Kent City Council bans safe injection sites, approves property tax break for apartment developers

Group also adopts Oberto Drive as new street name.

During one of its longest meetings of the year, the Kent City Council approved a ban on safe injection sites, property tax exemptions for two apartment complex developers and a street name change to Oberto Drive.

The council voted 6-1 on Nov. 21 to approve a permanent ban on safe injection sites, following the recommendations of the council’s Economic and Community Development Committee and the city’s Land Use and Planning Board. The measure replaces the six-month ban approved 6-1 by the council in August.

Councilman Dennis Higgins had the only vote against the ban.

Safe injection sites are locations where people would be supervised while using heroin or other drugs. A task force, appointed by King County Executive Dow Constantine and then-Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, recommended earlier this year the creation of two safe-injection sites – one in Seattle and one at another county site. With 219 heroin and opioid related deaths in 2016 in the county, Constantine and others want to take steps to address the problem.

Prior to the council’s latest vote, Council President Bill Boyce talked about how he and Councilman Jim Berrios visited Kent’s John Volken Academy, a residential addiction treatment center, and talked to 23 men at the center about safe injection sites.

“Not one of them – and they have experienced these type of things – said this would be a good idea,” Boyce said. “We need to find a solution, but this is not it.”

Councilwoman and Mayor-elect Dana Ralph said she has talked to parents of patients at treatment centers and asked them if safe injection sites could work.

“I have not had a single parent say to me, ‘I want the government to make it easier for my kid to use drugs,’ and that’s what we are talking about here,” Ralph said.

Berrios said there are no safe injection sites in the United States and he sees no reason for Kent to be the first. Councilwoman Brenda Fincher said the site in Vancouver, British Columbia, shows it’s more of a place for an addict to keep using.

Higgins responded to his fellow council members.

“Making policy by an anecdote is not generally a good practice,” Higgins said. “I prefer to do it with science, looking at the numbers. … I don’t really want a site in Kent that’s not what my vote is about. But my vote is about the science shows it works. The treatment experts say it works. …We are in the midst of a public health epidemic. If it were one of my relatives, I would want one last chance for them to get help. I don’t think Kent’s the best site – Burien seems like a better place to me, if we are talking about South King County.

“My vote is we have to talk about this as a society.”

Property tax exemption

The council approved multifamily property tax exemptions for the Marquee on Meeker project and the Madison Plaza Apartments.

Council members didn’t discuss the measure because it was part of their consent calendar, items voted on all at once because they are considered noncontroversial. The council’s Economic and Community Development Committee voted 3-0 on Nov. 13 to approve the property tax break.

Each developer will get an eight-year exemption from paying taxes on the building valuation. Each must pay taxes on the land value. City officials say better projects will be built by developers because of the tax break.

Auburn-based FNW, Inc./Landmark Development Group will build about 500 apartments on the former city-owned Riverbend par 3 golf course property along West Meeker Street. The course will be removed and construction of the mixed-use project will start in the spring.

Kent architect Imad Bahbah plans to build a 157-unit, seven-story complex at West Meeker Street and Madison Avenue. Developers of Madison Plaza would save an estimated $250,000 per year in property taxes, said Jason Garnham, city planner. No estimate was available from city staff about how much the Marquee on Meeker developers would save.

Oberto Drive

The council approved a name change of South 238th Street to Oberto Drive for the short stretch of road near the West Valley Highway. Oberto officials requested the name change to help celebrate their 100th anniversary next year, including the last 40 years in Kent after moving from Seattle.

Oberto’s headquarters and manufacturing plant are at 7060 S. 238th St. The company employs about 500. Oberto Brands is a family-owned business that produces all natural jerky, pepperoni and other smoked meats.

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