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Opioid clinic zoning downtown advances

EVERETT — The Planning Commission voted 6-1 to approve a recommendation that would allow methadone clinics in the downtown core.
Their decision will go forward to the City Council, which could vote to change zoning downtown.
A memo from the city attorney’s office warning that methadone clinics and their clients must be treated like other medical clinics was a key pivot factor that shifted the conversation before the meeting. The commission had requested attorneys to weigh in.
The scenario left commissioners with an unappealing choice on whether or not to zone out all medical offices for the pursuit of restricting methadone clinics from downtown. The planning commissioners listened to downtown business owners’ concerns, but said they could not support a discriminatory approach that blocks out methadone clinics.
At the same time, a memo from the city’s economic development office notes that downtown revitalization is at a “precarious point” for growth or collapse, city planning director Allan Giffen said in an overview.
The conversation was about zoning, not about a specific clinic proposal.
With that said, one clinic group authorized by the county to expand its services identified north Everett as an ideal location as the most overdose deaths occur here. The nonprofit, Therapeutic Health Services (THS), previously was negotiating to acquire the vacant Trask Medical Building at 3025 Rucker Ave. from The Everett Clinic earlier this year. THS operates a clinic in south Everett which handles 850 cases.
Approximately 12 people spoke at the public hearing, and they were split in their opinions.
Downtown hoteliers for the Hampton Inn and the new Marriott Courtyard spoke up that the people
a methadone clinic may attract would put a pall on downtown.
The Imagine Children’s Museum is deeply concerned by the idea of a methadone clinic nearby. Museum patrons already sometimes are hassled by homeless people.
The museum “has suffered from overlap of social services” already downtown, museum board representative Clay Wertheimer said.
People supporting the methadone clinic cast away the idea a clinic would attract more drug-addicted homeless people as conjecture that lacks any evidence.
“There’s already people downtown who use drugs. There’s no evidence a treatment center would increase that,” resident Christopher Glans said.
THS has said that their usual clientele are working to wean themselves off of heroin and opiates, and many have jobs.
The commissioner’s formal vote included to alter the zoning language for the defined parameters of “clinic” in the downtown core, and also remove the city’s limit of one opiate substitution center. The present zoning language specifically lists opiate substation clinics as well as facilities with overnight beds as excluded from the definition of clinic. The definition ranges from chiropractors to dentists to almost all medical offices that could go downtown.
Commissioner Greg Tisdel gave the dissenting vote. In a speech preceding the vote, he said he empathized with drug addiction issues, but couldn’t stand to put a clinic downtown. “I look at it like the (Everett Gospel) Mission,” Tisdel said. “It’s not the people of the Mission, it’s what they attract” and the perception it gives. He called it a “disservice” to not protect downtown from being handed a similar situation.

  

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