Town hall meeting hears southside concerns

Chilliwack city council faced questions ranging from safety and security, to roadwork and traffic congestion at a town hall Thursday.

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz and city councillors Chuck Stam and Ken Popove discuss concerns following the urban town hall meeting at Sardis Library on Thursday.

Chilliwack city council faced questions ranging from safety and security, to roadwork and traffic congestion at the second of two urban town hall meetings Thursday.

But while the packed meeting room at the Sardis Library offered plenty of concerns, council made clear there was only so much a municipal government could do.

That frustration was evident as councillors answered questions about a private, not-for-profit corrections facility operating in the Chilliwack River Valley.

VisionQuest, which opened in 2013, offers addictions treatment as part of a prison diversion program. Similar programs have been successful elsewhere, said Mayor Sharon Gaetz, however this one has drawn the ire of neighbours, politicians and local RCMP.

“Your council does have a serious concern,” said Gaetz.

RCMP inspector Davy Lee agreed. “This is causing us a lot of grief,” he said, citing an estimated 200 calls each year for police attendance – calls that require the response of at least two RCMP members.

Those are resources that could be better spent elsewhere, he said.

The problem, said Gaetz, is not with the concept of drug rehabilitation, but with the management of the facility.

If the centre were within the City of Chilliwack, council could pull its business licence. But because it is in the Fraser Valley Regional District, options are more limited.

She urged those attending the town hall meeting to contact their MLA and pressure them for changes.

Detox and drug treatment programs in Chilliwack remain an ongoing priority in conversations between the City and Fraser Health, Gaetz added. But unfortunately, decisions rest outside the municipal mandate and are often driven by funding.

And there’s the rub, said Coun. Sam Waddington. Municipal governments lack the money or the authority to create the social programs their constituents say are needed.  “We see it the most, but we have the least ability to do anything about it,” he said.

That is particularly true when it comes to medical marijuana grow operations, said Coun. Sue Attrill. She was responding to a Yarrow resident’s complaint about two grow-ops in her neighbourhood – one likely legal, the other not. Attrill said the city had thought it had crafted a solution to confine medical grow ops to industrial properties, where the city has greater control over issues like odour and security.

However, a recent decision by the provincial government to allow marijuana cultivation as “an accepted use” on agricultural land, changes all that. It means that communities like Yarrow, which are punctuated with plots of agricultural land, could be home to marijuana grow operations with no municipal oversight.

Not all the conversation Thursday was about what the City couldn’t do. Mayor Gaetz steered the discussion to road and infrastructure work.

That sparked concern about speeds on roads like Evans, which one woman called “horrifying.” Coun. Chuck Stam pointed to the enforcement work done by the RCMP, as well as the Speed Watch volunteers with Chilliwack Crime Prevention Services.

But the responsibility also rests with individuals to police their own driving habits, added Coun. Attrill, and pressure their friends and family to drive responsibly.

Rod Sanderson, deputy director of engineering, offered updates on several road and infrastructure projects in the area. Work has begun on the two roundabouts on Prest Road. And improvements are coming to Vedder Road, from Promontory/Watson to Keith Wilson.

However, residents waiting for improvements to the intersection at Promontory and Chilliwack River Road will have to wait a little longer. Although Sanderson could offer few specifics because of privacy concerns,  he said action to address congestion at the chronically crowded intersection was coming.

He also highlighted the Vedder Bridge replacement plan and roundabout. However, he rejected suggestions the bridge should have been planned to a four-lane capacity. Two lanes, coupled with the roundabout, are sufficient to deal with the estimated 10 high-traffic-count days per year. Building four lanes would have tripled the cost and failed to get the 66 per cent funding support from federal and provincial governments, added Coun. Chris Kloot.

Concern was also raised about the continued development within Garrison Crossing and apparent lack of on-street parking. Coun. Chuck Stam responded, saying part of the problem is the use of garages for storage instead of vehicles. Council is looking at stronger bylaw enforcement, he said.

Improved transit services would alleviate some of the congestion, suggested one speaker.

And the councillors agreed. However, after crafting an aggressive five-year  transit expansion plan, said a clearly frustrated Coun. Jason Lum, the city watched as the province froze funding for BC Transit (which accounts for 50 per cent of Chilliwack’s public transit budget).

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