An upcoming public hearing has been delayed for a zoning amendment facilitating a proposed homeless shelter, following discussions during a Cranbrook city council meeting on Monday night.
Councillor Wes Graham introduced the motion to delay the hearing — tentatively scheduled for Jan. 18 — noting he had questions about the proposed shelter that have yet to be answered by BC Housing, and said he couldn’t proceed with the zoning process without those answers.
“I think the fact that we’re going into a meeting on Jan. 18 without a robust discussion around this council table with BC Housing about location is a disservice to the landowner, a disservice to the proponent, a disservice to the homeless and a disservice to our community,” Graham said.
“We have been presented with one and only option and there’s been no rationale behind that, so I would like to see this pushed back so that BC Housing can meet with us around this council table in an open meeting and if we need more than a 10-minute delegation, I would hope that council would entertain that, rather than having information provided to us on [Jan. 18] and now we’re one vote, one meeting away from this becoming a reality in that spot.”
The rezoning application is for a property adjacent to the Memorial Arena that includes an existing building which houses a number of social services through the Community Connections Society of BC.
Specifically, the wording of the motion delays the public hearing until council has had the chance to meet with BC Housing representatives in an open council meeting.
Prior to Graham’s motion, the issue was broached by Mark Fercho, the Chief Administrative Officer, who provided a brief update on the proposal.
“I think everyone agrees Cranbrook needs a homeless shelter. The upcoming rezoning decision by council is if this is the right location for a homeless shelter,” Fercho said.
“So in local government, administration is tasked with providing good information to council in order for council to make good decisions; that’s my role and that’s staffs role here. In this case, that would include a review of potential shelter locations with BC Housing to document the benefits and impacts of the various locations in Cranbrook in order for council to determine the right location for a shelter prior to making a decision.
“That has not occurred.
“A proponent has applied to council for rezoning on one site in consultation with BC Housing and now council is tasked with making a decision in response.”
Councillors Wes Graham, Ron Popoff and Mike Peabody, along with Mayor Lee Pratt, voted in support of the motion to delay the public hearing until council has the opportunity to hold an open meeting with BC Housing, while councillors Wayne Price, John Hudak and Norma Blissett were opposed.
Coun. Peabody supported delaying the hearing, rattling off a series of questions he wanted answered, particularly regarding the operation and proximity of a safe injection site near a high school, among others.
“These are specific questions that I think the whole community is concerned about and it’d be nice to know, are there other communities that also have homeless shelters or safe injection sites that might be in close proximity to a public area that’s being used similar to what our hockey arena is, or our high school, and are they seeing issues?”
Mayor Lee Pratt noted that BC Housing has had some talks with the city and said they’re ‘not completely sold’ on the proposed property, adding that city staff is currently working on a report looking at various potential locations.
“I think we owe it to our CAO and our staff, who are in talks now with BC Housing, to explore all the opportunities and alternatives,” Pratt said. “I think we owe it to our citizens to complete our due diligence and let our staff do this to give us all the facts and alternatives available before we’re rushed into making a decision.
“…We’re not talking about the homeless shelter issue now, we’re talking about a rezoning, which is what is the panic for a rezoning? Once we do it, it’s done.”
Coun. Blissett led a passionate defense of continuing with the scheduled public hearing on Jan. 18, acknowledging that she anticipated a delay due to some questions from the public. However, she pushed back against the notion that Cranbrook has enough shelter space for the homeless population right now.
“To say that we have adequate facilities right now is not true at all,” she said. “We are in a crisis position in this town.
“…we are abdicating our responsibilities to our community by not servicing the people of our community. We need this. It’s a bad look for Cranbrook when you drive through this town and you see the burnt out buildings and the numerous homeless people on the streets because there’s nowhere to go.”
Coun. Wayne Price vented his frustration with the province, and put the onus on BC Housing to determine whether the proposed location is an appropriate spot for a homeless shelter.
”I’m extremely disappointed in BC Housing and the province. I think there’s been enough time for them to put a presentation together and answer questions,” Price said. “But that aside, and it was reiterated tonight, what we’re going to decide on [Jan. 18], is zoning. We’re not deciding if it’s a homeless shelter or anything else; our role is to decide if we’ll accept the zoning change.
“…at the end of the day, they’ve [BC Housing] got a responsibility to the community and the public as well. They determine that is not a favourable site, that is their decision to make.”
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