are many more in the community who pose more threat than these but are not willing or convinced they need help. We pass them everyday during our normal activities without even knowing it
    Despite the neighborhood fears, this location seems logical. It’s on highway 99 near the transportation system most will use and is in an underused business site. If professionally run, it could prove to be a good neighbor.

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    • DH says:

      Sandy- You have good points, but what you may not understand about this facility is that it will predominantly serve those who are in the system involuntarily and who are brought from the jail or admitted to local hospitals for mental health issues. This facility is a dumping ground for the ones they can’t or don’t want to hold in those facilities. Some of the people using the complex will come on their own accord seeking treatment, but it will also host a methadone clinic and having that near an elementary school and public library is a ridiculous idea.This article didn’t disclose all of the facts and was biased toward Valley Cities. As it has been from the beginning, the surrounding families and neighbors have been discarded from the conversation.

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      • goodone says:

        Whether child or adult, WA state cannot impose mental health services as a means of criminal punishment. Therefore all treatment is voluntary. This is why laws are being lobbied to pass for better monitoring and care for the mentally ill in our state.

        I think that community accessibility to mental health services is critical. Wake up already! These are people in your elementary schools. Your workplace, contractors in your home. The reason you don’t know is because those people sought treatment or had it readily accessible. It’s a very sad message in society to be under the impression that everyone with dysfunctional biological conditions or who grew up not learning to have sufficient coping mechanisms is somehow less deserving to live in proximity to the “normal” people. In reality, there is no such thing as normal, only people who haven’t had to struggle with emotional issues because of their own inclinations and environment. Utopia does not exist. And forbid you ever don’t fit in with someone else’s normal.

        Fact is, I think failure to seek treatment for problems that contribute to crime and deterioration of the quality of life for others does need harsh penalty. Life is a series of choices. If one chooses drugs to cope or acting out violently instead of seeking health treatment, they don’t belong in the general public and there should be rigidity in this so that boundaries are learned quickly about one’s life choice A vs choice B.

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        • goodone says:

          And I’ll add that these types of facilities need to be the first step, not the last in a string of treatment options. We shouldn’t have to fear that this is a dumping ground. An effective facility will stop the cycle of drug abuse and support people who need it the most. Once the line is cross where it becomes a criminal matter, the facility isn’t the problem, it’s the answer of the consequences through the legal system. We are extremely far away from that and our biggest tool is a society that supports solving the problem before it exists. For those people who are in the latter stages of mental health problems, those people need more than a facility like this could solve. Change your attitude and change the problem. That means we collectively need to help. Funny how so many people think this is someone else’s problem when everything we do as a society propagates this mess. We all are to blame.

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      • goodone says:

        Here’s part of my citation: RCW 71.05.050
        Voluntary application for mental health services—Rights—Review of condition and status—Detention—Person refusing voluntary admission, temporary detention.

        Also, I discovered how this law applies in real live to adults and children already prosecuted (and first attempts of treatment in preventative means) via personal experience.

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  7. maggie says:

    I understand that these facilities are needed. However, the way this was handled just stinks.
    Approved by a city hired hearing examiner! What is that and who is that and how did this get down on the down low? The city manager and the mayor should be thrown out of office.

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    • EHNC says:

      He is a unbiased, land use lawyer, completely separate from the City. Wow, you people really do not do your homework do you?

      This was not done on the down low. open your eyes people, pay attention the signs in your neighborhood. Open those letters in your mailboxes. if you were within 600′, you rec’d two of them.

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      • AB in DM says:

        Bwaaaahaaaaahaaaaa ! Can’t…. stop…. Laughing… at this… Whopper…

        “Unbiased” (city-paid-for) land-use attorney.

        Bwaaaahaaaaahaaaaa ! Too funny EHNC. Thanks for the entertainment.

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      • Des Moines Mama says:

        Those of us with kids who attend Woodmont did not receive letters, as many (most?) if us live farther than 600′ from the school.

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        • EHNC says:

          The school was noticed. It was their job to notice you. You should be finger waving at them. Why have they remained silent still? Because they realize that THEY dropped the ball on this one.

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      • Kelly Carlile says:

        It’s 800 feet from an elementary school and directly next to a library! Choose a more appropriate location! “Kids are not a distraction from important work they are the MOST important work.” My children attend there and I was not notified. I found out on Facebook. We live 2.5 miles away and they ride the bus as I am a working mom. I am clearly outside of 600 feet. This is fundamentally wrong.

