Des Moines Council upgrades zoning to better control mental health facilities


By Jack Mayne

The Des Moines City Council has unanimously approved changes in the city’s ordinance that would allow them to control any potential “enhanced service facilities” (ESF) or mental health care homes, if such a request is made in the future.

Des Moines City Attorney Tim George on Friday told The Waterland Blog that the Council “approved an interim zoning Ordinance that amended the City Zoning Code to account for Enhanced Services Facilities. ESF’s are a new type of residential facility that provide mental health services to individuals with complex behavioral, medical, chemical dependency and/or mental health needs that make them not suitable for more conventional residential facilities.”

The previous Des Moines zoning code did not “expressly account” for these types of facilities.

Restricts facility siting
The new interim zoning ordinance “restricts the siting of enhanced service facilities (ESFs) and requires that applications for them be processed through the city procedure.”

That process provides for increased notice requirements, public engagement, public input, and enhanced mitigation, said George.

“This change was necessary to ensure that ESF’s are not sited in zones incompatible with their use and to clarify that they are of a different character from less intensive medical and residential services permitted in the city,” he said. “Interim zoning ordinances can be approved on an emergency basis without public notice, however, they require a subsequent public hearing in order for the zoning regulations to become permanent.”

George said that a public hearing by the Des Moines City Council is scheduled for May 9.

Potential alarm bell
Although not a direct response, but in January, our sister site The B-Town Blog reported that a purchase and sale agreement with Noble Healthcare was terminated by the company and which was confirmed by the state. Noble was proposing to purchase a building in Burien and turn it into a mental healthcare facility which caused a bit of an uproar. The proposed facility – owned and managed by Idaho-based brothers Josh, Cale and Zach Wester – would have provided 24/7 licensed nursing care to 16 residents. No such request has been made for a Des Moines location and the changes were simple upgrades to city statutes.

Interim zoning regulations under state law allows a city to adopt rules for immediate action and take affect for six months and provides a city time for further review of potential permanent regulations. Later the city must hold a hearing if it wants to continue the regulations or make them permanent.

Licensed residential care facilities are “for individuals whose complicated personal care and behavioral challenges particularly complex on a daily basis,” Community Development Officer Susan Cezar told the Council Thursday (March 14). Such a person must have a mental disorder, and/or a chemical dependency disorder, a brain injury or an impairment “that requires daily care by or under the supervision” of mental health or chemical dependency professionals.

‘Self-endangering’ behaviors
Cezar said residents of such facilities have issues that “are essentially self-endangering behaviors that are frequent, aggressive, threatening or assaultive behaviors, intrusive behaviors that put (facility) residents or staff at risk” and complex medication needs. Patients of such facilities also have “a history of or likelihood of unsuccessful placements” in care facilities or have been rejected for admission to other care facilities “based on the person’s behaviors, history or security needs.”

Residents of such facilities – according to admission criteria shown the Council by Cezar – also have “a history of frequent or protracted mental health hospitalization, a history of offenses against a person or felon offenses that created substantial damage to property.”

“That’s the clientele that would be served by these facilities,” Cezar told the Council.

The proposed interim zoning regulation zone change ordinance includes such a potential “Enhanced Services Facility” and revises an old definition of nursing homes, said Cezar.

After approving the changes that will allow Des Moines to deal with any such facility requests were lauded by the Councilmembers who thanked the city staff for vigilance in updating ordinance to avoid potential future problems.


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