There wasn’t a seat to be had in Council Chambers Monday night as community members were there to weigh in on the proposed rezoning of a site on Riverside Dr. to allow for a new Native Friendship Centre and housing development.
Red Deer City council unanimously approved the rezoning of a 3.5 acre site adjacent to the Lion’s Campground to allow for the development.
The Red Deer Native Friendship Centre Society is proposing to develop a cultural centre with attached housing for low-income residents. It would also be available for individuals coming out for substance abuse rehabilitation.
The proposed Native Friendship Centre would see a 16-unit housing development during the first phase and the second phase would be the development of a cultural centre.
City administration spent 28 weeks looking at more than 20 possible sites around the City including Red Deer College and Fort Normandeau after an initial application to locate the development in Clearview Ridge was turned down by council last fall.
The site along Riverside Dr. was unanimously chosen by the task force as the one to move forward with.
“This does not mean there wasn’t some challenges to consider along the way. Given its proximity to the river, we had two studies done to confirm that the 3.5 acre parcel is not in the floodway or fringe or affected by the 2005 flood which was above the one in 100-year flood level,” said Lisa Perkins, the City’s director of corporate transformation.
“We considered the possibility of the removal of 19 tenting sites (at the Lion’s Campground) when the cultural centre is developed, but we understand the City will look at alternatives for camping in the City that meet community needs.”
Tanya Schur, executive director for the Red Deer Native Friendship Society said the centre is needed in the community.
“I’ve heard a lot of things and a lot of concerns over the last three weeks. It’s been a tough haul. I’ve heard those concerns and make no mistake, we think about the seventh generation and we think about flooding. We think maybe more than many other developers about the trees and the life that they have had,” she said. “I don’t know if this is the best site for our project. I know we need a site where the river and the land and the trees can be apart of how we live together. I know that Red Deer has an affordable housing crisis. I know that our population is growing. I know this is needed.”
Brian Rypstra, owner of The Framing Nook had concerns about not only the potential for flooding on the site, but also potential effects to his business as well.
“I too am very concerned about the flooding. When it flooded (in 2005), we were across the street right on this site and even though technically engineers can say that it is not on the flood plain, it was both soaking wet and the whole complete area and the neighbourhood was totally under evacuation.”
He added he said he has concerns as a property owner in proximity to the site.
“We have a retail business and we have customers coming in and out. That is my livelihood. I depend on that income and if any type of rezoning affects our business I would be hurt by it, my family would be hurt by it,” he said. “I am really concerned about loitering, not because it is native, but because it’s residential. We are in a light industrial area which means there is no one around in the evenings and at night. To put residents right close to it is almost like changing our zoning. I’m concerned about vandalism. I think residential areas kind of self-govern themselves because there are all sorts of people living in the area when there is loitering or vandalism — people can control that. I’d like to ask council how they are going to protect businesses across the street from loitering and vandalism.”
Teddy Anderson, who worked as a youth worker for the Native Friendship Society for six months said this facility is needed.
“During my six months there I met 60 youth – some aboriginal, some non-aboriginal. The stories they come in with are harsh to the point where my mouth drops open and I ask how do you wake up every day? How do you eat? How do you not have depression? How do you not struggle?” he said. “I was hearing some of the presentations about parkland and the walkways – all valid points I think. But when you compare that to the struggle of a youth, a person who has to go to school and be harassed just because of the colour of their skin, where they come from.
“What I see is not the trees, the water, the teepee that might go up – it’s the faces of these youth beaming with brightness because when they come into this centre and they’re dancing and singing their songs and talking their own language, they change, they become completely different people.”
City council unanimously approved the rezoning of the site to allow for the Native Friendship Centre. Society officials will now move forward with building permits and design.