About 20 people attended and about 10 gave public comment on the first day of the two-day hearing.
The hearing was 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. Proponents argued that new mental health beds are badly needed. But many neighbors objected to the proposed site in a rural neighborhood, raising concerns about safety.
Snohomish County Hearing Examiner Peter Camp will decide whether to grant a conditional use permit to the project. The proposal would build two 16-bed buildings for involuntary mental health services.
Commentators 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 “unfortunately underfunded.” Meaker cited statistics claiming that Washington has the sixth highest rate of mental illness in the country, with 1 in 5 adults suffering from a mental illness.
“Despite this, there are only about 150 long-term inpatient treatment beds in the state,” Meaker told the audience. “There should be 150 beds in Snohomish County alone.”
Several Stanwood residents testified for the project because of personal experience with loved ones needing inpatient treatment, they said. The proximity of the proposed facility to nature and the planners’ safety and support measures for patients were the main 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 believed the proposed site would create traffic and safety issues for the surrounding rural area.
Stanwood resident Kathleen Richardson, who had 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 for agricultural use.
Richardson said the surge in traffic associated with the facility, which is expected to employ about 50 full-time employees, would pose safety concerns in an area unaccustomed to busy roads.
The inpatient facility would admit adults for 90 or 180 day stays. There are only 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 agreement with the state. The tribes committed in 2020 to spend $35 million to design and build the center in exchange for millions of tax dollars generated at the Quil Ceda mall.
The tribes will hand over the keys to the Washington State Health Care Authority, which will hire a behavioral therapist to run the facility.
Neighbors have objected that the site was chosen without any opportunity for public participation. The tribes have proposed placing the center on land purchased in 2011.
If the permit is approved, the first building could be there as early as 2024.
A neighbor filed an appeal under the State Environmental Policy Act last fall, but the county denied the appeal in December.
The hearing will continue at 6 p.m. Thursday. The public may participate in person in the hearing room at the county campus, 3000 Rockefeller Ave. in Everett, or via Zoom. The zoom link can be found at snohomishcountywa.gov/189/Hearing-Examiner.
E-mail comments can be sent to [email protected]
Herald reporter Jacqueline Allison contributed to this story.