Last week, the City of Sequim’s appointed hearing examiner Phil Olbrechts told advocates for and those against the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s proposed medication-assisted treatment (MAT) clinic he dismissed five of six appeals against the facility’s application.
His Oct. 8 written order dismisses appeals from Save Our Sequim, Jon Gibson, owner of Parkwood Manufactured Housing Community, LLC, and Sequim resident Robert Bilow saying they “lack standing.”
He told involved parties of his decision on Oct. 6 via email followed with a 25 page document two days later. The partial decision comes in favor of the tribe who looks to install a 16,806-square-foot medical facility on 3.3 acres off South Ninth Avenue where doctors would dispense daily doses of methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol for patients with opioid-use disorder. The phased project would cost about $20 million.
Olbrechts said he will still conduct a hearing for the tribe’s appeal of the Mitigated Determination of Nonsignificance (MDNS) State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review. City staff said the hearing is tentatively set for Nov. 16-17 with more information to come about public commenting procedures.
Appellants oppose elements of the application’s classification (a city staff review versus city council review), the environmental MDNS review, and the application as a whole.
Olbrechts stated that he would uphold the city staff’s determination that he “… finds that the proposed (MAT) Clinic does not qualify as an essential public facility and that the city’s A-2 process serves as the appropriate process for review.”
Barry Berezowsky, Sequim director of community development, approved the tribe’s application in May, leading citizens and community groups to appeal the project’s elements. City councilors later approved the hiring of Olbrechts.
“The unavoidable fatal flaw to the numerous arguments presented by project opponents is that they could not identify any reasonably identifiable harm they would suffer due to the approval of the MAT clinic,” Olbrechts wrote in his decision.
He added that the appellants were too general and didn’t specify any concrete injury from the clinic other than its close proximity to Parkwood that could impact emergency response time.
Olbrechts said “almost all of Sequim’s residents live within three miles of the project site and there is no reasonable basis to conclude that the MAT clinic could somehow impair emergency vehicle availability.”
He wrote, “there is no question that a substantial portion of the Sequim community is concerned and opposed to the project, no party to this proceeding has identified any cognizable injury that would qualify them as having standing.”
“The only injury that could possibly be inferred from such unsubstantiated assertions is financial, an increase in taxes due to an increase in demand upon police or other government services.
“However, a litigant seeking to challenge a discretionary government act, as opposed to an allegedly unlawful act, must show a special injury, i.e. that he or she has a unique right or interest that is being violated, in a manner special and different from the rights of other taxpayers.”
As to whether or not the clinic is an Essential Public Facility, Olbrechts said classifying it as such would only be applicable if the tribe included its previously proposed 16-bed inpatient facility in its second phase, which it did not. He said the city’s code allows the clinic, classified as an outpatient facility, in its zoning and does not go before city council for review.
“If and when the Tribe decides to add an in-patient facility, with that addition it would likely qualify as an essential public facility and then the C-2 process may apply,” he wrote.
Olbrechts goes into deeper detail in his decision, which can be read at the Gazette’s website. https://docdro.id/Dhxj7kA
In his decision, Olbrechts referenced state case law examples stating he would uphold the update to the city’s code from a Sept. 26 special meeting where A-1 and A-2 process appeals will all go to a hearing examiner.
City staff asked for the meeting to change the city code after Olbrechts wrote an email on Sept. 20 saying he doesn’t have jurisdiction over consolidated permit hearings that include the MDNS appeal. He canceled a three-day hearing for the six appeals for Sept. 28-30.
However, councilors voted 5-1 — with Mayor William Armacost opposed — on Sept. 26 to direct A-1 and A-2 permit appeals to a hearing examiner and appeals of those decisions to the Superior Court.
Officials with Save Our Sequim wrote in a press release that they were disappointed to learn their members “do not have ‘legal standing’ to challenge the Regional MAT project.”
“His preliminary ruling indicates that we, the citizens of Sequim, have NO voice, NO vote and NO involvement in a decision which will forever impact the future of our beloved town.
“Who represents the people of Sequim? Did we not vote for a City Council?
“The city staff is making land use decisions that contradict everything represented in the current Comprehensive Plan, which describes the official vision for the city of Sequim. If the city of Sequim is silencing our community on the first phase of this Opioid Treatment Program and facility, what makes us think we will have a voice regarding the second phase or other future expansions?”
SOS leaders said they plan to pursue every legal opportunity regarding the proposed clinic “that makes sense to protect our town.”
Gibson said he was shocked to learn of the decision.
“Things in the government sound very fishy,” he said. “There seems to be on the part of the staff (a) total disregard for the citizens of Sequim, and I believe if things continue it will virtually destroy the beautiful fabric of Sequim.
“The town will have feces on the sidewalk and needles everywhere.”
He said the project will line the pockets of the tribe.
“Is the city council awake?” Gibson asked.
Bilow was unavailable for comment.
City, tribe response
Sequim City Manager Charlie Bush said in an email, “We are pleased with the outcome and the thoroughness of the hearing examiner’s decision. It validates the analyses, processes, and actions taken by the city regarding this project. We look forward to resolving the remaining issue with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.”
W. Ron Allen, tribal chairman/CEO, said in a statement the tribe is pleased with Olbrechts’ decision.
“We have consistently said that we will build a first-class facility and provide the highest quality, innovative services for those suffering from opioid dependency,” he said.
“Our Tribe is firm on that commitment.”
Allen added that the city has been “fair, objective and professional” … and “it is time for the city and our community to move forward and work together.”
He said the tribe is disappointed in personal attacks and the spread of misinformation because it “does not help the community to understand that this health care service is another urgent need for many of the citizens on the Olympic Peninsula.”
He added, “The misperceptions born of fear need to stop.”
The new clinic would add 70-plus jobs to Sequim, Allen said.
In his statement, he added they “look forward to continuing to build trust and confidence that our Tribal programs and businesses will make a meaningful difference to the quality of life that we all desire.”
“We firmly believe that when we have completed our Healing Clinic, people will be surprised at the cultural elegance of the site, appreciate the success experienced by our clients, and recognize that we have added to the community’s health care infrastructure and economic status,” Allen said.
Olbrechts will only consider one appeal from the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe for stipulations enforced by the city in the application for the MDNS. In its appeal, the tribe’s attorneys state that some of the city’s conditions don’t fall under SEPA regulations, such as the clinic causing environmental impacts to public services, community concern is not an environmental impact, and the city’s land use authority doesn’t include clinic operations.
For more information on appeals and motions made, visit www.sequimwa.gov/964/MAT-Clinic-Appeals.