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  8. Carri says:

    All lives matter…no one wakes up and decides to become a drug addict. You really think that by having a clinic with mental health services and drug addiction services that it is going to bring them to the neighborhood…guess what?.. they are already here. They are walking the highway and living in whatever bushes or back parking lots they can find. We have kids dying from all the influx of drugs from Mexico…almost all heroin, cocaine and meth is coming up from Mexico. Go read the FBI website of how many drugs are coming in to our country, we spent 21 billion dollars in 2013 combatting the problem. The police cannot arrest their way out of this drug epidemic. The city council nor our planning and building department had absolutely no say on this clinic as it met the zoning requirements. The neighborhood will be safer with someplace for these people to go because right now they are just like free range chickens…everywhere. They are people too and if just one of them can beat the drugs from this clinic than it is worth it. All of you having a fit over this you might be better off spending your energy on trying to get our borders shut down and stopping the drugs from entering our country.

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    • goodone says:

      Prohibition ring a bell? I agree with your sentiments but the drugs are already here and always will be. It’s the choices that an individual makes to go down that path. I can think of 10 substances to take in my home that could alter my mental state right now…aerosol whipped cream, spray paint, cough medicine, coffee, sudafed, wine/liquor, household plants, mouthwash, hand sanitizer, nutmeg.

      So your heart is in the right place but what observations do you have for someone who wants to get high/escape reality?

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      • Carri says:

        Drugs coming out of Mexico and prohibition are two different things….yes you can high on that stuff in your house and some of them do but they prefer the meth and heroin…its kind of like wanting more restrictions on guns. I’m okay with that but bottom line is criminals don’t buy the guns legally it only hurts the law abiding citizens. Most of these drug addicts don’t live in houses with all that stuff they have been thrown out of their houses long ago so they buy the crap coming out of Mexico…very cheaply I might add. #shutourbordersdown
        I know I am being “politically incorrect” but it is the truth of our drug issues. They don’t want to be junkies anymore than the young girls forced to be prostituted. Ask any junkie…drugs are as easy to buy as 12 year olds for sex…..pathetic. At least with this clinic they have an option….they need to make the choice to use it.

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  9. Sandy says:

    Des Moines is FULL of drugs and full of child addics. You don’t have to go far to see an addict or know someone that has a child addicted to drugs here in Des Moines. You don’t have to go far to hear a story of a child that has lost their life to drugs here in Des Moines. These Centers are made to help the children of our Community, not hurt them or hurt their neighbors. I 100% approve of this Center being built on 99 and if it ended up in my backyard, I would feel totally blessed to know that if one child’s life was saved at this Center, it’s done it’s job.

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  10. BirchCreek says:

    I have no problem with a treatment and mental health facility in Des Moines. Just not near a school, library or residential area. Surely there is a better location?
    I’ve had professional dealings with Valley Cities in my work environment and they are a very good and solid organization.
    Why not put it in the new industrial area north of 216th? I drove on Airport Way recently in Seattle, and saw a treatment facility in the commercial/industrial area. It’s location made better sense to me.

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  11. RedondoRick says:

    “WOODMONT RECOVERY CLINIC” Once again our city council has failed us. It was a hostile and heated meeting last night at Woodmont School. A meeting that started at 7:40, ran well beyond the advertise schedule of 7:30-9:00 wrapping up at 10:30. A crowd of 200+ gave the dignitaries all they could handle. A large line of speakers against the clinic stood in long lines all night long. But is it a done deal? Only a good attorney knows for sure. No matter what, the community came out swinging over the propose methadone clinic so near a School and Library. This meeting was long over due, as it’s been in the works since last year. Now maybe time has run out. Many complained of not being notified sooner about the plans for this major campus consisting of up to five buildings, bordering Highway 99 to the East and 16 Ave South to the West. How could such a controversial project slip through the cracks? Many complained of not having adequate Police protection now with a slim Police force. Valley Cities Counseling, owner of the project, said they would provide adequate security on campus. They said they wanted to be good neighbors in the community and that the area would be safe. Well, the haven’t shown me what a good neighbor they can be regarding ties to the neighborhood. We were all blind sided from the very beginning, and for that I blame our city government, period…redondorick (Rr)

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    • EHNC says:

      Why do you live in DM? You have the worst opinion of this place. I would hate to be your friend.

