Citizens question Camas process in allowing detox center next to school

Planning staff do complete reversal in how request would be handled

At Monday’s Camas City Council meeting, a significant number of citizens expressed their concerns about the process the city used to allow a drug detox facility to be approved for a location next to Dorothy Fox Elementary School. City staff had determined members of the City Council would need to make the decision, only to reverse themselves two months later, giving the decision to a Clark County “hearings examiner.” The school district and the teacher’s union remained silent on the matter.

Tranquility Partners, LLC purchased the property on Feb. 2, 2021 for $2.3 million. It had been an assisted living facility and a bed and breakfast, Fairgate Estate. The owners applied for a conditional use permit in January 2021 that would convert the property into a 15-bed inpatient drug treatment and recovery center. The facility would be known as Discover Recovery.

A pro bono attorney working on behalf of the concerned citizens, Camas resident Brian Lewallen, spoke during the citizen’s comment period. After two and a half minutes sharing some context and staff email, he was told he had “30 seconds” left to communicate. Lewallen paused and asked Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Burton to grant him additional time, given the seriousness of the issue and the fact that he represented the Dorothy Fox Safety Alliance, backed by over 2,000 area residents. 

“This is not a public hearing for Discover Recovery,” Burton responded. “It’s a public comment period. And so it doesn’t get entered into the record for the process of the hearings examiner, it will be entered into the record of this meeting.” 

Lewallen was encouraged to submit additional comments via email, which would be entered into the council record and most likely read by all council members. Burton indicated that council members are there to listen during public comment, but citizens should not expect council members to respond.

A “No Detox Center’’ sign sits across the street from the former Fairgate Estates property, as citizens object to placing a drug detox and rehab facility next to the Dorothy Fox Elementary School and playground. A hearing examiner awarded a Conditional Use Permit in April and citizens are filing a lawsuit to stop the owners from modifying the facility for drug rehab at this location. Photo by John Ley
A “No Detox Center’’ sign sits across the street from the former Fairgate Estates property, as citizens object to placing a drug detox and rehab facility next to the Dorothy Fox Elementary School and playground. A hearing examiner awarded a Conditional Use Permit in April and citizens are filing a lawsuit to stop the owners from modifying the facility for drug rehab at this location. Photo by John Ley

The next citizen, Hannah Rogers, asked to cede her three minutes to Lewallen. That was not allowed according to city policy. “That’s not how our process works,” Burton responded.

Citizen Bryce Davidson asked to give his three minutes to Lewallen, which was also denied. He went on to say this was an extraordinary circumstance that dealt with the safety of the community. 

“It deals with false information that has been presented by other parties,” said Davidson, who believes the council has not been given correct information from the city staff. He indicated he and his fellow concerned citizens believe they have been abandoned by their City Council.

“We would also like to present the opportunity for the city and the council to try to make amends with the city before the voting cycle happens,” he said. “You have a duty to this community, you have a duty to the safety (of people), and you have a duty to the children to do the right thing.”

James Rogers spoke to the “dangers that have already been put in motion” by Discover Recovery being granted a conditional use permit. He believes having a drug rehab facility right next to an elementary school is bad, and reveals a flaw in city policy and process. “The Dorothy Fox neighborhood is not ready to be abandoned and sacrificed as a casualty of this error.”

Rogers and his fellow citizens believe the proper process should have been for the elected representatives of the people to make the decision, which is exactly what city staff stated at the outset of this process.

Brian Wiklem pointed out that the hearing’s examiner had made his decision to approve the conditional use permit on May 24, so he wondered why the council could not respond.

Heather Gulling gave a summary of what citizens have gone through since learning of the issue last September. 

“Phil Bourquin, (director community development), was asked by Discover Recovery if he couldn’t make it a little easier for Discover Recovery to come into the building.,” she said. He correctly responded that the process should go through the City Council, according to Gulling. 

But then there was a gap of seven weeks where there were no emails or communications, according to the FOIA request response. Suddenly city staff reversed themselves and instead of a Type IV request, which included the Planning Commission and City Council approval being required, it went to a Type III process with a Clark County hearing examiner.

The following timeline is taken from documents posted on social media by these concerned citizens, supposedly received in response to their FOIA request.

On Sept. 29, Planning Manager Robert Maul said in an email that Discover Recover “would need to apply for a zoning text change, which is a legislative process that would go before the Planning Commission with a recommendation to the City Council.”

When asked if there was an alternative path Discover Recover could use to gain approval, Maul responded. “The City has been clear on what path your client will need to take if he wishes to move forward with a project there. I’m happy to discuss the legislative process if you like.”

On Oct. 22, Bourquin responded to an attorney representing the detox facility. 

