Drug clinic doesn’t fit an upscale Everett, some say

EVERETT — A tree-lined block of Colby Avenue is regarded by city boosters as a window into downtown Everett’s bright and prosperous future.

It boasts trendy boutiques, a jeweler, a street-side cafe and plans for a nine-story building topped with offices and swanky million-dollar condos.

“We call this the Rodeo Drive block of Colby,” said Lil Miller, chef and owner of Pavé Specialty Bakery. “We’ve been here, watched it struggle, and we’ve watched it grow and be brought back to life.”

But Miller and other business owners in the 2600 block of Colby are concerned that a drug-counseling office planned just around the corner will spoil the upscale atmosphere that they’ve worked hard to create.

In late September, Catholic Community Services Northwest plans to relocate its drug counseling clinic at 1114 Pacific Ave. to an office building at 2601 Wetmore Ave. The businesses will share the alley with the counseling office.

About 300 adults and teenagers currently get counseling for drug and alcohol addiction at the Pacific Avenue clinic every year.

If they don’t, they risk jail time or could lose custody of their children, said Will Rice, the director of chemical dependency services for Catholic Community Services Northwest in Everett.

Those clients are typically referred by drug court or Child Protective Services, he said.

That has neighbors concerned.

“We don’t need drug addicts in downtown Everett,” said Judy Matheson, owner of two specialty shops on the block. “It just isn’t good for downtown. It’s just not good at all.”

She shares an alley with the new clinic and said she often finds discarded needles and other drug paraphernalia there.

Matheson said she is worried that a drug counseling office will bring more trouble.

Her late sister struggled against chemical dependency for much of her life, and Matheson said she believes addiction is the root cause of much of the city’s crime.

Ken Schoener, owner of Papi’s Pizzeria at 1816 Hewitt Ave., said drug addicts are already downtown and he is happy to see people get the help they need.

Last year, he became so fed up with drug dealers there, he hung two white banners with the word “CRACK” scrawled in red paint from the rooftop of a Hewitt Avenue apartment building.

Since then, he has seen unsavory street activity drop as the Everett Police Department has stepped up its bicycle unit patrols.

A new drug counseling office shouldn’t be a problem, said Schoener, adding that a handful of drug counseling clinics already exist downtown.

More than $1 billion in public and private money has been spent on downtown Everett developments in recent years, including construction of the 10,000-seat Comcast Arena at Everett Events Center.

While downtown still has its rough edges of pawnshops, bail bonds businesses, low-rent apartments, empty storefronts and scruffy bars, it is also being transformed with bay-view condos and a slow resurgence of retail businesses.

City leaders hope the changes will make downtown a more desirable place to live, visit, shop and dine.

How social services fit into that vision is proving to be a thorny issue to untangle.

Rod Elin, a regional chief of operations for Catholic Community Services Northwest, said he was surprised by the backlash against the new counseling office.

“It was rather unexpected,” he said. “I thought we were just renting an office.”

In addition to drug counseling, the Wetmore office also will house a mental health counseling program for children.

It will serve an estimated 400 to 600 people a year, mostly from Everett and Marysville, and employ 20 to 25 counselors, a Catholic Community Services spokeswoman said.

Its hours of operation likely will stretch into late evenings and include counseling with groups of up to a dozen or so people, Elin said.

He added that the counseling office will have to follow stringent clinical guidelines to maintain its state license for mental health care and to keep its national accreditation.

Tom Hoban, chief executive of Coast Real Estate Services in Everett, owns the building and approved the lease.

His last tenant, Puget Sound Christian College, closed its doors earlier this summer after it was beset by enrollment problems.

Rather than a detriment, Hoban said, the clinic will be an asset. Its staff will eat lunch at downtown restaurants, buy things from downtown shops and help lift the economy of the central business district.

People are jumping to conclusions without all of the facts, he said.

“It’s frustrating and offensive to have to defend this program,” he said. “They’re not dispensing meds, it’s not a methadone clinic, and it’s a service that the community needs.”

Before signing off on the lease, Hoban said he did a background check on the nonprofit agency, and personally visited its drug counseling clinic in Bellingham.

It appeared similar to a typical medical office, he said.

Still, Matheson contends the location is all wrong.

While drug counseling offices are technically allowed by city code on the proposed site, opening a new counseling office violates the spirit of new rules the city enacted last year, she said.

The 2006 Everett Downtown Plan bans ground-floor social services, teen clubs, video-game arcades, tattoo parlors, pawnshops and food banks on designated portions of Colby, Hewitt, Rucker and Wetmore avenues.

The proposed counseling offices are a block north of the restricted stretch of Wetmore Avenue.

City Council President Brenda Stonecipher said she understands business owners’ concerns, but said there’s nothing the city can do to block the clinic from opening.

“It’s one of those situations where they’re going to have to wait and see, and hopefully there won’t be any problems,” she said.

That’s exactly what John Dickson, president and chief executive of Everett-based Frontier Financial Corp., said he’s going to do. His company owns a drive-up location attached to the planned counseling office.

Dickson talked with Catholic Community Services officials and was assured the new clinic will not be disruptive.

“I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise,” he said.

Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or dchircop@heraldnet.com.

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