Drug rehab opponents file petition for reconsideration

Prune Hill neighbors insist 15-bed Discover Recovery treatment center should not go next to school; ask for 24-7 security guard

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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 files)

Opponents of a proposed drug rehabilitation facility in Camas’ Prune Hill neighborhood are challenging a recent hearings examiner decision granting the facility a conditional-use permit.

Camas Hearings Examiner Joe Turner ruled in favor of the Discover Recover substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation center’s conditional-use permit on April 28, paving 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, the city of Camas’ Dorothy Fox Park and the Harvest Community Church at 2213 N.W. 23rd Ave., in a residential zone intended for single-family homes that also allows for a variety of conditional uses, including “nursing, rest or convalescent homes.”

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, 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 Lewallen, 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.”

On May 12, Lewallen filed a petition for reconsideration on behalf of the Dorothy Fox Safety Alliance, arguing Discover Recovery’s permit should be reconsidered and denied for three main reasons: that the proposed use is “materially detrimental to public welfare;” that Turner’s final order “relies on speculative and unsubstantiated assertions and conclusions, which are not grounded in facts presented in the record;” and because Turner’s decision “uses improper or invalid tests to exclude or otherwise discount evidence presented by (the Safety Alliance) and others.”

Turner ruled in April that the opponents who spoke at the March hearing — many of whom said they worried patients at the 15-bed rehabilitation center would harm children at the nearby elementary school or at the Harvest church’s preschool — provided “speculative or unsubstantiated concerns” that were not relevant to his consideration of the conditional-use permit.

Lewallen, however, argued in his petition for reconsideration that the concerns presented by members of the Dorothy Park Safety Alliance at the March hearing before Turner were “grounded in truth and based upon specific events that actually happened.”

“DFSA’s concerns about citing the detox center next to a school, park, church and homes are neither unsubstantiated nor generalized,” Lewallen argues in the petition. “DFSA presented the Hearings Examiner with numerous and specifically documented cases where intoxicated, suicidal and mentally ill patients fled Discover Recovery’s other detox center without notice, with or without their belongings, for whatever reason at any time of day or night. Those are not generalized or unsubstantiated fears. Those events happened. … They are not based on common displeasure for detox centers or some whimsically implausible story of impending doom. These things happened and there is no condition that can be placed on this conditional use permit (to keep it) from happening in the future, if approved.”

Turner’s final order set several conditions for the conditional-use permit, including: building a 6-foot solid fence around the property; installing staff-monitored security cameras; designating an outdoor patient-use area within the fenced portion of the site; using no more than six of the 15 beds for “subacute detoxification services;” prohibiting Level 4 detoxification — the highest level of drug detoxification, which includes 24-hour treatment and a high level of medical monitoring; requiring staff to have 24-hour surveillance of all patients and perform routine bed checks at 30-minute intervals; requiring patients undergo criminal background checks prior to being admitted; prohibiting registered sex offenders or any patient who has been convicted of a violent crime from receiving treatment at the facility; and not providing court-mandated treatment.

Additionally, 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 Community Church (located 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 the Camas Police Department.

Thomas Feldman, one of the owners of Discover Recovery who plans to relocate his young family to Southwest Washington soon, told the Post-Record in early May that he believed Turner’s decision was “very thorough” and had no concerns complying with all of the stipulations in the agreement.

In the Dorothy Fox Safety Alliance’s petition for reconsideration, Lewallen listed 11 supplemental conditions opponents believe should be added to the Discover Recovery conditional-use permit, if Turner rejects the petition for reconsideration, including:

o Setting up and maintaining a text-based emergency notification system to notify residents in the area if a patient leaves the location unsupervised and against medical advice;

o Meeting on a quarterly, as opposed to annually, with neighborhood, city and school district representatives;

o Providing the number of patients that would need to leave against medical advice before the city would revoke the conditional-use permit;

o Defining the specific security system Discover Recovery plans to use;

o Requiring Discover Recovery to pay for and provide “a properly trained security guard to be stationed on the sidewalk in front of the detox facility location during times of the day when schoolchildren are walking to and from Dorothy Fox Elementary;”

