Sequim city councilors met in a special work session on Jan. 23 about the proposed medication-assisted treatment (MAT) clinic. However, 90 minutes of the two hour meeting was spent in executive session. In public, city councilors agreed to allow the application to go forward but allow appeals, too. Sequim Gazette photos by Matthew Nash

Sequim city councilors met in a special work session on Jan. 23 about the proposed medication-assisted treatment (MAT) clinic. However, 90 minutes of the two hour meeting was spent in executive session. In public, city councilors agreed to allow the application to go forward but allow appeals, too. Sequim Gazette photos by Matthew Nash

MAT application to go before staff review

Public holds three opportunities to appeal clinic decisions

The application for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s proposed medication-assisted treatment (MAT) clinic is moving forward with city staff.

Barry Berezowsky, city director of community development, posted on the city’s website at www.sequimwa.gov/471/Current-Projects a “Notice of Classification” that the application will go through the A-2 process, which means that he will determine approval of the project after it has been reviewed by the city’s engineer, public works director, police chief and representatives of Clallam County Fire District 3.

Tribal staff filed the application on Jan. 10, for the proposed 17,000 square-feet outpatient clinic to dispense daily doses of methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol for opioid-use disorder and provide wrap-around services such as primary care health services, dental care and counseling services.

However, Sequim City Manager Charlie Bush asked city staff on Jan. 14 to hold on the application until city councilors held a special work session on Jan. 23 to discuss the proposed clinic.

Berezowsky said in a phone interview that he received approval to continue the application process during a 90-minute executive session with city councilors at the Thursday work session.

Berezowsky wrote in the notice, “I find that there is no question as to the appropriate type of procedure the application will be subjected to, and therefore I find the permit, as submitted, falls under the City’s A-2 permit process.”

He added that the “clinic is a permitted use because it meets the definition of a medical clinic in the City’s zoning codes.”

Appeal process

The public has until Feb. 14 to file an appeal for the A-2 classification process with Berezowsky, which includes paperwork and a $600 fee for a hearing examiner.

He said those interested in filing an appeal should follow Sequim Municipal Code 20.01.240, which includes:

• What decision you are appealing

• Name, address and interest in the matter

• Specific reasons why the decision is wrong with proof.

• Desired outcome or changes to the decision

• Legal fee

Those who appeal a decision have until 4 p.m. of the last day of the appeal period to mail or hand deliver the appeal to the Department of Community Development in the Civic Center, 152 W. Cedar St.

Berezowsky said that staff cannot provide legal advice but he can answer questions about the process at 360-681-3435.

The public can also appeal the SEPA Threshold determination, and the final decision on the application but each holds its own time tables.

Berezowsky said a “Notice of Application” will go out sometime this week and staff will have 120 days to finish the application process.

Notices will go in the newspapers, city’s website, on the property and in the mail to property owners within 300 feet.

From there, the public has 21-22 days, because notices go out on Sundays, to comment on the application, Berezowsky said.

After that, the public has another 15 days to comment on the SEPA Threshold Determination.

From there, city staff will review the design and prepare its findings for potential changes.

Berezowsky’s “Notice of Decision” will be published on the city’s website, and sent to the tribe, and parties making appeals.

Appeals can be made up to 21 days after a decision is made on a project.

“The only way that it can be appealed is to wait until the process concludes, and then the appeals go in front of a hearing examiner,” Berezowsky said.

Work session

At the Jan. 16 work session, city councilors spoke in public for less than 30 minutes following the executive session.

Deputy Mayor Ted Miller said despite objections from some councilors, “the law is clear it is an A-2 process and we have to observe that.”

“It does help city council in one way. If we conclude it’s an A-2 process, then the city council will be free, finally to speak its mind,” he said.

Miller added, “Frankly, we’re as frustrated as you are. … we have our definite opinions with some on either side of the aisle. We are really restricted on what we can say. Until approved, we can’t even do that.”

At previous meetings, city staff said the application could be filed as an A-2 but they wouldn’t confirm it until it was filed and the “Notice of Classiciation” was revealed.

Community members and some city councilors, including Troy Tenneson, continue to advocate the application be filed under the C-2 process.

Under a C-2 process, there would be more public input and a quasi-judicial review before a decision is made.

Tenneson said he continues to have concerns over interpretation of the city’s code. He asked for a moratorium on applications like the MAT on Jan. 13, but some city councilors said that couldn’t be done because the application was already filed. Instead, they opted for the work session.

