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News / Health / Clark County Health

Camas City Council signals support for strict limits on siting residential drug, alcohol treatment facilities

By Kelly Moyer, Camas-Washougal Post-Record
Published: May 14, 2022, 6:01am

Camas city officials have signaled unanimous support for a code amendment that will drastically limit the siting of future residential drug and alcohol treatment facilities within city limits.

On May 2, the Camas City Council held a public hearing on a slate of annual code amendments meant to correct or clarify parts of the city’s municipal codes.

This year’s annual code amendment project includes a proposal that would prohibit future residential substance-abuse treatment facilities from operating within the city’s single-family residential areas and create a 1,000-foot “buffer zone” between new facilities and private and public schools, public parks, public libraries and similar treatment facilities.

The amendment also places zoning restrictions on sober living and transitional housing meant to assist people in their addiction recovery efforts (sober living homes) and help people experiencing homelessness transition to stable housing (transitional housing).

Despite more than a year of often heated community outcry — and a failed lawsuit against the city — over a private company’s plan to operate a 15-bed drug and alcohol detox and rehabilitation center near Dorothy Fox Elementary School in Camas’ Prune Hill neighborhood, the May 2 public hearing drew no comments from the public and no discussion among city council members.

An earlier attempt by the Camas Planning Commission to create regulations was scuttled after the city’s attorneys said the proposal would likely violate state and federal laws, including the federal Fair Housing Act, which considers individuals recovering from drug or alcohol addiction a protected class under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

When the commission returned to the subject on April 19, city staff recommended that the planning commission uncouple sober living homes from the proposed definition of a residential treatment facility.

Under the proposal approved by planning commissioners on April 19 — and by city councilors last week — both sober living homes and transitional housing would be allowed outright in single-family and multifamily residential zones and have conditional uses within the city’s neighborhood commercial zones. Sober living homes also would be permitted in the city’s downtown commercial, community commercial and mixed-use zones.

The code amendment approved by planning commission and city council members would prohibit new residential treatment facilities in single-family residential neighborhoods or within 1,000 feet of public and private schools, public parks, public libraries, other residential treatment facilities or similar uses.

The new code amendment would also ban residential treatment facilities from the city’s light industrial, business park and heavy industrial zones, but it would permit them outright in the city’s downtown, community and regional commercial zones and with a conditional use permit within Camas’ multifamily residential and neighborhood commercial zones. But they would still be required to meet the 1,000-foot buffer rule.

At least one Camas Planning Commission member said during the April 19 hearing they had become concerned the code amendment was perhaps too restrictive.

“With all we’re trying to do, it doesn’t seem like there are many places left,” Commissioner Mahsa Eshghi said.

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Noting that the proposed zoning and 1,000-foot buffer seemed to leave few areas in the city that would allow for a residential treatment facility, Eshghi asked if the planning commission was creating a situation that truly allowed for the siting of residential treatment facilities in Camas. “Is it really doable?” Eshghi asked.

Camas’ planning manager, Robert Maul, responded that residential treatment facilities would still be allowed to apply for a conditional-use permit in multifamily zones, and told the planning commissioners they could still reconsider the 1,000-foot buffer zone.

According to city planner Madeline Sutherland, Camas would be one of just three Washington jurisdictions to create a buffer zone between residential treatment facilities and public facilities like schools, parks and libraries.

“Residential treatment facility is a little more commercial in nature than a sober living home,” Sutherland told city councilors. “That’s why we can regulate it a little more.”

In the end, the planning commissioners decided to stick with the 1,000-foot buffer zone and updated zoning restrictions for residential treatment facilities.

“There is a moral and ethical weightiness (to this issue) that doesn’t happen in planning commission meetings,” Camas Planning Commission member Joe Walsh said during the April 19 public hearing. “We’ve all grappled with this. … I would be shocked if any of my fellow commissioners have not known someone who’s battled addiction issues. … (We try to be) empathetic while also being rational.”

The council is expected to formalize its support of the code amendment related to residential treatment facilities and sober living homes later this month.