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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New Spokane Valley detox center denied permit, applicant appealing

UPDATED: Fri., Dec. 6, 2019

The new Spokane Valley City Hall in 2017. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
The new Spokane Valley City Hall in 2017. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

A proposed new detox center that agreed to install a security system, host an annual barbecue and decorate for the holidays to appease its Spokane Valley neighbors is looking for a new location and filing an appeal after it was not granted a permit.

The Spokane Valley Hearing Examiner denied Sequoia Detox Center’s conditional-use permit application last month because it would have been a medical facility in a residential neighborhood.

The center would have served eight patients and planned to locate in a remodeled single-family home near Castle Park in the Ponderosa Neighborhood.

A detox center is considered an “essential public facility,” which can be a group home, treatment center, prison or waste treatment facility. Local governments are not usually allowed to enforce plans or regulations against those types of facilities because they are difficult to locate but address important public needs.

The hearing examiner determined that the Sequoia Detox Center did not rise to the level of regional, county or statewide significance. Instead, the examiner found the facility was only locally significant and could be denied if it didn’t fit within the city’s comprehensive plan.

Sequoia Detox Center CEO Jon Schlenske said the center will appeal the hearing examiners’ decision and is also looking at other locations.

The neighborhood where the proposed center would be located strongly opposed a detox center but agreed to a “harmonious and reasonable relationship” with the center in exchange for more than two dozen concessions from the company. Sequoia agreed to install a video surveillance system that would watch neighboring houses, install street lights, plant a thorn bush on the inside of its fence line and create a text message alert system.

Schlenske said Ponderosa is still the ideal location for a detox center but that he is considering areas where neighbors would not mind a center.

“This ‘not in our backyard’ mentality will happen wherever we go,” he said. “We’ll look for a property that doesn’t require a permit, but we’ll appeal because we shouldn’t have been denied.”

He said he also believes that denying the facility’s conditional-use permit goes against the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits local governments and landlords from discriminating against protected classes, which includes people with disabilities. Addiction is considered a disability under the Fair Housing Act.

Al Merkel, a Ponderosa resident who has worked with his neighbors and other neighborhoods against encroaching development, said he remains opposed to having a detox center in Ponderosa but that the neighborhood has a strong agreement in place if the center wins its appeal.

“If they’re successful in their appeal, we have the deal in place. And if they’re not successful in their appeal, that’s OK too,” Merkel said.

Merkel is also working with the center to find a new location.

Gary Smith, a Ponderosa resident who would have lived near the detox center and would have been on the new neighborhood board that negotiated with it in the future, said he also would prefer not to have the center in his neighborhood.

“I don’t think anybody was looking forward to having them as neighbors,” he said. “But I think we were making the best out of the situation that we can.”

Sequoia will appeal in Spokane County Superior Court. If successful, Smith said he is confident they would still follow the agreement they made with the neighborhood.

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