Northwest NEWS

June 17, 2002

Local News

Wdvl. to develop policy for siting mandated 'transition facilities'

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   A "secure community transition facility" is a transitional home or halfway house for sexual offenders judged by a qualified expert to be suitable to leave the McNeil Island Corrections Center for treatment, education or employment purposes.
   Secure community transition facilities have been designated under the Growth Management Act as "essential public facilities."
   Recent state laws require that cities fully plan to include processes in their comprehensive plans for identifying and siting such essential facilities.
   The City of Woodinville has the opportunity to choose between creating local procedures for siting a potential transition facility or allowing the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to decide where to put one - and in so doing, preempt local regulations.
   Given the choice, the city has decided to adopt a siting process of its own. By doing so, the city sees a number of advantages. For one, the city can be assured its zoning code will be applied during the siting process. The City of Woodinville will be the final administrative decision-maker with respect to the siting of the facility. Furthermore, concerned citizens will have the option to appeal the city's local decision, whereas they would not be allowed to appeal a DSHS decision.
   Of course, Woodinville's siting policy must follow certain guidelines. Transitional facilities cannot be placed within site distance of public or private schools, school bus stops, licensed day care or licensed preschool facilities, public parks, publicly dedicated trails, sports fields, recreational or community centers, churches, synagogues, temples and mosques, or public libraries.
   The Revised Code of Washington Sections 71.09.285 through 71.09.340 covers these and other pertinent topics such as facility security systems, staffing, monitoring, escorts for residents who leave the facility, and public notice.
   The city Planning Commission has been assigned the task of holding a public hearing to consider local procedures for siting a transition facility in this community.
   These procedures must be in place by Sept. 1. The commission will be holding the public meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 3, in the City Council Chambers, 17301 133rd Ave. NE, Woodinville.
   Just because the city includes provisions for a halfway house of this type in its city code - as many cities will undoubtedly do - does not mean that DSHS will ask to locate one here.
   But if they do, the city will be ready with a well reasoned and, hopefully, suitable plan.