The five-year dream of building a residential addiction treatment center on the Key Peninsula ended in August when the nonprofit Hope Recovery Center board of directors withdrew its application for a conditional use permit.
“The current zoning code limits our ability to offer all the services that are so desperately needed in a treatment and recovery program, and the process of obtaining a conditional use permit is uncertain in both duration and outcome,” HRC said in a statement. “Therefore, we have chosen not to proceed with the appeal process with the Pierce County planning department in regards to the property on the Key Peninsula.”
From the time HRC posted its plan to apply for a conditional use permit in October 2018, the KP community was roiled by strong feelings. The vehemence of the opposition surprised many, including Pierce County Councilman Derek Young (D-7th, Gig Harbor).
“From the beginning I was supportive conceptually of Hope Recovery,” Young said. “I think we need more access to treatment in Pierce County. It doesn’t bring a problem to a community. It helps solve a problem.”
As HRC held community meetings and fundraisers, Young felt that community support was widespread. “I wasn’t alone in supporting the project,” he said. “It’s not like HRC was being quiet about this. There was universal political support. I remember (Rep.) Jesse Young (R-26th, Gig Harbor) and I doing play-by-play at a softball fundraiser.”
But the application process exposed problems in the county code that still need clarification. “Our land use code does
not anticipate that type of use anywhere,” Young said.
For Caleb Lystad, who led the grassroots group No on HRC, the ultimate outcome was a confirmation of their opposition. He said the initial determination allowing HRC to apply for the permit depended on creative interpretations of code to allow the facility in an R10 area.
“We support what HRC is doing, but the end does not justify the means,” Lystad said. “Find the correct spot to do it and you will have our support. We have nothing against the goal of Hope Recovery, but it must also fit within the broader fabric of the community.”
In 2016, Lakebay Community Church signed a memorandum of understanding with HRC to explore a plan to build its facility on the church’s 7.8-acre parcel zoned R10 in Lakebay. In 2009 the church had received approval for a conditional use permit application to construct a nearly 35,000 square foot church complex, but decided not to move forward.
Young facilitated initial meetings between HRC and Pierce County Planning and Public Works to explore whether its project, a 50-bed residential treatment facility, could be built on the church land.
In an email to HRC in June 2017, the senior planning manager acknowledged that PPW had struggled with how to categorize the project within the county zoning code. County staff looked at what is allowed in the R10 zone and determined that the impact of the proposed facility would be similar to but no more than Level 3 Community and Cultural Services — specifically a homeless shelter not exceeding 30,000 square feet. Based on that interpretation, HRC submitted its application for a conditional use permit in October 2018.
PPW received many written objections about its zoning decision, but ultimately issued its affirmative recommendation March 15, 2019.
No on HRC filed an appeal. A grassroots organization of about 330, formed soon after the application was posted in October 2018. Lystad said the group worked hard to focus on zoning as the primary issue and to discourage personal attacks, not always successfully.
At a public hearing June 5, 2019, Hearing Examiner Stephen Causseaux determined that PPW staff were incorrect finding the project fit into a Community and Cultural Services definition and asked them to research which of two other definitions of use would be appropriate: Essential Public Facility and/or Group Home, or Health Services.
In August 2020, Melanie Halsan, assistant director of Planning and Public Works, signed a staff determination stating the project did not fit into the intent of Group Home use, which would have been allowed in an R10 zone. It was best defined as an Essential Public Facility, which is not currently allowed in R10 zones.
Young, noting that there was opposition to the project purely on land use and growth concerns, said that defining how a residential treatment center fits into the code remains an issue.
“We are going to need to deal with this one way or another,” he said. “We are supposed to protect from growth in rural areas, but vital or essential services you do need to provide. You can’t put a rural area in a cocoon. For example, you have to allow for zoning for schools. My guess is that in most areas this would be considered an essential service.”
HRC founder Jeremiah Saucier said, “It is even more evident in this pandemic time that we need these services. More people have fallen into the cycle of addiction.”
The HRC board is exploring other locations in Pierce County.
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