KENNEWICK -- A zoning issue likely will delay Grace Clinic's plan to move into the former Benton Franklin Health District clinic on Canal Drive in Kennewick.
Grace Clinic officials had hoped to move into the building this summer, but learned recently that the land isn't zoned for a medical clinic.
They most likely will have to apply for comprehensive plan and zoning amendments to the city, unless clinic officials can convince the city to let them be "grandfathered" and let Grace Clinic to operate under the same loophole that allowed the health district to run a clinic at the site.
"The bottom line is we need to do whatever it takes to get the comprehensive plan and zoning changed ASAP," said Bob Johnson, vice president of Grace Clinic's board. "We need the whole process to be expedited so we can continue to focus on our main goal, which is to serve the 47,000 uninsured in the Tri-Cities. Time is of the essence."
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 finalized in February, and clinic officials originally had hoped to move into the building in June.
Mark Brault, Grace Clinic's board president, told the Herald on Wednesday that delays in finalizing the remodeling plans pushed that date back to July or August.
But now clinic officials have learned they can't get the building permits to complete the remodel until the zoning issue is resolved.
Kennewick City Attorney Lisa Beaton told the Herald 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 now 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, Beaton said.
"It's unfortunate, but it's what the code says," she said.
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.
In this case, a medical clinic isn't on the list, Beaton said.
The most likely course of action for Grace Clinic is to apply for a comprehensive plan amendment and, if that's approved, a change in zoning from light industrial to commercial, Beaton said.
But comprehensive plan amendments only can be done once a year under the state's growth management law, and the deadline to apply in Kennewick is May 1.
Beaton said it's typically a lengthy process to amend the comprehensive plan and zoning code.
Johnson said clinic officials think it may yet be a gray area when that six-month countdown was triggered for the use status, and haven't given up hope that the health district's status can transfer to Grace Clinic.
But the clinic likely will pursue the comprehensive plan amendment and zoning change to ensure operations can be moved to Canal Drive.
In the meantime, the clinic can stay in its current location on Clearwater Avenue through August and isn't in immediate danger of having no place to operate -- but that could change if getting a zoning change takes more than a few months.
Brad Peck, Franklin County commissioner and health board member, updated the health district board on the clinic's situation at Wednesday's meeting and said he'd provide more information once talks with the city are concluded.
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; email@example.com