By Wawmeesh G. Hamilton - Alberni Valley News
Published: January 31, 2013 5:00 PM
Updated: January 31, 2013 5:58 PM
The Society overseeing construction of a new shelter on Eighth Avenue is reaching out to neighbours who are opposed to the plan by drafting a “good neighbour” agreement. It is just one step in moving forward to making the shelter a reality, Port Alberni Shelter Society spokesperson Myron Jespersen told city councillors last week.
The society commissioned geotechnical and environmental surveys, both of which find that the Eighth Avenue location is suitable for a new shelter, Jespersen said. As well, meetings are scheduled with the project architect, Victoria’s Jensen Group, who will work on concepts that will shape a schematic design and site plan. The documents will be used in subsequent community consultation sessions, which Jespersen estimates will get off the ground in four to five weeks, he said. Afterward, a final agreement and design will be crafted and used as components of a package that will be sent to potential funders such as BC Housing, whom they’ve had cursory discussions with, Jespersen said.
The shelter will cost about $8 million to build. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” he said. A key part of the project is crafting and completing a “good neighbour” agreement, something Jespersen just started working on. Jespersen said he’s already talked to some neighbours, and is willing to work with anyone who wants to participate in creating a rough draft of the document that can be refined through further public consultation, he said.
The process isn’t new: “It was done with other projects, like the Roger Street apartments,” he said. The shelter society has had access to the land, which Vancouver Island Health Authority owns, for planning purposes but there is more work to be done before the health authority gives final approval, VIHA spokesperson Val Wilson said. “We have not yet approved a long-term agreement to provide the site to the society, and the agreement would require VIHA board and Ministry of Health approval,” Wilson said.
However, the society has a memorandum of understanding with VIHA, Jespersen said. “It basically approves of our intention to build a new shelter on the land and commits to proceeding toward a final agreement,” Jespersen said. “The MOU is what triggered us to proceed with the plan.” While Jespersen said progress is being made with neighbouring residents, some feel the shelter still overshadows their concerns. “No one considers what the people in our neighbourhood have to deal with,” said Lesley Silverstone, whose Eighth Avenue house will face the front door of the proposed shelter. More than 150 residents have outlined concerns dealing with drug use and selling, theft and property invasion which stems from some shelter residents, Silverstone said.
Also a concern to residents is the number of social services wedged into the area. “There’s the Salvation Army, several group homes, Service BC, seniors facilities and an elementary school loaded into the area,” Silverstone said. “No place else in the city carries that kind of load. ”Silverstone has raised her concerns with VIHA and with city officials and intends to keep the heat on them by sending letters of concern about the development from more than 150 residents. “We’re asking them to reconsider their decision,” she said after making a presentation to council on Monday (Jan. 28).
Residents may have little recourse and a new shelter may be a forgone conclusion, City Manager Ken Watson said in December. The land the shelter wants for a new facility is owned by VIHA, not the city., Watson said. The site is already properly zoned, therefore no public process is required.
City councillors already approved the plan shelter officials brought to them. All that remains is a building permit application, Watson said. Coun. Cindy Solda gave a notice of motion to have the city facilitate a meeting between the society and the neighbourhood residents.