City council voted Monday night against a bylaw that would have seen the Red Deer Native Friendship Centre Society build a cultural centre with attached low-income or affordable housing in Clearview North. The four-acre site is located just south of 67 St. and east of the Gaetz Sanctuary.
However, council also voted unanimously in favour of a motion to work with the Native Friendship Society to find a more suitable location in the City for the society’s plan. Administration was asked to come back to council with some suggestions in four months. Only Councillor Buck Buchanan voted in favour of the original bylaw. Councillor Cindy Jefferies was absent.
Area residents organized and opposed the higher density development, saying it would increase traffic and crime, and lower property values. Clearview resident Beverly McGinn said, “I’m very pleased … we’re not against that (the Native Friendship Society’s plan), it’s just that we weren’t told. It’s a big process and I’m glad it’s over.”
Tanya Schur, executive director of the Red Deer Native Friendship Society said, “I think it’s the beginning of a project that will bring our community together, where our housing and culture will be celebrated in Red Deer. We are, of course, disappointed about that four acres of land. We’ve waited a long time, a very long time, to see our culture celebrated and this is the beginning of that. I was very pleased to hear council make this a priority with a deadline. That’s what we’ve been waiting for. We’ve been talking about this since 2008 – this is a step in the right direction.”
Mayor Morris Flewwelling said while the City tried hard to make the project happen, he expressed the feelings of most councillors when he said they couldn’t go against the wishes of the public.
Councillor Dianne Wyntjes added she was disappointed they weren’t able to make the project work. “But my heart tells me that at the end of the day we’ll be better off. If we’d passed the bylaw perhaps it would have been very challenging for the Native Friendship Society and we don’t wish that on any group going into a new community.”
Councillor Lynne Mulder added she was happy with the decision that was ultimately made.
“I think it was evident that all of us here put a tremendous amount of thought into it. We did a lot of reading, a lot of listening and I think we made the right decision. I think the Clearview Ridge citizens felt heard and I’m hoping that the aboriginal people do too and see that we want this project to succeed. It wasn’t the right site or the right time and I believe we would have set it up to fail. We would have had a divisive neighbourhood before it even started. When you’re looking at a project like that you want the very best for the community. I’m pleased we put it to bed for now and I look forward to working on a new aboriginal property site.”
Council’s decision leaves the land involved in a bit of limbo. The City received the land from the province in 2011 with the restriction that it be used for affordable housing for at least 15 years, but now it goes back to it’s original zoning for single family and multiple housing. City Manager Craig Curtis says the City will approach the province for possible solutions and perhaps do a land swap.
Council faced determined opposition from area residents over the proposal for the cultural centre and affordable housing. Dozens of residents were in City council chambers on Monday night to see how council would respond to their many letters, e-mails and petitions. Even more turned out for a meeting about the plan at the Sheraton Hotel two weeks ago.