In what was a spirited City Council meeting on Tuesday night that saw one member of the public removed from the gallery, Quesnel Council gave first reading to a zoning amendment that would allow BC Housing to move the homeless shelter into the Ramada Inn on St. Laurent Avenue.
Mayor Bob Simpson was quick to point out that this did not represent Council’s decision on the proposal.
“First reading is simply putting the development on the table for public consultation, discussion and debate, and allowing the public to speak to Council about that development.
Council doesn’t start locking in a path forward for any development, public or private, until second reading and in particular, third reading. Second and third reading will not occur until the public consultation process has finished, and we’ve had a public hearing in this room.”
Simpson warned Council that not giving at least first reading could impact Council’s ability to deal with things like encampments that have been set up along the Riverfront Trail.
“If you are listening to the news at all, one of the issues that local governments have is that if there is insufficient adequate housing the courts are ruling in favour of the individuals squatting and setting up tents, and setting up encampments wherever they want to. The courts are making decisions about the adequacy of the housing, and the sufficiency of the supply.
Simpson said court rulings are not going in favour of local governments, they’re going in favour of individuals who are setting up encampments throughout communities.
The Mayor also noted that many people in the community think Council should just go in and take them down, which is when the meeting had to be stopped momentarily until one member of the gallery, who was letting his feelings known out loud, would leave.
The vote on the zoning amendment was not unanimous, as Councillor Tony Goulet was opposed.
“I was asking if there is going to be an explanation on the four other sites that were looked at. This was the 5th site that came during that process, so just curious to see what those other four sites were, and what they looked like as well, so lack of information for me on those other four sites.”
Director of Development Services Tanya Turner noted that the proposed site is approximately three times the size of the current shelter site with significantly more outdoor space.
“This outdoor space is almost completely bounded by the three buildings on the site, and provides more than 45 hotel rooms and common spaces, as well as landscaping and fencing. These are thought as beneficial in that they will move individuals from shelter type living, where they stay in the shelter overnight, to permanent housing facilities.”
Turner added that BC Housing has problems with the location of the current site at the corner of Highway 97.
She said if the Remada Inn were rezoned, the zoning for an emergency shelter at the current site on Carson Avenue would then be removed.
Turner said that the city also has a commitment from BC Housing that the Remada Inn would replace the current site, and spaces currently being used at the Grace Inn.
BC Housing’s public consultation period was also released at the meeting.
Online feedback is now open, and stakeholder meetings will take place between now and August 29th.
Councillor Ron Paull expressed concern over those dates.
“The public consultation process being conducted by BC Housing is completely within the summer break period. I would be in favour of asking, or actually demanding that BC Housing extend that public consultation process into early September, so that we get people back from holidays and we’ve got school back in, and people can really address this seriously.”
Mayor Simpson said Council could determine the sufficiency of the public consultation at the time of the public hearing, and require the proponent to go back out again if need be, which he said was something that they had done that in the past.
Council set the public hearing date for September 13th in Council Chambers at 6 p.m.
BC Housing will present Council with the results of its public consultation at its next meeting on September 6th.