After hearing arguments from lawyers for both Hope Recovery Center and No On HRC June 5, Pierce County Hearing Examiner Stephen Causseaux, Jr. ruled that Pierce County’s classification of HRC as a cultural center in its application for a conditional use permit was flawed and referred the matter back to county planners for reclassification, halting—or at least slowing—progress on HRC for the present.

Pierce County Planning and Land Services (PALS) staff issued a March 15 Determination Letter stating the best fit for HRC was as a Community and Cultural Services Level 3 use type in the rural residential 10-acre zone (R-10) located at 4706 Key Peninsula Highway NW in Lakebay.

No On HRC, a group of KP residents opposed to the proposed site, filed an appeal of the county’s administrative determination March 28 through their attorney, Ben Cushman of Deschutes Law Group, PLLC. The appellant contended that PALS improperly applied the zoning classification to HRC’s proposed conditional land use permit when it said the closest fit for the HRC proposal was as a community and cultural service center instead of a health care facility.

Matthew Sweeney, an attorney for HRC, argued that county staff considered the size, scale and impact of the facility to determine it would most closely match the Community and Cultural Services Level 3, which conditionally allows structures up to 30,000 square feet in R-10 zones and conditional uses such as homeless shelters.

“The group home use type includes chemical and alcohol rehabilitation facilities and has no upper limits regarding the number of residents or the size of the structure in the code defined as seven or more people,” Sweeny wrote in his summary of argument submitted to the hearing examiner.

“HRC is a residential treatment facility serving a special needs population of people with drug and alcohol addictive disorders,” Sweeney said. “Group homes are conditionally allowed in pretty much every residential category, both urban and rural, throughout the county.”

Cushman, representing No On HRC, asked Ty Booth, senior planner for Pierce County Department of Planning and Public Works, “The applicant is now asserting this should have been categorized as an essential public facility or as a group home but that’s not what the county did, right?”

“You are correct,” Booth said.

“If the applicant is now arguing that one of those alternative categories should have been applied––the applicant is agreeing with the appellant that this was miscategorized––but is simply disagreeing about what category it should be,” Cushman said.

“I will leave that discussion for you and the applicant,” Booth said.

The examiner said, “It’s obvious the appellant (No On HRC) disagrees with it and Sweeney (for HRC) disagrees with it. So, what is in front of me now?”

Cushman said, “We are arguing that the use classification posed by the county of community and cultural services was incorrect. Both the appellant and the applicant appear to have agreement on that.” 

“We are also arguing the proper use categorization. Because this is a facility that offers care, therapy and treatment––even in the applicant’s own arguments today––it is properly a health care facility as defined by the code,” he said. 

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Cort O’Connor, counsel for Pierce County, said “My recommendation is to keep the decision issue narrow in scope and let the application proceed on whichever way it’s going to go where it can be more thoroughly vetted.”

The hearing examiner concluded, “I agree with everyone it is not properly classified. That portion of it, I will grant the appellant’s appeal. I will issue a written decision remanding the matter back to staff. The arguments today will have further consideration.” 

Caleb Lystad, one of the organizers of No On HRC, said, “The hearing examiner and the HRC lawyer agreeing with the fact that it was misclassified really adds a lot of weight to the validity of our argument, that it ought not be built in an R-10. If classified properly, it wouldn’t be allowed on the Key Peninsula at all.”

Jeremiah Saucier, founder of HRC, said, “We’re eagerly waiting for the written report and feel optimistic about moving forward.” 

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