Tenneson and Mayor William Armacost asked to consider an appeal by Sequim resident Robert Bilow to consider the application as a C-2 permit, but city councilors and staff agreed they couldn’t until the “Notice of Classification” was filed. It was the next afternoon.

Both Bilow and Jodi Wilke, chairman for Save Our Sequim (SOS), contest that the application falls under “broad public interest” under C-2 rather than A-2’s “limited public interest.”

Wilke wrote in a letter to councilors that the facility warrants being labeled an “Essential Public Facility” like the Didgwalic Wellness Center in Anacortes that it’s modeled after and should be under the C-2 process.

She also states that the proposed clinic is “not a common medical clinic” focusing on addiction treatment and behavioral health and not diabetes and heart disease.

In an interview, she reiterated that SOS is not against those with opioid use disorder receiving treatment but rather the location and size of the clinic is not appropriate for Sequim.

Staff opinion

Berezowsky touched on some of these points in his notice.

He writes that the C-1, 2, or 3 processes do not contain an area where the clinic fits unless considered “special use.” However, Berezowsky writes that the clinic is not an in-patient substance abuse facility, not “difficult to site,” and the courts require local governments to treat drug treatment clinics as other clinics due to case law.

He also writes that the city “historically reviewed medical clinics and offices under the A-2 administrative review process.”

“For the City to now divert from its historic permitting process to intentionally treat the proposed MAT clinic differently than other medical clinics could be viewed as intentional discrimination,” he writes.

Berezowsky also debates that the project does not become a C-2 process because of increased public interest.

“While there is no question that the subject project has generated “public interest,” the subject application also provides little opportunity to exercise “substantial discretion” due to the fact that the application consists of a building permit which is ministerial, design review which is not listed in the table of application types, but nevertheless required, and SEPA which has its own procedural and substantive limitations and does not offer “substantial discretion,” he writes.

He adds, “frankly, the theory that the degree of “public interest” should be used to determine what type of process a permit should be subjected to falls apart when examined closer.”

Going forward

Tenneson asked for a second executive session to review a personnel issue, but it was denied because Miller had a previous engagement with the Clallam County Charter Review.

No executive session was made or proposed at the Jan. 27 meeting.

Tenneson said if four or more city councilors direct the city manager to do something, Charlie Bush makes it happen.

“There’s a case being made of the city council’s role in this … I believe very much it’s the city council’s business,” he said.

City councilor Jennifer States said that’s true unless it violates the city’s Municipal Code.

“In this case, the determination of A-2 is laid out in the code, and no matter what our opinion is, even if all seven of us said the city manager should violate the code, that can’t be done,” she said.

“That’s precedent. It starts with the code and the law. Going forward, the code is what we need to address.”

Miller said there’s a limit on what they can ask Bush to do, but they can’t ask him to violate his rights.

“We are limited in our discretion,” he said. “If four of us want something done, he’s going to bend over backwards to get it done, but he’s not going to violate the state law.”

City councilor Tom Ferrell said they have a requirement to stay within the law regarding the application process.

“It might not be as clear as the emotions make it. It’s very difficult for us, and so what we’re trying to do, the process is in, so we can’t discuss how we feel about that,” he said.

“There are opportunities here to make sure we have a really strong application in terms of how it protects the public. I’m optimistic about that.

“There’s a lot of pessimism about that with staff and all that, but professionally, these city councilors are looking at ways to not make this a bad spot for a bad spot.”

States said fixing the city’s Municipal Code should be a top priority.

Councilor Dennis Smith said, “there’s no such thing as perfect.”

“As much as we as a council might want to do something, our hands are tied,” he said.

“What I look forward to here, we do something to fix that. We haven’t gotten there yet. That’s what I’m looking forward to is get as close to perfect as we can and hopefully that will never be an issue again.”

Armacost said the city has an opportunity to be part of the solution.

“I think in my 35 years here, I’ve never seen the engagement like this in our community,” he said. “I choose to see that as a wonderful thing. Whenever we get people talking to one another who normally do not mix, we have an opportunity to come up with a greater result than we intended.”

He encouraged continued communication, transparency and accountability in the city government.

Sequim City Council meets at 6 p.m., Monday, Jan. 27, in Sequim City Hall, 152 W. Cedar St.

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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