A controversial proposal to build a supportive housing project in Rutland for men recovering from alcohol and drug addiction has been approved by the city.
The approval, in a 6-3 vote by Kelowna city council, came late Tuesday night after a lengthy and emotional public hearing that saw close to 300 people pack council chambers and spill out into the lobby at city hall.
“I am prepared to lose votes. I am prepared to lose friends, because I believe (this is) what’s best for our community,” said Mayor Colin Basran as he cast his vote in favour of rezoning land for the facility at the corner of Rutland Road and McCurdy Road.
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“I will stand up for that and I will look anyone in the eye in regards to that because that is what’s best for our community.”
During the four-hour public hearing on the Freedom’s Door proposal to build a 49-unit apartment building with two commercial units included at the corner of Rutland Road and McCurdy Road, 35 people, mostly residents of the area, urged council to reject the proposal. Many said it was in the wrong location, the area is primarily residential, it is too close to schools, there are no amenities and services nearby, it would be too big and would would add more traffic to an already busy intersection.
The public hearing came after months of opposition to the project, with the city receiving many letters and petitions from opponents.
Those opposed Tuesday night said the services that would be offered by the facility are needed in the city—just not in their neighbourhood.
Many who opposed the development also took direct aim at the Freedom’s Door program and the men who will live at the building.
But Tom Smithwick, a member of the Freedom’s Door board tried to ease those concerns, saying the abstinence program his organization uses has been proven to work, the men in the program all have a desire to stay away from drugs and alcohol, they would be graduates of the recovery program, the facility would be second-stage house not rehab and there would be round-the-clock supervision.
During the public hearing, 35 people spoke against rezoning the property, while 25 spoke in favour, including several recovered addicts that have gone through the Freedom’s Door program. They talked about how it turned their lives round..
The decision council was faced with also brought out emotion among the councillors.
Luke Stack read a letter from one resident that he said directly challenged him on the issue.
“If you can look me in the eye and say you’re OK with this building in the path of your children and grandchildren, then go a head and pass it,” he read.
“I can honestly say I can look this woman in the eye and say I am OK with this,” said Stack.
Other councillors, like Gail Given, Ryan Donn, Maxine DeHart and Tracy Gray said they believed Freedom House would be part of the solution to helping recovering addicts, not part of the problem.
And even the three councillors who voted against the rezoning and OCP amendment praised the work of Freedom’s Door.
But Councillors Charlie Hodge, Brad Seiben and Mohini Singh all said they could not support the project based on its size.
Hodge, who spoke of his own recovery from addiction, said he would prefer to see a smaller facility, similar to the other ones Freedom’s Door already operates in other parts of the city.
He said he lives on the same street as four houses Freedom’s Door operates as recovery facilities with a total of 40 men living in them. There are no problems with the facilities in his neighbourhood, he said.
Seiben, upset following the vote, said it was one of the hardest decision he has had to make as a councillor.
Some of the strongest support for the project during the public hearing came from people who said they were vehemently opposed to another controversial recovery housing project in the city, the Cardington Apartments on St. Paul Street downtown.
When that proposal by the John Howard Society was put to
to council more than 10 years ago, there was also public outcry.
But some of the most outspoken opponents of that proposal spoke in favour of the Freedom’s Door plan, saying their fears turned out to be unfounded.