Hearings examiner OKs Discover Recovery permit

Decision will allow drug rehabilitation center to operate in Camas; opponents say site, next to school, is wrong spot

A "No Drug Detox Next to Dorothy Fox" sign stands at the corner of Northwest 28th Avenue and Northwest Utah Street, across from the Camas elementary school, on March 16, 2021. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record file photo)

Camas Hearings Examiner Joe Turner has ruled in favor of granting a conditional-use permit to Discover Recovery, a substance-abuse treatment and recovery center hoping to operate in Camas’ mostly residential Prune Hill neighborhood.

If there is no appeal, Turner’s decision will pave the way for Discover Recovery’s owners to convert the former Fairgate Estate assisted living center into a 15-bed rehabilitation center geared toward working professionals seeking help for substance abuse disorders.

The 2.39-acre Fairgate Estate property is located next to the Dorothy Fox Elementary School, Dorothy Fox Park and Harvest Community Church at 2213 N.W. 23rd Ave., in Camas, in a residential-12,000 (R-12) zone.

Though intended for single-family homes with an average lot size of 12,000 square feet, Camas’ R-12 zone also allows for several conditional uses, including “nursing, rest or convalescent homes,” defined 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 the conditional-use permit on Jan. 21.

By the end of February, hundreds of Prune Hill neighbors had come together online to oppose the rehabilitation facility, form the Dorothy Fox Safety Alliance — a group that later registered as a limited liability corporation — sign a petition opposing the placement of a drug rehab in Prune Hill and raise more than $5,000 on GoFundMe to pay for an appeal if Turner ruled in favor of the Discover Recovery conditional-use permit.

At a March 24 public hearing before Turner, dozens of Prune Hill residents urged the hearings examiner to deny Discover Recovery’s permit based on a city requirement that the proposed conditional use “not be materially detrimental to the public welfare.”

Many of the opponents voiced concerns that Discover Recovery patients might leave the facility without medical advice and interact with children at the nearby park, church or elementary school.

Brian Lewellan, a pro bono attorney representing the Dorothy Fox Safety Alliance, 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,” he said.

The attorney submitted several sheriff’s reports and audio transcripts regarding the Discover Recovery center’s Long Beach site, which showed reports of patients leaving against medical advice, including one call where 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,” Lewellan told Turner at the March hearing. “Please consider how the public would be affected if this happened while kids are walking to and from school each day.”

Other opponents echoed Lewellan’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.

“It just takes one incident,” Prune Hill resident Kristen Maxwell during the March 24 hearing. “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, Fox said.

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 the 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 over the past three years.

Approval comes with conditions

On April 28, Turner ruled the proposed Discover Recovery facility does comply with city code and should be granted a conditional-use permit.

The city’s hearings examiner also set a few additional rules in his decision.

Most of those stipulations were things Discover Recovery’s owners had proposed to help alleviate the community’s concerns, Feldman told the Post-Record on Tuesday, May 4.

“Most of those were conditions set forth by us in the final brief we submitted,” Feldman said. “We wanted to make sure that we heard the community, and we believe those conditions are OK and suitable to implement.”

To maintain their conditional-use permit, the Discover Recovery owners must build a 6-foot solid fence, with gates for the driveways, around the property; install staff-monitored security cameras; designated an outdoor patient-use area within the fenced portion of the site; and dedicated a 10- to 12-foot right-of-way to allow for the future construction of a pedestrian walkway.

The conditional-use permit approval also requires the inpatient facility to use no more than six of its 15 beds for “subacute detoxification services” and to not provide any Level 4 detoxification — the highest level of drug detoxification, which includes 24-hour treatment and a high level of medical monitoring.

Discover Recovery staff must have 24-hour surveillance of all patients and perform routine bed checks at 30-minute intervals; and that patients will all be subjected to criminal background checks prior to being admitted.

The facility will not be allowed to admit registered sex offenders or anyone convicted of a violent crime, and will not be able to provide court-mandated treatment.

To maintain its conditional-use permit, Discover Recovery must, for the first three years, produce an annual report to the city of Camas that includes brief descriptions of all discharges against medical advice as well as any safety measures used at the center or police incidents; and meet on an annual basis with representatives from the city of Camas, the Camas School District, Harvest Church (next to Fairgate Estate) and three designated neighborhood representatives to discuss the annual reports and address safety concerns.

Finally, Turner ruled that patients at the Discover Recovery center will not be allowed to leave the facility “without direct staff supervision” and that the center’s staff must immediately report any patient who has left the facility against treatment advice to Camas police.

Requests for reconsideration must be filed within 14 days of Turner’s decision, Parties of record have 21 days after the April 28 decision to file a judicial appeal.

Feldman said he believed Turner’s decision was “very thorough” and he had no concerns complying with all of the stipulations in the agreement.

If the decision moves forward without a request for reconsideration or an appeal, Feldman said Discover Recovery will move forward with getting the business up and running.

“It will take a few months with the fence and licensure, recruiting and hiring staff and doing the interior alterations … but I would imagine we could be up and running in August.”

The Dorothy Fox Safety Alliance referred media questions to Lewellan, but a representative said neighbors “do have questions as to how the stipulations regarding admittance will be enforced by the city.”

The Post-Record was unable to contact Lewellan in time for this newspaper’s print deadline.