City rejects plan for former VA clinic

A proposal to put a ‘mental crisis center’ in Washington was met with stiff resistance

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A plan to put a “mental crisis intervention center” inside the former Veterans Administration clinic on Ridge Avenue in Washington was rejected Wednesday night by the city’s zoning hearing board.


The board voted unanimously to deny Southwestern PA Human Services Inc.’s request to put the crisis center in the former VA clinic because plans to temporarily house up to seven patients inside the building did not meet zoning standards for an overnight medical facility there.


The facility would have offered a voluntary “step down” regiment for nonviolent people going through a variety of mental help issues.


But the plans raised fears from people living in the Highland-Ridge neighborhood over who would be living in the building and the facility’s security.


City resident Cliff Cochran disagreed with Southwestern’s application that claimed the medical facility would be similar to the VA clinic and Crossing of the Jordan doctor’s office that were most recently located in the now vacant building. He noted that veterans and patients never stayed at the facility.


“For an individual who lives in that neighborhood, I want you to take a very long look at it,” Cochran said to the zoning hearing board. “I would say (vote) no.”


Southwestern wanted to move a crisis intervention center from the current location they are renting in the 1900 block of North Main Street in South Strabane because that building is falling into disrepair. Kellie McKevitt, SPHS’s care center executive director, said the community should not be concerned by the patients that stay there.


“By no means do we want to create a problem in a neighborhood,” McKevitt said. “If anything, we want to work together.”


The facility would have housed up to seven patients who voluntarily check-in for up to seven days.


However, the zoning board noted that those plans for the facility were much different that its previous uses, making it clear the application would be rejected.


“There was never an intent to misrepresent,” McKevitt said. “Obviously we’re here for short stays for people with mental crises.”


Board solicitor Tom Lonich said the variance requested for that location would not be an acceptable use in that particular zone.


Washington County Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Administrator Janice Taper backed the project and said she was unsure if Southwestern would search for a new location, remain in South Strabane or appeal. The agencies have 30 days to appeal the ruling.


Taper called the Ridge Avenue building a perfect location because it was close to other important services.


“You look for a spot that is near other services and accessible to them,” Taper said.


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