City council voted against amending a land use bylaw that would have allowed for a temporary warming centre to open at 4934 – 54th Ave. for the next two winters.
Only Mayor Tara Veer and Councillor Lynne Mulder supported the amendment during Monday night’s regular meeting.
“The rezoning application was defeated, and that was certainly the will of council to do that in response to some of the public concerns that were raised,” said Veer following the meeting.
“Council had given a direction to administration that they want a temporary warming centre in order to address the concerns that have been identified for our vulnerable citizens during winter months,” said Veer. Administration had gone through a rigorous exercise identifying potential locations in order to meet the needs of the service providers, she added.
“The recommendation that came forward tonight about the location in Railyards was administration’s favoured recommendation, and what they ultimately said was the only choice at that point.”
With council’s decision Monday, Veer said there is now no clear parameters around where the warming centre will be. “I think administration will likely regroup and revisit some of the other locations that were proposed a few months ago and will likely come forward with another option,” that would be suitable for service providers and also pass the “litmus test” of public acceptability, she said.
Depending on the potential alternative locations that come forward, some may come forward for rezoning and others could be allowed as is.
“My preference is that ultimately it would come forward for rezoning because I think that’s a more transparent public process and it would allow the public to have their say.”
City council had given first reading to a Land Use Bylaw amendment that would allow for a temporary warming centre operated by a contracted agency for the next two winters at the aforementioned location.
The amendment request was temporary in nature as the City continued to work with other community agencies and stakeholders on a long-term solution.
An amendment would have permitted a daytime seasonal warming centre at the site. The former Parks building site – located in the Railyards District in the Greater Downtown Area Plan – was chosen after reviewing a number of other sites based on criteria developed following a review of the 2014-2015 warming centre.
Council had heard in a previous meeting that the proposed location would not diminish the long-term vision for the Railyards District in the Greater Downtown Action Plan. But several business owners in the area voiced their concerns about a growing number of homeless people in the area.
Trespassing, loitering, intimidation to clients and incidence of vandalism were brought forward of examples of why the location was a poor choice, as well as the point that the location was not sustainable. It was also questioned how the warming centre fit with the general vision put forward for the area under the Greater Downtown Action Plan and for the Railyards in general, which is hoped to be a commercial/residential area in future years.
On the other hand, one supporter wrote that, “The warming centre needs to be close to the services that are provided so people aren’t forced to walk long distances in the severe weather.
“The Parks building in Railyards is better than in the core of downtown or a residential area.”
Several members of council agreed they weren’t comfortable with the location of the site, and were also concerned about what some of the feedback from the business community in particular was expressing.
“As a councillor, I think it’s my responsibility to listen to both sides of the debate,” said Councillor Tanya Handley. “And I’ve heard major feedback from the businesses in that area – not just from those in disagreement tonight, but from calls, emails and letters outside of this public hearing which I’m also considering.
“I’m not debating at all that we need a warming centre – that concept is not vague in my mind. It’s all strictly about this location.”
Councillor Frank Wong said he felt the old RCMP building, across the street from the downtown branch of the Red Deer Public Library, would be an ideal location for a warming centre. But council was told there were too many expenses involved.
“I know that when it was looked into, it was cost prohibitive on the capital front,” said Veer, referring to several upgrades that would be necessary for the facility.