“I agree with Robert Maul that the appropriate process for the described use is a “code text amendment” under a Type IV process,” Bourquin said. “This process provides an opportunity for public discourse and city policymakers to define, classify and determine the most appropriate zoning for new uses within our jurisdiction.  It squarely places local land use control in the hands of policymakers and the citizens they represent.”

The Type IV process requires a vote of the majority of the Planning Commission, which then sends the matter to the City Council for adoption by the city. “The city council’s decision is the city’s final decision” states the city code.

But there is a seven-week gap in emails and information provided via an initial FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request. 

On Dec. 10, the city issued pre-application notes related to the Discover Recovery proposal to change Fairgate Estates from an assisted living home to a “convalescent home.”  According to documents released by Lewallen, they submitted a Type III Conditional Use Permit request. That would be decided by the Clark County hearings examiner, instead of a Type IV land use decision adjudicated by the Camas City Council. 

Discover Recovery submitted a Type III conditional use permit application on Jan. 21, 2021. Nearly two weeks later, they purchased the Fairgate Estate property under the name Tranquility Partners, LLC. This was done prior to any Camas process regarding the permit. 

The Planning Department deemed the Type III application “technically complete” on Feb. 12.

On March 16, Senior Planner Sarah Fox issued a report stating: “As a Conclusion of Law, that “the detox center use is defined as a ‘Nursing, rest or convalescent home pursuant to Camas City Code.’ The staff recommends proceeding with the hearings examiner process as a Type III land use decision.”

A public hearing was held on March 24 before the hearing examiner. Five weeks later, on April 28, the hearing examiner approved Discover Recovery’s Type III conditional use permit.

On May 3, at a City Council workshop, the council members were discussing the recent hearing examiner’s decision and how the city of Camas can avoid these types of problematic outcomes in the future.

Councilor Steve Hogan commented on how the city appears to be reacting to zoning problems.  “I feel like in baseball, they say you can’t hit what you can’t see,” he said. “It seems like we can’t see these things coming.  It’s like they seem to come at us from the side as a city.  And, we just need help from the staff to kinda find out in advance where the next problem might be that we have overlooked or not thought of before.”

In his second set of citizen comments on June 7th, Lewallen reminded the council of Hogan’s May 3rd remarks. “I’ll go even a step further. I’ll say you can’t hit a pitch if you can’t step up to the plate. What the documents that we have and what we can show is that that pitch was thrown in September 2020.”

Lewallen shared additional insight in an email to Clark County Today. “It appears that city staff did an end-run around the Council in the attempt to find an easier path for the approval through the Clark County Hearings Examiner. Now we have a detox center next to Dorothy Fox Elementary.”

Adding to the turmoil, then-Mayor Barry McDonnell abruptly resigned on May 11. The next day Lewallen filed a petition for reconsideration of the decision by the hearing examiner. On May 26, City Administrator Jamal Fox also resigned, announcing he has accepted another job in Maryland.

The same day, Discover Recovery Medical Director Martin M. Klos signed an interim order with Oregon Medical Board pending the conclusion of an investigation into his medical practices. The stipulated order significantly restricts his ability to prescribe opiates to “buprenorphine only and only in outpatient settings.”

Furthermore, “within 30 days of the effective date of this Order, patients currently on opiate agonists must be transferred to another qualified provider or transitioned to buprenorphine with monitoring, precautions, and chart documentation per recognized standards.” 

According to the documents in Lewallen’s possession, the Board felt the order was necessary because “the results of the Board’s investigation to date have raised concerns to the extent that the Board believes it necessary that Licensee agree to certain terms until the investigation is complete.”

Lewallen reports the investigation may take up to 12 to 18 months to complete, and may be possibly referred to Washington state and/or the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

Lewallen has shared all this information with his clients. As a result, a number of citizens were on the council’s Zoom meeting hoping the members of the City Council would hear this information and stop the ability of Discover Recovery to open the detox facility.

“That’s the company that claims they want to be a part of our community,” said Gulling. “These are concerns that we as citizens have. We just want transparency. We want to know what happened. We want to work with the city to find an appropriate location for rehab. Our city deserves a great rehab with great medical staff.”

After Monday’s City Council meeting, Lewallen emailed a significant number of documents to the city clerk for dissemination to all members of the City Council and mayor pro tem. He advised them at the end of the meeting he would be filing a Land Use Petition Act lawsuit on behalf of the approximately 2,000 Camas citizens he represents. They will continue the fight against the citing of a detox center next to Dorothy Fox Elementary.

The following morning, the mayor pro tem reached out to Lewallen. She invited him and members of the Dorothy Fox Alliance to join the council for a listening and learning session to better understand the documents provided by Lewallen.  The Alliance accepted the invitation late Thursday night.  The listening and learning meeting is scheduled for Monday afternoon between  Lewallen, the Alliance representatives, Burton and two other City Council members.

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