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Methadone clinics halted for now

EVERETT — The City Council voted 6-1 last week to temporarily prohibit any new medical clinics downtown as a slow down measure aimed to prevent the chances of a methadone clinic from opening.
The prohibition is for up to nine months waiting for a council decision.
Driving the vote was a latent urgency to approve a related code change that scratches out language specifically banning opiate substitution clinics. The city’s language violated federal law as-is.
The topic remains a sticky subject for the council as it pit public health needs against business community opposition to people coming downtown to wean themselves off heroin and other opioids.
Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher objected with the sole “no” vote to the proposal. Stoncipher called the move “essentially a 9-month ban.”
A few other council members shared Stonecipher’s concerns in fighting the opioid epidemic, but saw the federal lawsuit vulnerability as an overriding urgency.
Council President Paul Roberts, for example, voted to fulfill meeting federal standards bu said he is “not in favor of eliminating clinics” in this zoning area.
Councilman Jeff Moore echoed Roberts in voting to meet the federal requirement. Moore said he wants the topic back on the table shortly.
An additional tweak restricts existing medical clinics from converting into opiate substitution clinics. Simply put, if a doctor’s office closes, it cannot reopen again as anything medically related. The rule will primarily impact landlords during the interim period.
Stonecipher and Councilwoman Judy Tuohy had advocated last time around for allowing opiate substitution centers in the upper floors of buildings downtown.
The council largely agreed that it needs more time to consider zoning opioid substitution clinics. Dovetailing with the topic is the city’s larger-scope Metro Everett plan, which is still being worked on to plan downtown’s future.
“This problem is alive and well, but we have to consider our downtown businesses,” recently appointed Councilwoman Ethel McNeal said.
Councilman Scott Bader said if a clinic is looking to locate in north Everett, the city should help find it a home outside the downtown core. He noted he’s spoken with businesses that will
pull out of downtown if an opioid clinic is allowed.
Seven people addressed the council at this meeting, far fewer than when the topic came up at prior meetings.
Craig Skotdal, whose family is one of Everett’s largest developers, was one of the few businessowners to speak this time. He called for a broader look at downtown.
“It’s about environment,” Skotdal said. “It’s not about a methadone clinic, it’s what you’d like to see in Everett’s core.”
The Skotdals’ newest Aero Apartments saw an almost 70 percent tenant turnover, he said, and the main reason people said they were leaving in tenant exit surveys was because they didn’t feel safe. The industry standard is about 50 percent.
Government uses are being exempted from the clinic ban, which the Snohomish
Health District’s director applauded. The Health District has a purchase and sale agreement to buy the Volunteers of America building on Broadway just north of Hewitt, and without an exemption its STD and other in-house clinics would be prohibited to open with the clinic ban.

 

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