Almanac

News - April 2, 2014

Supervisors grant appeal, overturn Planning Commission decision

by Dave Boyce

By a unanimous vote on Tuesday, March 25, the five-member San Mateo County Board of Supervisors overturned a 3-1 decision by the county Planning Commission that would have allowed the conversion of a meditation center in the unincorporated woods above Woodside to a non-medical drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation center for people with addiction problems.

The Stillpath Recovery Center would have been located at 16350 Skyline Blvd., the current site of the Stillheart Institute. The county's planning staff considered the application an amendment to Stillheart's use permit, with no need for a new environmental study. Among a long list of points of contention, neighbors opposing the conversion said a rehab center was a new use that required a new study.

Opposition also focused on the remote location when in need of police, firefighting or medical assistance; the need for large quantities of non-abundant water using an infrastructure not up to the job; and a higher risk of wildfire in the dry, dense forest if a recovering addict dropped a lighted cigarette.

Stillpath representatives argued that clients, who would pay $45,000 a month, would be screened to keep out people with significant medical problems. Smoking would have been strictly limited to an interior area and the facility would recycle its non-potable water.

The cost-benefit analysis was key for board President Dave Pine. "I felt that the project would increase the intensity of the use of the parcel, and that the benefit to the county did not outweigh the effects of the increased use," Mr. Pine told the Almanac. "I believe that for the most part, it would be serving clients from outside the county."

Supervisor Don Horsley, whose district includes this site, agreed. "I certainly support drug treatment," he said. It's really the wrong place. ... It would serve a very small exclusive class of people. It's not going to benefit people of San Mateo County."

The fire danger loomed large for Mr. Horsley in what is a combination forest of old growth and second-growth redwood trees. "It's just a majestic area," he said, adding that he'd received a letter that referred to the area as "our Yosemite."

As for water, the facility does have a 100,000-gallon storage tank, but "if you have a forest fire, 100,000 gallons isn't going to do much," Mr. Horsley said.

Mr. Pine also picked out water supply infrastructure as a deciding factor. "That is a very delicate system with minimal capacity," he said. "That system is not robust."

The board received 174 letters, two of which were in support of the conversion, and both of those were from outside the county, said Kathy Kennedy-Miller, a Kings Mountain area resident who attended the board meeting.

"The many residents who chose to testify made important contributions," Karen Morrison of the Kings Mountain neighborhood wrote in an email. "The facts and concerns, powerfully presented, fully convinced the Board of Supervisors. Our community owes these dedicated individuals many, many thanks."

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