Prune Hill drug detox center decision pending

Over 20 Camas residents testify at hearing on Discover Recovery conditional-use permit

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A "No Drug Detox Next to Dorothy Fox" sign points to the site of Fairgrate Estates in Camas' Prune Hill neighborhood, where Discover Recovery hopes to open a 15-bed, inpatient drug treatment and recovery center, on March 16, 2021. (Post-Record file photo)

Camas Hearings Examiner Joe Turner will rule by the end of this month on a conditional-use permit that would allow a substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation center to operate in Camas’ mostly residential Prune Hill neighborhood.

At a virtual public hearing held March 24, Turner listened to more than three hours of testimony regarding the proposed Discover Recovery drug rehabilitation center.

If approved, the facility would operate out of Fairgate Estate, a former bed-and-breakfast turned assisted living center located next to the Dorothy Fox Elementary School, the city’s Dorothy Fox Park, and the Harvest Community Church at 2213 N.W. 23rd Ave. The 2.39-acre property, which includes a 14,626-square-foot main structure as well as a detached garage with a second-story apartment, is located in a residential-12,000 (R-12) zone intended for single-family homes with an average lot size of 12,000 square feet.

The city’s R-12 zone also allows for several conditional uses, including “nursing, rest or convalescent homes,” defined by the city as “an establishment which provides full-time care for three or more chronically ill or infirm persons” and by the state of Washington as a facility that “maintains and operates 24-hour skilled nursing services for the care and treatment of chronically ill or convalescent patients, including mental, emotional or behavioral problems, intellectual disabilities or alcoholism.”

Discover Recovery, a company that has operated a 40-bed inpatient drug treatment and rehabilitation center in Long Beach, Washington, since 2018, applied for a conditional-use permit on Jan. 21.

Turner will decide if the proposal meets the city’s criteria for conditional-use permits, including a requirement that the proposed use “not be materially detrimental to the public welfare.”

That was the criteria most opponents of the drug treatment and recovery center hinged their arguments on during the March 24 hearing.

Brian Lewallen, a pro bono attorney representing the Dorothy Fox Safety Alliance — a group that has garnered more than 1,300 signatures on a petition opposing the placement of a drug treatment center in Prune Hill and has raised more than $5,000 on GoFundMe to pay for legal fees for an appeal if Turner rules in favor of the Discover Recovery conditional-use permit — told Turner on March 24 that “no one with any common sense would site that center right next to an elementary school.”

“We’re not saying these services shouldn’t be in our community,” Lewallen said.

The attorney submitted sheriff’s reports and audio transcripts connected to Discover Recovery center’s Long Beach site, which he said showed reports of patients leaving against medical advice, including one call, Lewallen said, in which a Discover Recovery staff member called police to let them know that a newly admitted client who “looked like he was in some sort of meth psychosis” had left the facility without being properly discharged.

“What has transpired in Long Beach … creates a public welfare concern,” Lewallen told Turner. “Please consider how the public would be affected if this happened while kids are walking to and from school each day.”

Lewallen added again that, while substance abuse treatment centers “are needed and play a super important service in our community, it is irresponsible and wholly incompatible to the uses of this facility.”

Other opponents echoed Lewallen’s concerns, with several saying they believed the proposed use would be detrimental to public welfare and voicing concerns that Discover Recovery patients might leave the facility without medical advice and interact with children at the nearby park, church or elementary school.

“We do value and support those going through the hard work of drug detox and rehabilitation,” said Prune Hill resident James Rogers during the March 24 hearing. “However, I want to step everyone back and challenge you with one thought: Can you think of a worse location to put a drug detox facility? I cannot. It sets a horrible precedence. The safety concerns alone in my mind are enough to deny this application. … Camas has worked hard to be known as one of Washington’s safest cities. Do you think it would stay that way? Allowing (a drug detox facility) next to a school will cause life-changing harm to our community.”

Rogers, who said he has three children under the age of 7, told Turner he believed a conditional-use permit for the Discover Recovery center would damage the nearby Dorothy Fox Elementary School’s reputation and that many families who had moved to Prune Hill for the school would “completely move out of the neighborhood.”

