With new definitions approved, the McCleary City Council has sent residential treatment center zoning issues to the city’s hearing examiner.
The city soon could be home to a residential treatment facility — which serves patients with mental health and substance abuse issues, usually on an involuntary basis. The facility is set to be housed in the former Mark Reed Hospital building, which is in a residential neighborhood.
Through grant funding awarded by the state Dept. of Commerce, the building will be renovated for the treatment facility. The facility could be up and running by fall this year.
Following the announcement of the grant funding and the decision to locate the facility at the former hospital, the McCleary City Council has aimed to change definitions and zoning for hospitals and treatment facilities.
During the March 22 council meeting, the council had failed to approve definition changes. Councilwoman Brenda Orffer had said she voted against the definition changes because she worried there was no specific area for a treatment facility within city zoning, and she worried about barring a specific facility from the city, especially a facility that serves a protected class (the mentally ill).
Those concerns seemed alleviated during the council meeting on April 12.
“This definition will actually allow that this sort of facility could come into McCleary,” Orffer said. “Then we’d have to go to the hearing examiner to find out a recommendation of how it could be zoned.”
Council members Pam Ator and Larry Peterson also voted against the definition changes on March 22.
The council unanimously approved changing the definition of “hospital” and defining “residential treatment center” within city code during the April 12 meeting.
“We have to look at every aspect of this situation, and consider the city’s liability, the city’s needs, and what is going to be best for everyone involved,” Orffer said.
Though the council had discussed the new definitions and zoning as it directly related to the incoming residential treatment facility, the council recently has changed its tone, referring to the changes as necessary for the city overall, not just to address the pending facility.
The city has maintained that city code didn’t specifically allow for a residential treatment facility because the facility does not meet the definition of a hospital.
During the April 12 meeting, city attorney Dan Glenn took the issue a step further saying Mark Reed Hospital also did not technically fit the definition of a hospital according to city code. The city code (before the April 12 changes) stated a hospital would have to perform surgery, and because Mark Reed Hospital did not perform surgery, it did not the city’s definition.
“The fact that the clinic was allowed to operate was an oversight, but that doesn’t change the description,” Glenn said. “That inappropriate use would not simply grandparent that in.”
While community members again voiced their concerns and opposition to the facility, proponents of the project also were on hand to advocate for the facility.
Grays Harbor County Commissioner Vickie Raines, who serves as the commission’s representative to the Great Rivers Behavioral Health Organization (a five-county agency that handles mental health funding), read a letter of support from former county Department of Health director Joan Brewster. Raines also spoke in support of the project.
“These are people who are normal human beings. They are our brothers, sisters, neighbors…” Raines said. “They’re in our jails right now, and they’re in our emergency rooms right now. They can’t be held, so they’re just released out onto the streets. We would like to be able to provide a facility regionally where we can treat these individuals and help them become healthy again and productive citizens in our communities.”
McCleary resident Gloria Hale said she was aware of the plight, but local concerns supercede the project.
“We’re not against the facility, and we know that it’s needed, just not in a residential neighborhood,” Hale said.
Real estate agent Ryan Reynolds attempted to warn the city of concerns he had regarding possible changes to property values if the potential facility is opened at the proposed location.
Reynolds said he couldn’t foresee what those changes would look like, and added that he wasn’t sure large developers would develop as planned if the facility opened.
That warning was shut down by Mayor Brent Schiller.
“Don’t use that as a scare tactic in this room please,” Schiller said.
Orffer too pushed back against the warning saying, “I think there’s a question too as to what value do we have in an empty, deteriorating building?”
During the March 22 meeting, representatives of the project said several facilities were eyed for the treatment facility but ultimately the former Mark Reed Hospital was selected because it could be remodeled for residential treatment services at a lower cost than any of the other sites.
Councilman Ben Blankenship, who has been outspoken in his opposition to the proposed facility, questioned the property search during the April 12 meeting.
“I don’t think anything else was looked at,” Blankenship said.
The Mayor and council also expressed their frustrations regarding a lack of communication between project representatives and the city. Raines offered an apology as a project representative.
“I can apologize again for the lack of communication that went through or didn’t go through,” Raines said. “I’m sorry for that.”
Raines also noted that the BHO was being created and Brewster was retiring when the project focused on McCleary, so it’s possible communication was simply lost in transition.
After a long discussion including an extensive public comment period, Orffer diplomatically closed out the discussion.
“We obviously have differing opinions on it, but we are all from McCleary, and we all have the best interests of the city at heart,” she said. “We need to respect each other’s opinion.”
With the definition changes, the matter now will go back to the hearing examiner who will eventually determine the appropriate zoning for the facility. The hearing examiner first will hold a public hearing.
The time and date of the public hearing had not been announced by the time The Vidette went to press. Following the hearing, the hearing examiner will make recommendations to the council, and the council then can take action on zoning changes if it chooses.
The former Mark Reed Hospital building is owned by Summit Pacific Medical Center. Summit Pacific will lease the building to the BHO. The BHO has contracted mental health services with Telecare, a mental health company operating similar facilities throughout the state and headquarters in California.