by Jack Mayne 
Mayor Dave Kaplan and Des Moines City Councilmembers say they would like to move the site of the approved Woodmont recovery center, but state law says such “essential public facilities” cannot be blocked by city ordinances or zoning.
Even so, they say they will try to convince the developers to locate it elsewhere.
Despite the request of area residents, there will not be a formal 120-day time out for research before negotiating and approving a “good neighborhood agreement” that is necessary to be completed five months before the facility can open.
But Woodmont area residents were told at the Council meeting Thursday night (Aug. 20) that it would take longer than that just to get any such agreement formulated.
Council on Thursday heard more complaints over the plan that many residents and some Council members heard about only days earlier last week.
That plan is to build a drug, alcohol and mental health treatment center in their neighborhood along Pacific Highway in south Des Moines.
Valley Cities Counseling and Consultation of Kent plan to 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, along with an office building, a dispensary clinic, and meeting facility at 26915 Pacific Highway South.
Failed due diligence
Candace Urquhart said on Thursday night what she and others had told the Council two nights before that she wanted to “formally request” a 120-day research period. That request was initially discussed at the Tuesday (Aug. 18) meeting attended by about 250 people, where about 45 of them said the plan was bad for their neighborhood and to put it anywhere but in their neighborhood.
“We request the city take the time to do the due diligence it failed to do before recommending approval and permitting this facility,” Urquhart said. “This period should be completed to the satisfaction of the citizens prior to entering into any so-called ‘good neighbor agreement.’”
She said the city had “sat on information they had regarding this proposal instead of informing themselves or their citizens. We trust that this period will allow the City of Des Moines, the Federal Way School District, concerned citizen groups and the King County Library, Safeway and other stakeholders to dive deep and study other facilities both nationally and locally in order to identify best practices.”
Urquhart, as others had on Aug. 18, said “the cumulative effects caused by this new facility where drug addicts will visit six times a week to receive a methadone fix must be studied thoroughly before the doors can open.
“We are curious (how) you fund the 10 or 12 new police officers that we will need to keep our children, school and streets safe if this methadone clinic is allowed to open.”
Without money for public safety available, Urquhart said, “no agreement can be implemented. Valley Cities should come up with the money, not the taxpayers of our bankrupt city.”
Anywhere but here
Resident Laura Castronover said she “urged everything in their power to make sure the recovery center is relocated somewhere else beside next to a school. I don’t think you guys did due diligence informing us citizens. I talked to the police chief and he was only aware of this about six months ago.
“You guys are trying to make sure we don’t hear about this because in your City Currents (publication), you only have one sentence about this: ‘Recovery center is getting ready to break ground,’” Castronover said, and that the one sentence was in a paragraph about Highline College construction, not about a drug rehab facility as large as the proposal.
“That is unacceptable. You need to do due diligence and provide information to us and to the chief of police in time to understand how much of an impact this is going to be on us.”
She said that those undergoing methadone treatment are going to get it for life so they are unemployable anywhere where a drug test is required.
“People will be coming over to Woodmont area right next to Woodmont Elementary. That is unacceptable. Find another location.”
Move seems unlikely
Councilmember Vic Pennington said there was a need for such clinics “but really I don’t think it needs to be there.
“I know that Mayor Pro-Tem Pina, Mayor Kaplan, City Manager Piasecki and other staff members are beginning to enter into conversations with Valley Cities and other elected officials in the area to look at moving that facility to another location or, at the very least, finding a way to mitigate the major problems there.”
Kaplan said they were trying but it would be difficult to change the location.
Pennington said “essential public facilities” must be sited by cities and that state law overrides any local zoning or other issues, so he moved to have a city ordinance drafted that would in the future require notifying everyone in the city, not just those who are 300 or 600 feet from the potential site that has been the city rule.
“This is a city-wide issue, it affects … not just one area,” Pennington said. Then Kaplan said “this is where we fell down … and, obviously we are working our way through it now, I agree that any essential facility that comes to the city it should go citywide” whenever it comes up for consideration.
A motion to have such an ordinance drafted passed unanimously as did a Pennington’s request to try for a 120-day waiting period.
City Manager Tony Piasecki said that likely would not be a problem because the hearing examiner had already said Valley Cities Counseling and Consultation of Kent had to have such an agreement in place five months before they could open.
“There is a lot of work they need to do, there is a lot of work we need to do in order to make that all come together,” Piasecki said. “I don’t see that time frame becoming any kind of legal issue.”
Emotions and talking
“There is a lot of emotions on a lot of different subjects,” Pennington said. “I really believe that face-to-face, looking somebody in the eye and talking to them is the way to communicate.”
Pro-Tem Mayor Matt Pina agreed, “There was a clear message – a great need, the wrong location.”
“I am committed to do what I can with this Council within the confines of the law as it’s before us,” Pina said. “But I really do appreciate it when the community comes out and provides us with their insight. We really do appreciate hearing from all of you.”
“The process by which that came about is legal; the challenges are usually with large projects, there is something that an applicant wants so it will usually come to Council, they want some change, but that wasn’t the case in this instance. They didn’t ask for anything, they didn’t ask for any change in zoning … so it never came to Council directly.”
Kaplan said because of state law, that with “essential public facilities, our hands get tied sometimes – even if I don’t personally want it there.”
He said, yet again, that a project this large needed to be more widely disseminated to the public and that so many found out about it only in the last couple of weeks caused people to be upset.
Carefully, and deliberately, Kaplan said, “we are working on strategies to get the facility moved, some of those are going to be very difficult or long-shot. We are also working on trying to get this dispensary – the methadone piece of it taken out, that is complicated as well, but we are looking at all the options in trying to get this facility either moved or mitigated completely and, if we are not able to get it moved, we need and want the community’s input and participation as part of the good neighbor agreement.
“The Council agrees that we need some time to be able to so some additional research which will help better tailor whatever comes out of the process in the end but we are also going to need your participation to make sure that nothing is missed,” the mayor said.