EVERETT — Dozens packed a hearing room on Tuesday to comment on a 32-bed mental health facility proposed near Stanwood.
About 20 people attended and about 10 gave public comment on the first day of the two-day hearing.
The hearing marked one year since the project at the intersection of 300th Street NW and 80th Avenue NW north of Stanwood was announced.
It has divided the community. Supporters argued new mental health beds are desperately needed. But many neighbors objected to the proposed location in a rural neighborhood and raised safety concerns.
Snohomish County Hearing Examiner Peter Camp will decide on granting the project a conditional-use permit. The proposal would construct two 16-bed buildings for involuntary mental health treatment.
Commenters at Tuesday’s hearing raised familiar points.
Michele Meaker, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness Snohomish County, said she supported the new facility because the state’s mental health system is “woefully underfunded.” Meaker cited statistics claiming Washington has the sixth-highest rate of mental illness in the country, with 1 in 5 adults diagnosed with a mental health issue.
“Despite that, there are only about 150 long-term inpatient treatment beds across the state,” Meaker told the audience. “There should be 150 beds in Snohomish County alone.”
Several Stanwood residents testified in favor of the project because of personal experience with loved ones needing inpatient treatment, they said. The proposed facility’s proximity to nature and planners’ safety and support measures for patients were key tenets of their support over existing treatment options.
Opponents of the project largely said they supported building a new mental health facility in principle, but felt the proposed location would cause traffic and safety problems for the surrounding rural area.
Stanwood resident Kathleen Richardson, who previously filed a rejected appeal against the project, said the site as planned was “grossly incompatible” with the rural character of the surrounding area, much of which is zoned for agricultural use.
Richardson said the steep increase in traffic flow that would come with the facility, projected to employ around 50 full-time staff, would present safety issues in an area not used to busy roadways.
The in-patient facility would admit adults for stays of 90 or 180 days. There are just six beds for these long-term stays in Snohomish County.
The Tulalip Tribes agreed to build the treatment center as part of a revenue-sharing compact with the state. The tribes committed in 2020 to spend $35 million to design and build the center in exchange for millions in tax dollars generated at Quil Ceda shopping center.
The tribes will hand over the keys to the Washington State Health Care Authority, which will hire a behavioral health operator to run the facility.
Neighbors have objected that the location was chosen without opportunity for public input. The tribes have proposed to site the center on land bought in 2011.
If the permit is approved, the first building could go up as soon as 2024.
A neighbor filed an appeal under the State Environmental Policy Act last fall, but the county dismissed the appeal in December.
The hearing will continue at 6 p.m. Thursday. The public can participate in-person at the hearing room on the county campus, 3000 Rockefeller Ave. in Everett, or via Zoom. The Zoom link is posted at snohomishcountywa.gov/189/Hearing-Examiner.
Emailed comments can be sent to email@example.com.
Herald reporter Jacqueline Allison contributed to this story.
Riley Haun: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @RHaunID.
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