Methadone clinics can be built in Bremerton, public health says it's too late

Many in Bremerton felt victory last August when the city imposed a six-month moratorium on building methadone clinics.

Since then, the city's planning commission has done its work and found that clinics can be built on the very location that drew the original opposition.

Wednesday, the Bremerton City Council will review and consider maps that show proposed locations suitable for future "Opiate substitution Treatment Facilities" operate within the city limits.

The council is expected to approve Ordinance 5177, during a Feb. 1 meeting, which amends current zoning codes and permitting procedures to regulate the placement of methadone clinics.

Downtown business owner Todd Best was part of an outright vocal opposition to any methadone clinic in the city. Monday, Best said he still opposes building a clinic in areas such as the Callow Street business corridor, an area deemed suitable for a treatment center.

"Why ruin a neighborhood that's plagued already?" asked Best.

Kitsap County Public Health Director Scott Lindquist said regardless of the city's newfound ability to permit the clinics, they already lost the only real chance to host a clinic to serve local opiate addicted patients, many of whom currently travel to King County for treatment.

"Zoning doesn't matter at this point," Lindquist said. "The city didn't recognize what they had."

Last spring, Evergreen Treatment Services began to look at building a clinic on the Callow Business District. In August, at the behest of local business owners opposing the clinic, the Bremerton City Council took the only legal action possible and placed a six-month moratorium on methadone clinics saying they had no mechanism to zone and permit them and needed time to create proper rules.

State law forbids city and county authorities placing outright bans on methadone clinics, but allows for local jurisdictions to control locations through zoning and permitting.

Kitsap County still has a 1980s era law forbidding methadone clinics in its jurisdiction.

At the moment, city planners have recommended that leaders vote to allow methadone clinics in any "center" throughout the city.

A center is defined as a multi-use area like the Manette business district or the Callow Avenue and Burwell Street intersection. Additional rules keep clinics 1,000 feet from any school, park or another methadone clinic.

Bremerton city planner Allison Daniels said the 1,000-foot rule would take Manette out of the picture.

The site Evergreen chose in the former Skookum Services building on Burwell Street, however would have passed muster.

Lindquist said that no clinic operators were interested in Bremerton or the county. The interested party has moved on he said.

Daniels Monday said she couldn't say exactly how many locations potentially passed the new zoning regulations, or where they were. She said the maps to be used Wednesday are still being created. They will be available at the study session, she said.

"The maps are conceptual," Daniels said.

The first draft of the maps, gained through Best, show that most of Kitsap Way from the State Highway 3 to the intersection with 11th Street would be open to clinic development as well as much of Wheaton Way it the council allows them to be built in centers. If the council rules that no clinic can be built-in centers, the treatment centers would be restricted to the far northern reaches of Wheaton Way and West of the highway.

Bremerton's proposed regulatory course differs from many other Washington cities'. The staff hopes to make permits conditional and create a system by which an independent "hearings examiner" decides if an applicant meets all zoning criteria.

Bremerton contracts hearing examiner duties with Sound Law Center, a Seattle land use resolution center.

The planning department also seeks a two-week extension on the current moratorium. The extra time is procedural in that the original moratorium expires Feb. 2 – one days after the council is expected to pass the law and nine days before the law can take effect, Daniels said.

The state approved the city's plans in December. No appeals were filed.

In a 5 to 1 vote last October, the planning committee approved zoning code amendments, which allows methadone clinics to be built more than 1,000 feet from schools, public parks and other methadone clinics. The chosen site must also  be located on a "collector street" or larger. Beyond those conditions, the clinics are treated as any other medical office in zoning terms.

Under the current proposal, there is no limit on the number of patients a clinic can serve. Though, one parking stall per 150 square feet of clinic space must be provided.

During the October meeting, planning commissioner John Cockburn said that the number of zones that methadone clinics could be located should be reduced and prevent locating them in center locations at all.

Daniels responded, at the time, saying that the schools and parks restrictions should mostly resolve Cockburn's concerns.

Cockburn was the lone no vote, saying the number of possible clinic locations remained too large.

Planning commissioner Kelli Lambert noted, before voting in favor, that the amendments were more stringent than other cities.

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