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      • RedondoRick says:

        Your not my friend, and I’m not sure I would want to be. Your position on this clinic shows me that your just as unbalanced as the government that runs this city! Most people are upset with how this all came about. And don’t give me any bull____ about notices that went out to the residents and business within a 600 feet of distance from this project. Maybe Valley Cities went by the Laws and Zoning for this project, but something terribly wrong happened. And no, I had very little in annexation to Des Moines. I live in Redondo Beach as I have for 57 years!!

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  12. AB in DM says:

    Des Moines already is experiencing a crime wave. Indeed, violent crime EXPLODED here in the city since 2011 (Up 43% according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation). Can anyone provide any empirical evidence showing how a facility like this would LESSEN this already astounding figure within the city? Common sense would dictate, things will continue to worsen for the citizens of DM.

    The City of Des Moines simply does not have the control mechanisms (i.e.. proper # of police) in place to support a facility of this nature, in what is essentially, a residential area abutting Pac Hwy.

    One, single, tyrannical land-use attorney (aka Hearing Examiner) has just doomed S. Des Moines to permanent ghetto-status. Thanks City Manager Piasecki for hiring this person. You just made the situation MUCH worse. Oh, and thanks Mayor Kaplan and Crew for supporting City Manager Piasecki’s stellar decisions to hide behind zoning regulations. Stand-up folks you are.

    Well-liked. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 7

    • duhhhhh moinezzz says:

      This is typical of Des Moines City Government. How many Redondo/Woodmont residents know about the tree ordinance that was passed last year? I bet not many. The city council/staff silently fought a small a group of folks who wanted to maintain their view of Puget Sound by passing an ordinance that takes away the rights of everyone in south end of the city to maintain view property. They don’t care about the implications of reduced taxable value or resale value of homes dropping steeply. Now add in the Rehab facility and you can expect home values to plummet again. With the tree ordinance in place I’m underwater on my home by 70k with the Rehab facility and fallout from additional bad activity in the area plus a school I won’t want to sent my kids to I would say I’m underwater 100k on the purchase price of my home. It’s time for Des Moines citizens in Redondo and Woodmont to take action and move the city boundary in to Federal Way!!! I’ve had it with this poor city government if you can even call it that.

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      • NAR says:

        Did you buy your air rights? Then you are not guaranteed a view.

        Last I checked, most people live here FOR THE TREES. Stop trying to destroy this place and turn it into California.

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        • AB in DM says:

          Please cite the source of ‘where you checked.” I can’t find any empirical studies showing what appears to be your opinion…

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    • Lisa says:

      AB in DM,

      You mentioned that according to the FBI, the crime rate in Des Moines is up 43% since 2011. I searched the FBI website and was unable to find this stat, would you mind linking it?


      Rate: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  13. MJ Gray says:

    One issue that no one has really mentioned is the volume of clients this facility will be licensed to handle. Up on First Hill in Seattle, the methadone clinic there is very small, maybe 3,000 SF at best, but it processes up to 800 recovering addicts per day to come and get their methadone. The bulk of the traffic occurs from 6-9am, as people come by before school and work, and most of those folks come from suburban King County. The largest impact the methadone clinic has had on the First Hill community has been the numbers of clients who remain in the area, hanging out, being boisterous, and causing trouble. It got so bad the adjoining Starbucks and Rite Aid Pharmacy had to close due to petty thefts, littering, and loitering.

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    • SP says:

      As the manager of one of the local businesses, I have mixed feelings about this. I can understand the residential communities’ concerns, I too am a parent, and YES I DO have a transitional institution close to my home. However, over the past few years, the number of transients, drug users, and people with emotional/behavioral issues has grown immensely. I now have to call the police more often than ever. If this facility provides services to the people who are struggling the most, it might just succeed in removing so many of our destitute from the streets. I have often spoken to, and gotten to know a little about some of my “regulars” (transients). Many are actually quite willing to seek out help but have no access to it in that area. This has left them feeling lost and depressed. Then, seeing as how they have no transportation but their feet, they are not as inclined to seek out the help they need. Like I said, this is just a thought and no, I will not be participating in any effort towards one set of opinions or another. I do not live in this neighborhood, I only spend 45-60 hours a week here…so yes, I have concerns as well….but I also don’t see how things can get much worse…they are pretty bad now.

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  14. E Miller says:

    Why isn’t this facility being built next to the SCORE facility which is also in Des Moines? It would make much more sense to build this facility in an area that already has a correctional facility approved, and close to where patients who need services could be transferred from the jail to the facility or visa versa. It’s well known that many mentally and chemically dependent people also have had brushes with the law. Put them where they can get treatment but also where they can be properly supervised until they are better.

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