A lively discussion broke out Tuesday night at the rezoning hearing for Ruth & Naomi’s Mission’s proposed new supportive housing facility, about what constitutes a good neighbour.
Better communication between RAN and area residents, is now part of the goal moving forward.
Residents who live near the downtown mission filed into chambers for the rezoning hearing, armed with a series of concerns and questions about the proposed new six-storey $6 million facility.
Late into the night, rezoning applications were approved to third reading by city council, pending the signing of a Good Neighbour Agreement.
Several comments from residents touched on parking issues, building height, and traffic concerns.
The plan to close Fletcher Street off was not popular.
“Closing off fletcher is absolutely wrong,” said Jo Boulder.
A fenced-in day-care amenity is why part of the street is proposed for closure.
“I know that Ruth & Naomi’s do a good job and try hard, but it is still not a good place for a daycare,” she said.
The central question of the night became more about RAN’s capacity to communicate and share plans in good faith with the neighbourhood, in order to discuss possible impacts on neighbours.
Barbara Turpin had questions and suggestions, after attending the previous information hosted by RAN, where she said residents had been essentially told the project would likely proceed regardless of any neighbourhood concerns, which were basically NIMBY in nature.
“They failed to reach out in the five years since they opened. They never reached out to their nearest neighbours,” Turpin said, crystallizing concerns repeated by more than one that night.
She later asked, how can they have a good neighbour agreement and not include the neighbours in the discussion?
“Please reach out to those of us who live here. Extend the olive branch,” Turpin said.
Resident Judith Campbell was against the six-storey height of the RAN family centre.
“There is nothing else around that is six storeys high,” she said. “It will overshadow everything.”
Another called it inappropriate at that height and suggested it be built elsewhere in the downtown.
Resident Tristan Martin painted the impact as negative, concluding the new facility “is not going to help, it’s going to hurt.”
He said his neighbourhood has become a “slum” in part because of increased needles and crime from RAN.
“When they opened I saw a significant increase in crime, with people on drugs scurrying around,” Martin said, conceding that “every city has got ‘that’ place.”
“But why would you put a giant building full of drug addicts in a residential area? It doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Lack of resources for detox and mental health were raised by Savanna Meeker.
“Ruth and Naomi’s feeds young families, I see that, but it also feeds people who don’t want to get better. So to put more people in there seems crazy to me,” Meeker said.
RAN board chair Wayne Massey addressed some of the residents’ concerns about the proposed Family Centre housing, noting that BC Housing had praised their model as “wonderful” for its approach with wraparound services.
“What we offering will not be a facility for addicts,” he said. But rather the Family Centre will be geared for low-income and marginalized single parents and couples with children.
“There will be 24-hour supervision with security on-site, and pass cards. Residents will not be having visits from drug dealers or johns. It will be very secure and safe,” said Massey.
Also the day care is just for residents of the facility, “so they can go out and work, regain their self-esteem, and come back into society as valuable contributors,” he said.
Bill Raddatz, RAN executive director addressed the issue of needles that so many mentioned.
“I agree, we’ve seen them. We’ve caught people dealing. Our plan will stop that activity with a six to eight foot fence. They’ll be blocked in and safe when they play.”
Massey apologized to the residents for not being as “forthcoming” as they would like, and reiterated RAN’s willingness to listen.
“As a board, we are more than happy to hear your concerns.”
Resident Deborah Palmer told council, “thanks for listening” to them.
Another said they learned more about RAN than they had in the six years.
“I agree it’s wonder facility and it’s needed, but it will have an impact on our neighbourhood,” Palmer said.
The rezoning was approved, pending the signing of a Good Neighbour Agreement.
The GNA is a document covering operational issues like noise or hours of operation to ensure it will have minimal impacts on surrounding neighbours.
The new family centre will include 36 rental units, after qualifying for $6 million in capital funding from BC Housing.
A new six-storey complex will go up in the space now occupied by houses at 46123 and 46135 Princess Ave. Those structures will be demolished prior to construction.
The plan is for service-oriented support on the first two floors, and low-income residences for single- or two-parent families in the other four.
Most of council rallied around the idea that the applicant should hold an annual meeting or some type of event that could include the closest neighbours, given the feedback they heard that night.
The mayor suggested the not-for-profit RAN could do a better job of communications, in making the neighbourhood feel it was part of the conversation.
“Some education needs to be done in that regard,” Gaetz said, and earlier sad she was concerned and saddened by the fact that the neighbours felt excluded.
“The neighbourhood is very clearly saying they want to be a part of this.”