A plan to turn an existing sober living community in San Anselmo into a residential drug treatment center has won the city’s approval, despite protests from neighbors.
The Planning Commission voted unanimously Monday to approve the conditional use permit for Full Circle Living at 931 San Anselmo Ave. The approval authorizes Kristina Wandzilak, founder of the center, to apply for a state license to complete the change of operations.
If approved, the facility would continue to serve up to 17 clients, but add on-site drug treatment, whereas today clients would have to seek medication from outside clinics. Guests are expected to stay 30 days, instead of residing at the property for several months.
Residents wrote to city officials and packed the public hearing Monday in opposition, expressing concern about the introduction of potential criminal activity and endangering neighborhood safety.
A group of 25 residents have hired attorney Len Rifkind to argue their case that a drug treatment center has no place in the residential community.
“The project does not conform to the general plan on the basis of land use and therefore the CUP (conditional use permit) cannot be approved,” Rifkind said when contacted. after the hearing.
“The neighborhood supports low-cost housing,” he said. “Seventeen people have lived there successfully, but we see this change as a completely different use. It becomes a center for medical care and not a dwelling. This site is meant to be for housing.
Rifkind said his clients are considering appealing the decision to the city council.
City Manager Dave Donery said the commission included conditions to mitigate community impacts, including parking and loading area requirements. He said that this type of installation is permitted with a conditional use permit.
“Under federal and state fair housing and disability laws, municipalities have certain legal parameters when considering a proposed treatment facility,” Donery said in an email. “The commission understood that a city can impose conditions to protect aspects of land use on the community, such as parking, but cannot deny or condition based on a preconceived notion of the type of residents, for example, that the property would not fit in with the residential character of the neighborhood.
Wandzilak said it’s not the first time she’s faced an argument. Nearly 10 years ago, when plans were taking shape to open the facility, Wandzilak said the plan met with unwavering resistance from residents who said the facility would “bring in unstable drug addicts in the neighborhood”.
“It’s the same fear-based rhetoric,” she said. “This fight is not us and the neighbours, it is against stigma and discrimination. And I have compassion for that fear and misunderstanding because addiction is reviled in the media.
Wandzilak has worked as a drug interventionist for the past 25 years. His work has been the subject of a reality television series, “Addicted”, on the Discovery Channel. She wrote a book, “The Lost Years,” about her own struggle with drug addiction, which began with a severe methamphetamine addiction when she was 15 and lasted until her 21st birthday.
The property is the site of the former McGarr House aged care facility. The gated community sits on a third of an acre at the corner of San Anselmo and Hazel Avenues and includes a courtyard and residential buildings for men and women, a kitchen, and a community hall.
Wandzilak said it is not proposing any renovations or extensions. Wandzilak said his clients are not court-ordered, no sex offenders or criminals are admitted.
There will be six staff on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and three employees at night and on weekends.
If the plan gets a state license, the facility would be subject to strict rules, including safe drugs. Wandzilak said that from an outside perspective, neighbors won’t notice any difference except that fewer cars are likely to be parked in the neighborhood.
Wandzilak said many current residents visit clinics several times a week for treatment. For drug addicts, this task can seem difficult and require extreme effort, she said.
“There is a need for residential treatment facilities,” she said, noting that other treatment sites in Marin have long waiting lists.
“When an addicted individual is ready for help, there is a very limited possibility of getting them appropriate treatment,” she said. “That window can close faster than you can imagine and waiting – waiting in line – is deadly. I just want to be able to provide treatment for them.