Des Moines Council to hire outside lawyer to study location of Woodmont facility
by Jack Mayne
After another long series of citizen complaints over the siting of the Woodmont drug and alcohol treatment facility, the Des Moines City Council voted to hire an outside expert land use lawyer to advise them.
The Council unanimously approved the hiring of the expert lawyer even after hearing that one hired earlier by the city’s insurance carrier said there were ways the city could better control the facility’s construction, and that lawsuits to stop it were possible.
At the Council meeting on Thursday evening (Oct. 1), City Manager Tony Piasecki said efforts to find a new location for the Woodmont Recovery facility “are continuing” and that “Tina Orwall and your representatives are working feverishly to see if they can find some other place and some other way to make the campus move to some other location.”
Piasecki said the city’s insurance carrier had hired an outside “preeminent land use attorney” who “has come to the conclusion that reopening SEPA is not something that we will be able to do.”
‘Awful lot of flexibility’
Piasecki said the lawyer said the “Good Neighbor Agreement” that was approved by the hearing examiner “gives us an awful lot of flexibility when it comes to what happens next.”
Piasecki said he asked the expert on land use issues what happens if the city demands mitigation that the Woodmont Recovery management can’t agree to, and an impasse is declared.
“His opinion was it goes back to the hearing examiner and the hearing examiner will conduct some sort of a process to determine what needs to go into that mitigation agreement, the Good Neighbor Agreement.”
Then, after the hearing examiner makes a decision “that would be appealable by any parties to the original process to the conditional use permit.”
That means Valley Cities, the city and any of the people who testified at the original hearing would be able to appeal whatever decision is reached by King County Superior Court under the state’s Land Use Petition Act.
Superior Court Appeal
If the city and Valley Cities “actually come to an agreement” but other parties of record disagree, the legal consultant said they would be able to appeal to the hearing examiner and his eventual decision could also be appealed to court.
A committee to negotiate an agreement has not been formed yet, but Piasecki said that was being spearheaded by Mayor Kaplan, who was of town and not at the meeting Thursday. He said he did not know when it would be appointed.
People with suggestions for citizens to be on the negotiating committee can be made to by email to the city. An email address is on the city’s website.
Sheila Brush, during public comment time, said she had exhaustively researched the provisions of SEPA in this case and believed the city official in charge of its use in the earlier decision did not follow the act and that much more can be done to force some reworking of the decision. She added that this would save money in any eventual court action over the siting of the clinic in Des Moines.
First time facility
Brush said there is not “a like facility in the nation,” and that this facility needed more consideration under SEPA. There was a similar facility requested in Colorado but the study and research caused its various facilities to be separated and moved apart with facilities dedicated to men, another to women, and individual campuses for seniors and for sex offenders.
When you put it all together, Brush said, “it is a bigger problem.”
“I am at the point of begging you, because we are going down a horrible road and I have done the research; you need to take a harder look at it.”
Piasecki said he would take another look at the situation.
Doreen Harper, who lives across from Woodmont Elementary, said they are established in their residence and “don’t want to move.”
Harper said her concerns include this being the first of its kind and also the first facility to be built from the ground up by Valley Cities. Since the facility is of a new type, the city planners have not had the experience for such a project. She called on the city to find a qualified expert for such facilities to be brought in to oversee the project.
Council lauds citizen help
Councilmember Vic Pennington thanked the citizens who have written to state and county elected officials and said “all of those emails you have sent to the electeds … that’s more important than you may realize.” He said the Council can “continue to support you through the work that we do and the meetings we’ve had.”
Councilmember Luisa Bangs said that “having been appointed to this Council, it has been a learning experience for me to listen to all of you because for the first few meetings that I was in we might have had two, maybe three people in the audience.”
Bangs said some of the comments were “difficult to listen to” but there probably was not much the Council can do. She agreed that the facility should not be in the Woodmont area but the services Valley Cities provided are needed somewhere.
Councilmember Melissa Musser said she wanted to work to get other cities aware of what the law requires of cities and other local jurisdictions.
“You are right, it is unconscionable that we didn’t know, that we weren’t proactive to this, that we weren’t, as electeds, we weren’t educated on …”
Musser said she wanted people to keep on alerting legislators on the situation and how it could affect other cities later on and that she was taking the issue to the Sound Cities Association.
“It is heartbreaking to us who sit up here than we can’t say we don’t want this here or you can have this, this and this, but move this somewhere else,” Musser said.
Expert help approved
Councilmember Jeremy Nutting then made a motion to hire outside independent lawyers to review the entire matter for the Council, but Councilmember Bob Sheckler said there had to be a process to do that. Musser agreed there must be an agreed upon process.
Sheckler said the information already provided should be seriously considered because “it is giving some options to all of you (Councilmembers), referring to its power to demand safeguards and avenues to court.”
Piasecki said he could compile a list of potential land use attorneys for Council to select from.
The Council unanimously passed the motion to hire an outside land use attorney to advise it on the ways to best handle the matter.