Mayor bidding to ban homeless shelter from downtown Courtenay
City of Courtenay staff will look into land uses in the downtown core after a resolution was brought forward to ensure homeless shelters are not permitted.
Mayor Larry Jangula brought forward a resolution to Monday's council meeting: "That staff be directed to initiate the amendment of the Commercial One Zone (C-1) to ensure homeless shelters are not a permitted use within this zone."
Rather than voting on this resolution, council passed a motion to direct city staff to prepare a report to council regarding C-1 zoning, including an analysis of the zone and permitted uses and definitions. Couns. Ronna-Rae Leonard and Doug Hillian were opposed.
According to City director of planning Peter Crawford, the C-1 zone reaches from the Courtenay River to the Fitzgerald Avenue area, and from 10th Street over to the Fourth and Third Street area.
The land bought by the Comox Valley Regional District for emergency shelter/supportive housing purposes in 2010 — located at 10th Street and Cliffe Avenue — lies within this zone.
CVRD corporate legislative officer James Warren confirmed the CVRD researched zoning uses for this site before the land was purchased for $470,000, and it was determined appropriate for emergency shelter/supportive housing purposes.
Further, according to the CVRD's website, the site was not only considered appropriately zoned for this use, the zoning was a "supporting factor in the selection of this property."
Crawford noted the C-1 zone allows for a variety of uses, including community service which he defined as "providing adult daycare, providing referral, counselling, or physical or mental health services, (and) it allows a drop-in or activity space — that is a community service."
A Commercial One Zone also allows a facility for adults with a disability.
Coun. Starr Winchester asked Crawford if C-1 zoning allows for a homeless shelter, but he couldn't say without a project proposal from the CVRD.
But the CVRD is waiting on the City before making any decisions about the site. Although the CVRD had entered discussions on a possible Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with BC Housing — which would fund construction and choose an operator — in August, things were put on hold when the previous Courtenay council narrowly approved a motion directing staff to to issue a request for proposal for an alternate site for a homeless shelter in October.
City director of legislative services John Ward confirmed this process is now finished, and while some sites had potential, the city does not have funding to purchase a property. As far as he knew, there was not funding to purchase an alternate property at the start of the process either.
At Monday's meeting, Jangula said he brought the resolution to restrict homeless shelters from the downtown core zone because people, including business owners, have come to him with concerns.
"My recommendation for doing this is to protect the businesses in the downtown that were concerned and came and talked to me," Jangula said, adding these business owners pay a large share of Courtenay taxes.
"We had jeopardized the livelihood of a whole bunch of businesses in this area, and I don't want us to just make a snap decision and say 'oh lets move it a block away and then start the whole process there again.'"
Coun. Bill Anglin moved the motion for a report from city staff regarding permitted uses in a C-1 zone because he wants clarity.
"There's nothing in our bylaw that currently says homeless shelters,"Anglin said. "The subjective definition of what is community care, what is community service, what's adult daycare, are all questions that we need answered before we can make a rational final decision."
Coun. Jon Ambler agreed a report was necessary before he made any kind of decision.
"I really have no idea the impact of this because I'm not a planner," said Ambler. "We could easily take something and make a horrendous mistake."
Hillian expressed concern over council's direction on the issue: "I see looking at zoning as an attempt to deal with controversy over one piece of property as, perhaps, an over-response."
Anglin then said a shelter is a "band-aid" and noted rising use rates of the Salvation Army's emergency shelter, Pidcock House, mean that people are not being moved into permanent homes.
"If we want to spend time energy and focus, where we need to spend it is on solutions that actually get people homes," said Anglin. "An emergency shelter by anyone's definition is exactly that — it's for an emergency."
Winchester agreed council should focus on helping organizations like Dawn to Dawn and Habitat for Humanity to deal with the issue of homelessness. A development permit for a Habitat project in Courtenay will come before council Monday.
Hillian suggested the site at 10th Street and Cliffe Avenue could be used for supportive housing, office space and a day centre, noting there is nowhere for the homeless to go during the day in Courtenay, even during inclement weather.
Jangula noted he is not saying no to a homeless shelter in Courtenay.
"I'm just suggesting that we should look at where it is not OK," he said, adding "I realize that wherever a facility like this is going to be built there's going to be some push back."
Leonard questioned where a shelter could go.
"It all boils down to the question, if not here where… We have had people dying on our streets and I know it's dramatic but the fact is that we have," she said, noting examples like a past military doctor, and Big Rick. "And on and on list goes, and these are people who are part of our community. We can't squeeze them out. If we're going to focus on the C-1 then we're squeezing them out of one area — where to then?"