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‘Not in my neighborhood’: Residents up in arms over planned Spokane Valley detox center

UPDATED: Fri., April 22, 2022

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

A proposed Spokane Valley detox center has outraged neighborhood residents.

Argos LLC, a Spokane Valley real estate company, plans to build a 40-bed detox center on Evergreen Road. The facility would help recovering addicts get through withdrawal before entering a rehabilitation clinic.

Many who live near the proposed detox center don’t want it in their backyard.

“I live in a great neighborhood and I’d like to keep it that way,” Ronald Brennecke said in a public hearing last month at Spokane Valley City Hall. Brennecke said the detox center is “probably a needed facility – but not in my neighborhood.”

Neighborhood residents are fighting the detox center. Many have claimed, with little supporting evidence, that the facility would lower property values and that addicts could commit crimes and endanger children.

“We’re not opposed to a detox facility,” Jonell Block said in the public hearing. “But putting it where they’re proposing it would be a danger.”

Detox centers and homeless shelters almost always run into staunch community resistance, even though opponents often acknowledge the facilities’ importance. For instance, Spokane leaders have recently struggled to find a site for a new homeless shelter. Previous Spokane Valley detox center proposals have generated pushback, too.

In late March, Argos and neighborhood residents made their cases in front of Spokane Valley Hearing Examiner Brian McGinn. In Spokane Valley, hearing examiners act as judges over specific land use issues and approve or deny landowner requests. McGinn approved the conditional use permit for the detox center earlier this month and his decision is final unless a Superior Court judge overturns it. 

The 18,300-square-foot Evergreen Road facility would sit atop an acre of land near the Sprague Avenue intersection, sandwiched between commercial and residential properties. The area is zoned “corridor mixed use,” and the detox center is allowed per Spokane Valley code, city staff said.

The building could handle up to 40 patients at once in 20 rooms. Those patients would typically stay three to seven days and enter the facility voluntarily. They would have to be dropped off and picked up at the site and wouldn’t be allowed visitors.

Gene Arger of Argos LLC and Dwight Hume, speaking on Argos’ behalf, spent their portion of the public hearing attempting to assuage neighbors’ fears.

Arger described the detox center as luxurious and “state of the art.” He said it will be a “multimillion dollar” facility for working-class people in search of an “upscale” detox experience.

Only privately insured individuals would use the detox center, Arger and Hume said, explaining that the facility would not accept people who rely on Medicare or Medicaid or rely on state or federal funding.

Arger and Hume emphasized that the detox center would be secure. An opaque, 6-foot fence would surround it, and anyone coming or going would need a key card to open the doors.

“There isn’t a strong possibility of the patient leaving the facility on their own,” Hume said. “Consequently, they shouldn’t be seen as a threat to the neighborhood.”

Following Arger and Hume’s efforts to paint the detox center as a secure, high-end establishment, reserved for relatively well-off people, neighborhood residents spent more than an hour arguing that the hearing examiner should shoot down the proposal.

Many neighborhood residents said the facility would damage home values and destroy a beautiful neighborhood.

“It would be a blight on the character of the Evergreen corridor,” Block said.

Most of the residents’ speeches were emotional and safety related. Some said they worried the facility may someday accept Medicare or Medicaid patients. Others said they didn’t think security cameras, key cards and a 6-foot fence are enough to keep the detox center secure.

Danielle McGuffin said she’s scared at the thought of a detox center anywhere near her house and 5-year-old daughter.

“It would be terrifying to me to think that anybody could potentially walk out of this facility and into my neighborhood,” McGuffin said.

The argument that a detox center would generate more crime isn’t backed up by much data.

It’s not a well studied topic, but some existing papers suggest detox centers aren’t much of a threat.

For instance, a 2016 paper by a team of Johns Hopkins University researchers looked at the correlation between detox centers and crime in Baltimore. That paper, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, concluded that “violent crime associated with drug treatment centers is similar to that associated with liquor stores and is less frequent than that associated with convenience stores and corner stores.”

In his written decision, McGinn acknowledged the neighborhood residents’ concerns while pointing out they provided no empirical evidence showing the detox center would lead to more crime.

Washington courts, including the state Supreme Court, have weighed in on similar issues, McGinn wrote.

“Washington case law provides that projects cannot be conditioned or denied based upon generalized fears,” he wrote. “Expressions of community displeasure do not provide a legal basis for the Hearing Examiner to deny a permit.”

Neighborhood resident Dennis Davaz said he’s part of a neighborhood group attempting to file an appeal in Superior Court, in hopes of overturning McGinn’s decision. The appeal deadline is May 2.

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