A town divided

TSW breaks its silence and addresses rezoning of 461 Quatsino Blvd.

Tamitik Status of Women will not entertain any discussions around choosing another site for the construction of their new facility.

Breaking the organization’s silence and speaking to the Northern Sentinel, TSW’s Linda Slanina said the site at 461 Quatsino Blvd. is the site most favoured not only by the organization but also by BC Housing, who will fund the construction of the facility with $14 million, as well as cover salaries for staff at the facility for 60 years, once it has been completed.

TSW will be responsible for raising $6 million to cover the rest of the construction, bringing the total cost of the facility to over $20 million.

From the inception of the idea in December 2016 for a TSW facility that would consolidate six service locations around Kitimat into one, BC Housing was adamant they would support the installation of a facility as long as it was operationally successful and financially viable.

This was stressed right from the first meeting between TSW and BC Housing in January 2017 – the multi-service aspect of the new facility was crucial.

What followed was the search for a potential site around Kitimat, one that would be as close as possible to the city centre, yet situated in a residential neighbourhood.

“These families want to be included in a neighbourhood, not excluded. We don’t want to further isolate them,” said Slanina.

“We want to ensure that the parents are able to exercise their right to raise their children in a residential neighbourhood.”

She said for this reason the other two District of Kitimat sites in the city centre were not considered suitable by BC Housing and TSW.

In order for the facility to be financially viable, it was imperative that consideration be given first to land that could potentially be gifted by the District of Kitimat.

Once the other two sites were ruled out and negotiations proceeded for the gifting of 461 Quatsino Blvd. to TSW, the organization was advised by the DoK that in order to accommodate the different services, the zoning would have to be changed from its current Institutional Zone, to Mixed Use Social Housing Zone.

In October 2017, the District of Kitimat councillors unanimously agreed to gift the land at 461 Quatsino to TSW at a council meeting.

The gifting would proceed provided three conditions were met: TSW would have to ensure access to the property, that the facility would be built within three years and that TSW would provide social housing for a minimum of 25 years – failing this, the land would revert back to the District.

In November 2018 Bylaw 1934 was tabled in council, paving the way for the rezoning of 461 Quatsino and the amendment of the Official Community Plan (which guides the district’s decisions on planning and land use management).

In early December the Advisory Planning Committee (APC) and the Housing Committee both provided recommendations that the rezoning goes ahead.

At the December 17, 2018, council meeting, the first and second readings of the proposed bylaw were completed, at which point the opposition to the proposal began in earnest.

A petition was circulated in Strawberry Meadows calling for the scrapping of the proposed rezoning, the opponents raising a number of concerns related to the facility:

* the height of the facility, which at four storeys, will be the tallest structure in the neighbourhood, which opponents to the facility say was never communicated to Strawberry Meadows residents ahead of the rezoning application submission

* the cutting down of trees, removing a buffer between the facility and the neighbours

* insufficient parking bays for the number of residents and staff members at the facility

* a proposed needle exchange service at the facility

* the close proximity of the facility to Civeo’s Sitka Lodge worker accommodation camp and the danger that the residents of the camp posed to residents of the facility

* an increase in vehicle traffic through Strawberry Meadows

* the male partners of some residents being allowed to live in the facility

* the impact on the values of properties adjacent to the facility brought about by the rezoning.

Two Vancouver-based law firms, Boughton Law Corporation and Clark Wilson LLP, were hired by opponents to the rezoning. Both firms submitted letters to the District pointing out shortcomings in the rezoning process.

Shaun C. Driver for Boughton Law Corp. in a submission to the District, available on the District’s website, maintains that the District has not been “adequately transparent”.

“The absence of relevant or correct information has made it impossible for the decision-makers to make an informed and reasonable decision.”

The submission further maintains that the District had failed to properly inform residents that the “proposed construction of a facility significantly oversized in contravention with governing policy documents and the municipality’s expressed purpose.”

A vociferous debate through social media revealed deep divisions between groups supporting either side. Council meetings were packed with opponents to the rezoning.

As reported in the Northern Sentinel on January 17, the District of Kitimat council decided, based on advice from staff, to delay the third reading of the proposed bylaw and to instead send the matter of rezoning back to staff, and to call for another open house and public meeting in February and March respectively.

Slanina explained that despite suggestions by the opponents to the rezoning that 461 Quatsino is not suitable, the site is, in fact, ideal for the facility, in that it is close to the city centre, the property is already serviced, there is already direct access to Quatsino Blvd. and that there is a walkway on one side of the road with access to transit services on the other side of the road.

As to the height of the facility, Slanina said only one-third of the building is four storeys high.

“To build out sideways is costly. It defeats the object of building upwards,” said Slanina. “With one central access point we can see who’s arriving and leaving. If we stretch out the facility will compromise that.”

The trees in question, said Slanina, are 10 metres taller than the facility would be.

“TSW looks forward to engaging with the city and the community on some of the identified concerns, such as the buffer and the parking,” said Slanina.

BC Housing Development Strategies associate VP Armin Amrolia said a redesign of the facility to two stories would result in an increased cost well over $1 million, a figure which excludes the escalation costs resulting from a delay in the start of construction to 2020.

“This budget pressure has not been accounted for and we will need to assess the overall impact of this increase against the global capital budget for the program,” said Amrolia in a submission to the DoK after addressing council in January.

She added that a redesign to two floors would affect how the operational model and services would be provided, requiring extra security, access points and staffing.

With regards the needle exchange service at the facility, Slanina said TSW’s current needle exchange service forms part of harm reduction strategy run by Northern Health, which allows users to collect free needles in exchange for disposing of their old needles at the facility, which are then collected by a nurse from Northern Health.

Slanina reacted strongly to the claims that situating the facility close to Sitka Lodge would pose a danger to residents of the facility.

“Most men are not violent. It’s harmful rhetoric, painting all those camp workers with the same brush. When you paint good men with that brush, they become defensive,” said Slanina, adding that the rhetoric is counterproductive when it comes to combatting violence against women.

She said it is highly unlikely that the facility would increase traffic in Strawberry Meadows.

“Our residents and staff won’t be driving down any street in Strawberry Meadows to access the facility,” she added.

As to permitting men to live in one of the 20 affordable housing units, Slanina said this wasn’t necessarily a guarantee.

“All the units will only be leased to women, some who might be in a long-term relationship with a man,” said Slanina.

She said thorough screening of all candidates would be performed before consideration is given to any cohabitation.

A report published by the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness references a study in B.C. by professional appraisers show tracked the impact of seven social housing projects across the lower mainland, Vancouver Island and the interior.

“In every case, neighbours opposed the projects because they feared property value decline,” reads the report.

“The study found house prices near the projects increased as much as or more than houses in the control area, in five years of tracking prices.”

Letters to the editor in relation to the rezoning are in this week’s Northern Sentinel.

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