Paulie Halstead: Behavioral Health House Farm Project on Highway 49 | columns
During a planning committee meeting on November 10, 11 frustrated neighbors and business owners brought forward their concerns about rebuilding the Farm House and adding three more units. The Ranch House, located near Willo’s restaurant on 49th, has been used for more than a decade to house clients of Behavioral Health who, because of their severe mental issues, would be homeless if not for supportive housing. They provide supportive services so clients can remain stable, said Phoebe Bell, director of behavioral health.
Neighbors take issue with the fact that, in the ten years of operation, there have been insufficient supporting services to mitigate the ongoing problems at the site. Furthermore, they complain that behavioral health is not responding. They are now on alert as more mentally ill clients will be added to an already questionable program that lacks oversight. They insist that if behavioral health wants to house clients with mental illnesses, it must provide extensive supervision, or the project not be located in their area.
Neighbors say the problems are due to constant drug use by clients, with a known drug house nearby. Maggie Maloney, owner of the Rainbow Market, located just across the highway, said an angry, mentally ill client recently threatened to kill one of her employees. He is no longer allowed into the store.
Willo’s Restaurant co-owners Nancy Wilson and Mike Byrne have complained of problems with customers looking through their property. Byrne has expressed opposition to the conditional use permit and property rezoning, citing “a loose interpretation of zoning law that the county would never tolerate if proposed by a private developer.”
Because of the potential of disturbing the property’s wetlands, the previous owners were denied their projects. Digging trenches and extending a sewer line across the path of a wetland’s water, is the very definition of a wetland nuisance. Byrne argued “You would think the province would be responsible for protecting and preserving these wetlands. The same standards should apply regardless of who undertakes the project.” He further explained that no private developer would be allowed to write their own “Proposed Mitigation Report”. But the province wrote its own report, Which downplays the impact on wetlands, and thus presents a conflict of interest.
Before the solar farm was installed on the property, a 2015 letter to the Eden Ranch Homeowners Association said, “The county has taken steps to protect existing wetlands and drainage and has established a management plan for this protection. The remaining 6.5 acres will remain undeveloped.” Why, all of a sudden, is the county allowed to back out of this agreement and further disturb the wetlands?
Michael Taylor, a local contractor, cited numerous law violations on the property, adding that the county lacked transparency on the project. Before the planning committee meeting, he asked for public records, which were not forthcoming. Taylor requested that the meeting continue in order to have more time to bring in the documents, but the meeting continued anyway. Alison Lyman, the county’s chief executive, agreed to a meeting to discuss the project, but then inexplicably canceled it at the last minute.
Neighbors complain that the traffic conditions at the intersection near the Ranch House are unsafe as there is no crosswalk or traffic light. Customers have to walk through the busy highway to the rainbow market. There are no requirements in the project plans for the installation of pedestrian crossings, traffic lights, or night lighting. Adding more customers, without correcting safety issues, threatens their own safety and the safety of nearby residents and oncoming traffic.
The Ranch House’s neighbors have made it clear that Behavioral Health and the County Board of Supervisors have a duty to protect the public when introducing high-risk clients into neighborhoods. The historical policy of putting the mentally ill and drug addicts in, and then not providing adequate support services, is a strategy that will not win the support of society.
When budgeting for housing programs for high-risk individuals, behavioral health should include sufficient support staff on site. It’s just common sense. The Board of Supervisors has the ultimate responsibility for requiring adequate supportive services when approving behavioral health programs in order to ensure the safety of neighbors and businesses in the vicinity.
The Ranch House’s neighbors insist there are numerous safety hazards, unaddressed code violations, and wetland environmental impacts associated with this project. They request that no further development be made on the property and suggest moving the programme, possibly to the old events hall, which is ideally set up for high risk clients.
Link to the Planning Committee meeting