Kelowna city council has approved a rezoning application that will allow a controversial supportive housing project to be built in a residential neighbourhood in the Midtown area of the city.
The rezoning for the the proposed 52-unit building on Agassiz Road was unanimously approved by council in an 8-0 vote in the early hours of Friday morning after a 6 ½-hour public hearing.
The hearing, one of the largest at city hall in years, saw more the 200 people pack the council chambers, many of them sporting “No” signs. With 67 people speaking, 34 urged council to reject the rezoning application by B.C. Housing, which will build the facility.
The opposition was based on the fact the building will allow resident to use drugs on-site as it will be considered a harm-reduction facility. The project, will use the housing-first model to get the homeless off the street. As some are dealing with addiction and mental health issues, support services will also be available, as well as on-site security and trained staff to help residents, said Ann Howard of B.C. Housing.
“Clearly this is not a popular decision with some,” said Mayor Colin Basran following the council vote. “But in my heart I know it’s the right decision to move out city along.”
After hearing repeated concerns by opponents, many whom are seniors who live in the immediate area around the proposed site at 2025 Agassiz Road, each councillor said they supporting the project because of the need for supportive housing in the city.
The residents said they were concerned for their safety if the project proceeded as a harm reduction facility. They also said they fear drug dealers will show up in the area and their property values will diminish. They said a harm reduction facility should not be placed in a residential area populated by 600 seniors.
There were protests about the proposed facility prior to Thursday nights public hearing.
“I heard genuine fear,” said Coun. Gail Given, following the public hearing.
Despite that, she said she voted for the rezoning because there is a need in the city for the type of housing the facility will offer.
And Given, like several of her council colleagues, urged area residents to give the building, and those who will live there, a chance to show they will be good neighbours.
Following the vote, Richard Taylor, president of the newly formed Ambrosi Neighbourhood Association, which represents residents in the Agassiz Road area, said his group will take the city to court over the issue and will immediately seek an injunction to stop the housing plan from proceeding.
The association contends there was a covenant placed on the property by the previous owner that limits the height of future buildings to two stories. It claims the city did not reveal that to B.C. Housing when it purchased the property.
The building proposed by B.C. Housing would be four stories tall, similar to other condo buildings in the area.
But city clerk Stephen Fleming said there is no covenant registered on the title of the property and city hall is not aware of any building height restriction.
Pending any legal action that would delay the project, city staff will prepare a development permit for the project and the province will be asked to comment given the site is within the required distance from a provincial highway.
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