KENNEWICK -- After hitting a zoning snag this spring, Grace Clinic appears to be back on track to opening an expanded version of its nonprofit medical clinic on Canal Drive in Kennewick.
Kennewick city officials confirmed they've given the clinic permission to move ahead with remodeling the former Benton Franklin Health District building on Canal while the clinic and health district apply to rezone the property from light industrial to business park.
City spokeswoman Evelyn Lusignan told the Herald the business park zoning allows for operation of a medical clinic, but doesn't require Grace Clinic to apply for an amendment to the comprehensive plan -- a process that could have tied the project up for several months.
Grace Clinic negotiated with the health district to lease the Canal Drive building so that it can expand and accommodate more patients and offer more services.
The clinic offers free medical, dental and mental health care to people with incomes below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines, or less than $44,700 a year for a family of four.
The lease calls for the clinic to pay market rent of $60,000 a year, but allows the clinic to offset the rental amount with the value of improvements the clinic makes to the building and health care services it provides.
The deal was reached in February, and clinic officials originally had hoped to move into the building this summer.
Then they discovered the land wasn't zoned for a medical clinic.
Kennewick City Attorney Lisa Beaton told the Herald in April that the zoning and comprehensive plan designation for the land where the Canal Drive building sits was changed sometime while the health district had offices and operated a clinic there.
The land is zoned light industrial, a use that doesn't allow for a medical clinic.
Because the health district already was there when the change happened, it was allowed to continue operating as a legal nonconforming use -- a status that basically says because land already was used a certain way when the zoning changed, it can be allowed to continue even though it might not otherwise be permitted under the new zoning.
But the city code says if that use stops for six months or more, the legal nonconforming use status goes away.
Sometimes the law allows a landowner to apply for a conditional or special use permit -- basically allowing a use that isn't otherwise permitted in the zoning code for that type of land -- but the zoning code lists what kinds of uses can qualify for a permit. A medical clinic isn't on that list for a light industrial zone.
The city and the clinic initially talked about changing the zoning to commercial, but that would also have required a change to the city's comprehensive plan. Comprehensive plan amendments can be done only once a year under state law.
Marc Brault, Grace Clinic's board president, said that by applying for business park zoning and having the city go ahead and issue a building permit, clinic officials are optimistic they might yet be able to move in by summer's end, although the rezoning application has to go through the planning commission and be approved by the city council.
"There is some degree of risk," Brault said of starting the remodel before the zoning is finalized. "I suspect that the reason the city is giving us a permit and letting these things go along is their perception that the risk is really modest."