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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 http://www.valleycities.org/about/contact/ 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.” PLEASE TAKE OUR POLL We’re curious to find out what YOU think – please take our Poll below: [poll id=”4″]]]>