Turner, who had warned the hearing participants at the beginning that the issue of a conditional-use permit was “not a popularity contest,” said he understood that people’s perceptions of the neighborhood might change with the addition of a drug treatment and rehabilitation facility, but that “the fact that people may leave” is not something he could consider.

Rogers argued that people leaving the neighborhood would show the drug rehabilitation center’s conditional-use permit would be detrimental to the public welfare.

“It changes the quality of life and the reason people would come here,” Rogers said. “It also changes the real estate realities in this neighborhood. … It is an irresponsible proposal and I hope the city will reject it and change city code to prevent this from happening.””

Some neighbors said they worried the facility, which would be geared toward professionals hoping to treat substance-abuse disorders with 30- to 90-day inpatient rehabilitation, would admit sex offenders.

“At one point (Discover Recovery’s) message is that no sex offenders would be allowed. Then it was that they wouldn’t be allowed unless by court order. The lack of information and inconsistent information to me is very concerning to me as a female and as a mother,” said Prune Hill resident Kristen Maxwell during the March 24 hearing. “It just takes one incident. And I don’t want it to be my child or any of my neighbors’ children.”

Though several opponents of the drug treatment facility told Turner they would not be against a similar facility being built somewhere else in Camas, few had a clear understanding of where that “somewhere else” might be.

Camas Senior Planner Sarah Fox said the city would allow a similar facility to be built without a conditional-use permit in several zones, including multi-family, regional commercial, mixed-use, downtown commercial and community commercial zones. The facility would be allowed in other zones with a conditional-use permit. Only one zone, the city’s industrial zone, would not allow the facility.

Thomas Feldman, one of the co-owners of Discover Recovery, said he wanted to correct misinformation during the public hearing.

“We have heard a lot of comments about public safety,” Feldman said, adding that some of the safety concerns about clients who would be court-mandated to seek treatment for their substance abuse disorders would not apply to the Camas facility, as it would only treat patients who were there voluntarily.

Feldman said Discover Recovery “offers the highest compliance and safety measures available,” and that facilities owners would be willing to work with the city of Camas on concerns regarding patients who opted to leave the facility against medical advice.

Feldman said Discover Recovery “has a great relationship with (its) neighbors” in Long Beach and has had “terrific outcomes with (its) program,” having served more than 750 clients at the Washington coast facility since 2018.

He added that the Long Beach facility is licensed by the state’s Department of Health and accredited by the Joint Commission and the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, an independent, nonprofit accreditor of more than 60,000 health facilities, including opioid treatment programs.

“Ours is a voluntary treatment facility,” Feldman said, adding that “intimate” drug rehabilitation facilities are often located in residential neighborhoods, and that the Camas facility would “be one of the smallest treatment facilities every licensed in Washington.”

Kris Wilson, the attorney representing Discover Recovery, said Camas city staff told Discover Recovery’s owners in November 2020, during the pre-application hearing, that the drug treatment center’s use was consistent with the city’s definition of a “convalescent home” permitted by conditional use in the R12 zone.

Wilson argued that if Turner were to deny the conditional-use permit based on the “not materially detrimental to public welfare” criteria, he could not “base on suppositions or things not supported by substantial evidence.”

Wilson said she and the applicants would like a chance to respond to the new information brought up at the March 24 hearing.

Turner ruled that the record would remain open for new information through March 31, with responses to the record open until 5 p.m. April 7. No new information will be allowed after March 31. The applicant will have until April 14 to make their final arguments. Turner will release his decision by April 28.

If Turner does allow the conditional-use permit, Camas city staff have proposed several conditions, including the dedication of 10 to 12 feet for a future pedestrian walkway, the installation of a continuous 6-foot fence along the eastern portion of the property line, and the expiration of the permit one year after the final decision if no building plans have been submitted.

The city has the ability to revoke the conditional-use permit “if the activity does not comply with the conditions of approval or provisions of the development code.”