West Hazel Dell foster home pulls up stakes

Change in county regulation prompts state-funded program to relocate

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Clark County’s new land-use regulations have prompted the operator of a state-funded home for foster children to pack up and leave its West Hazel Dell neighborhood.

The Clark County Board of Commissioners on Feb. 21 passed an ordinance to create regulations for staffed residential homes. The ordinance defines a staffed residential home as a residence operated by the state that provides 24-hour care for six or fewer children or expectant mothers.

Among the regulations was the requirement for a conditional-use permit in order to operate in a residential area.

The county’s only known staffed residential home is the Hazel Dell House, 7515 N.W. 15th Ave., for teen boys. The home began operating in fall 2010, but the operator, New Vision Programs, didn’t believe it needed a conditional-use permit.

Adult family homes, which house adults who need care due to their age or condition, are permitted outright in residential areas.

The county’s requirement for a conditional-use permit, which comes with a one-time fee of up to $7,400, is a burden the residential home operator isn’t willing to bear, said Trent Hall, director of the Hazel Dell House, in a written statement.

“This latest ordinance sends the message that troubled youth are not welcome,” Hall said. “Due to the burdensome cost of the conditional-use process, we are moving the staffed residential home to a new location in a jurisdiction that allows these small homes for troubled youth as a permitted outright use.”

The organization has already secured a lease for a new location but has not set a move date, said Steve Morasch, attorney for the Hazel Dell House. Morasch said he could not disclose where the house is to protect the privacy of the teens.

The ordinance is the result of a process that began 1 1/2 years ago when neighbors and area business owners expressed concern about the arrival of the Hazel Dell House.

Neighbors were concerned the home, and the presence of police responding to calls at the home, would disrupt the quiet street. Area business owners wanted to know why the program operator was allowed to run a business without a license, said Ila Stanek, president of the West Hazel Dell Neighborhood Association.

The neighborhood turned to county commissioners for help.

The county planning commission drafted a recommended ordinance. The Hazel Dell House’s attorney, Morasch, also serves on the county planning commission and recused himself from all proceedings.

The county commissioners reviewed and edited the recommended ordinance before approving it last month.

The ordinance requires a written agreement between the neighborhood association and the operator, adequate parking for staff and perimeter fencing. The ordinance also requires a staffed residential home be no less than 1 mile from another staffed residential home.

In addition, the ordinance includes a clause regarding police calls. If the site generates six or more law enforcementcalls in a year for a specific issue, such as assault or runaway, the operator must provide issue-specific training for its staff.

The law enforcement clause was added due to the number of police calls to the house in the last 1 years. Since October 2010, there have been 50 calls for service, including 12 runaway calls and 20 assault calls, said Keith Kilian, commander of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office West Precinct. In just the first six weeks of this year, police were called to the house 17 times, Kilian said.

Stanek, with the neighborhood association, said she hopes the new ordinance makes clear to staffed residential home operators what is required in order to run their businesses in residential areas. She said neighbors’ primary concern has always been that the Hazel Dell House follow the rules.

“Whatever the situation, anyone else with a similar operation and wants to come to Clark County knows what’s expected,” Stanek said.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health;http://facebook.com/reporterharshman;marissa.harshman@columbian.com.