o Installing a motion alarm or other device to notify staff and nearby residents “that a patient has breached the fence line;”

o Clarification that the facility will not admit patients convicted of sexual misconduct, indecent exposure, resisting arrest, solicitation, prostitution, sex trafficking, rape, attempted rape, domestic violence, interpersonal violence, intimate partner violence, domestic battery, sexual assault or battery, child abuse, menacing, robbery, kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, manslaughter, assault and/or murder” or patients who have existing protective or restraining orders against them;

o Designating an independent, third-party medical administrator to “periodically review medical charts, contents of patients’ background checks, Washington State Department of Health records” and other information for the first three years of operation;

o Having a requirement that the facility notify nearby residents “of the times and locations of all off-site field trips,” and that supervised field trips with patients “should not occur shortly before or after school when children are walking to and from Dorothy Fox Elementary;”

o Providing for a “properly trained security guard to be onsite 24 hours a day, seven days a week;” and

o “Reimbursing nearby residents for the costs associated with purchasing and installing privacy film on their windows,” as Fairgate Estate rooms “look directly into some homes’ bedrooms and common living areas.”

Opponents call out city council: ‘There’s one group who could make all the difference, but they’ve been absolutely silent’

Lewallen, an environmental litigation attorney, told the Post-Record this week that he decided to take the Dorothy Fox Safety Alliance’s fight on pro bono after seeing a man pulling up “No Detox Near Dorothy Fox” signs while walking his son home from the elementary school this winter.

“I didn’t have a petition on the detox center one way or another,” Lewallen said, “but then I saw someone was taking away people’s rights to speak their minds. I went on Nextdoor and there were people on there saying they were looking for a lawyer, that, ‘Please, we’re just a bunch of citizens who want to speak up for our rights,’ and I thought, ‘Yeah, someone does need to speak up and help.’ So I reached out to the person who was the head of the Alliance and said, ‘If you’re still looking for a lawyer, I’ll do it for free.”

Lewallen describes the Safety Alliance, which gathered more than 1,500 signatures against siting the Discover Recovery center near an elementary school, as “a small group of citizens … who know we’re up against a developer who paid over $2 million for that property … and who know the chips are stacked against us.”

The attorney said many Safety Alliance neighbors believe there are a group of people who could help them in their fight to stop the drug rehabilitation facility from coming into the Prune Hill location — and that is the Camas City Council.

“They’re the one group who could make all the difference,” Lewallen said, “but, so far, they have been absolutely silent in this fight. They’ve written the code this way … and then said they weren’t going to adjudicate it and sent it to (the Hearings Examiner). They have been silent when we need them to speak on our behalf. And their silence is deafening.”

Lewallen added that some of the elected officials on the city council have said they have been instructed by the city’s attorney to not say anything while the matter is still being decided by the hearings examiner and — if the opponents decide to push the matter even further — by a state superior court judge.

“That’s shocking to me because I thought, when they took the oath of office to represent our city, that the primary purpose and function of their positions was to protect the security of their citizens,” Lewallen said. “But no, the No. 1 priority is to make sure they protect themselves.”

The attorney added that he suspects members of the Dorothy Fox Safety Alliance will eventually bring the issue of conditional-use permits for similar drug treatment facilities before the city council and push for changes at the city level.

“I suspect we will want to make sure this situation doesn’t happen again,” Lewallen said.

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 during the March hearing.

Although many of the opponents have claimed they would like to see a drug treatment center sited in Camas, none have pointed to specific areas of the city that might be able to accommodate a small, holistic treatment and rehabilitation center for professionals like the one Discover Recovery has proposed at Fairgate Estate.

“I believe there’s a real opportunity for public-private cooperation here, and to site (a drug rehabilitation center) in a place that makes sense for their business and is also right for the citizens of Camas,” Lewallen said this week. “Those two outcomes, however, are not possible when it’s sited right next to an elementary school.”

Turner has 45 days to issue a decision on the opponents’ request for reconsideration.

Feldman, of Discover Recovery, did not respond to the Post-Record’s request for comment in time for this paper’s deadline.