Kitimat city council approved a request on May 2 made by BC Housing to convert the former City Centre Suites motel into an extreme weather homeless shelter and affordable housing building.
The application for the rezoning of the 480 City Centre address to multi-family residential housing was passed in a 4-2 vote despite concerns submitted to council by nearby business owners.
At a public hearing prior to the decision, only the company representing BC Housing addressed councillors. The proposed housing complex would consist of 22 one-bedroom units for individuals and couples, two bachelor units and two extreme weather shelter rooms with a total of four beds available in the winter months.
During the public consultation period, the city received two letters and two phone calls from concerned Kitimat residents expressing their opposition to having such housing in the downtown core, citing that it may compromise the safety and prosperity of businesses.
Councillors Mario Feldhoff, Claire Rattee, Marry Murphy and Edwin Empinado all voted in favour of allowing BC Housing to precede with the complex so long as they found a solution for the limited parking space available.
Those who voted against the rezoning, councillors Larry Walker and Rob Goffinet, said they were concerned that the decision was being rushed through and wanted to leave the adoption of the rezoning to the next council meeting.
“I was concerned about the perceived rushing of the [decision],” councillor Walker said, noting that his only problem with the project itself was that it served just individuals and couples in the community, not families.
BC Housing does not allow parents to reside with their children in bachelor or one-bedroom units.
Mayor Phil Germuth was absent from the meeting.
Lance Barrowman of WSP Global on behalf of BC Housing informed council of the project details, saying that BC Housing plans to find a local person or society to manage the building and provide an on-site landlord. The subsidized rental rates would also make the building accessible to people on welfare, he said.
“The cliental are to be a mix of homeless and at-risk of homelessness, seniors, low to moderate income households and the low income market,” Barrowman told council. “Primarily this accommodation will cater to individuals and couples, potentially freeing up larger homes or apartments in the community.”
“In times of severe weather, two rooms on the second floor will be opened up for people or a family needing a place to stay, this is open only during the winter months,” he continued in reference to the shelter which would replace the existing one with a 15-bed capacity in the basement of Kitimat Baptist Church.
The current shelter is described as “lightly used,” only accommodating 11 different clients last year.
Rooms in the new complex would only be available to renters who are registered with BC Housing, though people from any community in B.C. may apply.
Council pointed to the recent Housing Action Plan completed by the city and concluded that there is a substantial need for affordable one-bedroom housing in Kitimat making it unlikely that tenants would be brought in from other parts of the province.
“All in all this is a good use I believe of the former Kitimat City Center Motel. We saw in recent years the challenges put on our community for housing and maybe we might see that again if other projects move forward,” councillor Feldhoff reasoned, referring to the strains the Kitimat Modernization Project — undertaken at Alcan’s aluminum plant between 2011 – 2015 — put on the city.
“With the shelter being incorporated in there, it’s maybe not perfect in the eyes of everyone, but I think it is good for the community,” he said.
Prior to making their decision, council was presented with two letters expressing opposition to the project.
Kory Bumby of North Country Enterprises Ltd. submitted a statement saying his company objects to the housing in the proposed location saying “it is not appropriate within a professional business district.”
“Most often with a transient population crime is also increased. Professional businesses need secure locations and parking to run and receive their clients,” Bumby continued.
Arlene Lenardo of Yireh Canada also sent a letter requesting the rezoning application be turned down.
Lenardo, on behalf of the Yireh Canada building owners, said they believe “that the proposed rental accommodation would have a negative impact on the value of the nearby commercial properties” and customers would “shun the surrounding area because of perceived exposure to risk.”
“This is not in line with the district’s beautification and revitalization program of Downtown Kitimat,” Lenardo mentioned.
Before BC Housing is able to proceed with the complex, they still must make a deal regarding parking and acquire a building permit in order to do the necessary indoor renovations. They did not provide a timeline for when tenants will be able to move into the building, but said there will be more details available at the end of the month.
In March, council passed measures to insure affordable housing was available in Kitimat and now requires construction camp and dormitory projects to contribute $500 per bed they build the city’s housing fund.