Courtenay clarifies what can exist in downtown core for homeless

The City of Courtenay has defined what is and is not permitted in its downtown core zoning with regards to a shelter or housing for Courtenay's homeless.

According to a City staff report, "an emergency shelter (or any residential units above counselling or other social services) would not be permitted in the C-1 (Commercial One) zone."

However, Courtenay senior planner Ian Buck, specified housing can be located above a commercial business or some place where commercial transactions happen.

"If there was some sort of commercial business on the ground floor, supportive or transitional housing could be located on the second storey within the Commercial One Zone — but not if it's a social-type not-for-profit sort of use under those definitions," he explained. "I would say that's a rather conservative approach to it, but do believe that, you know, if push comes to shove and there were a challenge, that's how the courts would look at that type of use."

The C-1 zone stretches from the Courtenay River/Cliffe Avenue area to the Fitzgerald Avenue/Harmston Avenue area, and from 10th/11th Street over to Fourth/Third Street.

Land bought by the Comox Valley Regional District for emergency shelter/supportive housing purposes, located at 10th Street and Cliffe Avenue, lies within this zone.

Coun. Doug Hillian pointed out the definition still permits some sort of facility for homeless in the downtown core.

"Somebody could easily come forward with a proposal for a facility that involves say, a laundry, a coffee shop, some office space on a ground floor with a shelter and supportive housing combination on the upper floors," he said.

Buck confirmed an option like this would be possible.

He also noted the Pidcock House — which is located at 632 Pidcock Ave. and is not in the C-1 zone — has a site specific zoning provision and this method should be followed for any future projects in the downtown core.

"We believe a similar approach should be taken rather than just blanket rezoning the whole downtown area in the Commercial One Zone to permit those uses, and that would enable, through that process, public participation and exercise some negotiation on our behalf of the staff of the City in ensuring a good project is put forward," he said.

The staff report also outlined definitions:

• Emergency shelter provides temporary/short term stay overnight, accommodation, food, and other services to people who are homeless

• Transitional housing provides limited term housing (up to three years) with support to enable people to live independently

• Supportive housing provides permanent affordable housing and supports to enable people to live independently

• Affordable housing provides permanent housing for families and individuals who do not have sufficient income to afford market rent.

Coun. Jon Ambler welcomed the clarification of the permitted uses within the Commercial One Zone, as well as the definition of the terms.

"One person says emergency shelter, another says supportive housing and somebody says a homeless shelter — they all think they're talking about the same thing, they all think they're talking about different things and that lack of clarity has hamstrung us in numerous debates and discussions," Ambler said.

Coun. Ronna-Rae Leonard said she was troubled by council's direction on the issue of a homeless shelter downtown and said the definitions create barriers.

"Our city has a growing housing emergency. The current shelter (Pidcock House) has had a steady increase in usage since 2007 to the tune of a 74-per-cent increase, and in fact, I've just been told that it has been full every day and has had to turn 21 people away this month alone, and it's only June 11," said Leonard, noting Pidcock is facing funding issues.

She added the CVRD purchased the land at Cliffe Avenue and 10th Street (800 block of Cliffe Ave.) because the zoning was determined appropriate for emergency shelter/supportive housing purposes.

"The original consultant's report on the site when it was being chosen suggested that City staff had indicated that the land was appropriately zoned," she said.

Coun. Bill Anglin pointed out council asked for clarity — council passed a motion to have staff complete the report in a split vote in May — and clarity was brought back in the report.

He said municipalities are responsible for land use and this site should be like any other site that would have to go through public process to be rezoned.

He also said the biggest problem with the proposed project was that it was "not seen to be the best use of money." He suggested Courtenay focus on where people can live on a more long-term basis than an emergency shelter, noting the proposed shelter would offer between 10 and 12 more beds to the community.

"If you don't have some place to move the people to, you could build a shelter that has 400 beds," said Anglin, adding the problem wouldn't be solved.

Coun. Starr Winchester said the clarity of the definitions will help council move forward with the issue, and noted she wants to help the Pidcock House find some funding.

Council officially received the report and endorsed the definitions with Couns. Leonard and Hillian opposed. Mayor Larry Jangula was absent.

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