Councillor trio walks out of Courtenay chambers over homeless shelter issue

Three councillors walked out of the Courtenay council chambers Monday in frustration over the matter of the proposed homeless shelter being located on Cliffe Avenue.

Three councillors walked out of the Courtenay council chambers Monday in frustration over the matter of the proposed homeless shelter being located on Cliffe Avenue.Coun. Murray Presley had brought up a resolution to ask the Comox Valley Regional District to reopen the property search “for a more suitable site for the homeless shelter” during the July 4 council meeting. A decision was postponed until after councillors had participated in a tour of shelters in Nanaimo and Duncan so they could make a more informed decision.When the resolution came back to the council table Monday, Presley asked council to postpone a decision until the next council meeting, as Coun. Jon Ambler was absent.”The reason my original motion was deferred was to allow councillors and other interested parties to tour two facilities in Nanaimo and Duncan,” he said. “Coun. Ambler took the time to join the tour and visit both sites, and unfortunately he’s not here today, as he had family commitments in Calgary.”As this is a very important decision affecting our community, and as it’s very important that we all have input into a decision, I’m asking that we defer this motion to a next meeting when all the councillors can vote on this motion.”Mayor Greg Phelps thought the postponement was an improper motion, but it did stand.”I’m sorry I don’t think that’s proper procedurally because if somebody doesn’t attend the next meeting, all we can have is a rotating series of absentees and it will never get voted on,” said Phelps. “That sets a dangerous precedent for us. We’ve never done that with any of our other decisions.”Couns. Presley, Manno Theos and Jangula voted to postpone the motion, but it was defeated when Phelps and Couns. Ronna-Rae Leonard and Doug Hillian voted against postponement.”I cannot believe after all the times we have deferred items to accommodate other councillors, we will not do this for Coun. Ambler,” said Presley. “So after almost 15 years on council, this is the first I’ve had to take the decision of walking out in protest.”Jangula left council as well, and Theos soon followed. With only Leonard, Hillian and Phelps left, the meeting was adjourned before council got to any business on the agenda, as there was no quorum.Council has not deferred motions when councillors were absent, insisted Phelps.”Despite what’s been said here tonight, since I have been mayor, we have not deferred anything so that people can be present for a particular vote,” he said.The crowd spilled out of the council chambers, as councillors heard delegations for and against the Cliffe Avenue properties purchased for the homeless shelter.Roger Kishi from the Wachiay Friendship Centre, Anne Davis from the Comox Valley Transition Society and Brent Hobden from the Salvation Army spoke to council about the issue of housing and homelessness in the Comox Valley.All three were members of the previous regional district’s housing and homelessness standing committee.The standing committee was made up of diverse representation from various community organizations, plus elected officials.Through the discussions of the standing committee, Kishi understood that the process used to select the property that was purchased by the regional district is the practice when local elected governments are dealing with spending taxpayers’ money on properties, Kishi told council.”The standing committee endorsed the site for the property that’s been purchased for the homeless shelter, and a majority of the standing committee was very supportive of the measures that are being taken to address the issue of affordable housing and homelessness here in the Comox Valley because a lot of us feel we’ve done a lot of navel gazing and report writing and it’s time to move to action,” he said.Marty Barbaro, who participated in the shelter tour, and Vashti Lehrle, a Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association (DCBIA) board member, presented a petition signed by 1,100 people opposing the location of the homeless shelter to council, as well as a letter from the DCBIA requesting that an alternate site outside the downtown business area be found.The petition, which they explained was from concerned citizens, ratepayers, merchants, DCBIA members, commercial property owners, residents and Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce members, states that the signatories opposed the Cliffe Avenue address for the proposed development of a homeless shelter.”We are not opposed to the need of such a facility; we are opposed to the chosen site,” it states. “As Cliffe Avenue is the main route into our downtown Courtenay, with the intersection at 10th Street being an area of commerce, we request a more appropriate site for this project.”The letter from the DCBIA, dated March 10 and signed by former president Michael Smale, states that “after careful consideration and consultation with our membership, the Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association find(s) it necessary to advise the City of Courtenay that we do not support the city’s plan to locate a homeless shelter facility at the proposed location. Further, we do not support such a facility being located in the greater downtown Courtenay business area.”Barbaro and Lehrle also asked council to defer Presley’s original motion until all councillors were present.Council’s next meeting will be Aug. 2 at 4 p.m.writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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