Lower Sapperton residents are concerned about parking and process issues related to the Elizabeth Fry Society's controversial rezoning application, but council supports the project because of the social benefits it will offer the community as a whole.
Thirty-one people addressed city council during Monday night's four-hour public hearing about the rezoning application for 273 and 275 Sherbrooke St. Council later gave third reading to the rezoning bylaw, with only Coun. Betty McIntosh opposed.
The Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver will construct a building at the site that includes a three-storey component (a multipurpose space would be on the ground floor and the society's offices would be on the second and third floors), and a two-storey component that includes 10 units of independent long-term, non-market housing for women and women with children.
Residents expressed fear that the project would lead to more institutional development along Sherbrooke Street and provides inadequate parking.
In addition to creating eight spaces for the society's existing blue building at 401 East Columbia St., the under-ground parking at the new development would include five spaces for the new multipurpose room and nine spots for administration. No spaces are designated for residents or visitors to the site.
"We felt the estimated demand is equal to supply at 22 stalls," said Tim Barton, a transportation planner with Bunt & Associates Engineering Ltd. He said those spots were viewed as being acceptable because of the site's proximity to rapid transit, the provision of co-op vehicles in the area, and the low incomes of the homes' occupants mean they wouldn't be able to afford cars and their visitor are less likely to have cars.
Area resident Ken Grekul believes the proposed parking is insufficient to accommodate the needs of the multipurpose space, which could accommodate uses like a community meeting space, child care, summer camps and office space.
Resident Catherine Cartwright expressed concern about the society's "chameleon approach" to the project, noting that the plans keep changing.
Shawn Bayes, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society, said the society has consistently compromised in an attempt to address residents' issues. As far as compromise, she said the only option that seems acceptable to residents is to "get out of the our neighbourhood and go somewhere else."
Showing various architectural renderings of the project, Bayes said the projects cost has increased substantively as changes have been made to the plan. She said the society has continued to work on the plan because the housing will help improve women's lives.
Several representatives from social service agencies in New Westminster, including Monarch Place/Chrysalis Place, the Seniors Services Society, the Salvation Army, the Union Gospel Mission and the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, supported the project.
"We desperately need the housing for the women," said Karen O'Shannacery, executive director of the Lookout Emergency Aid Society. "Lookout has very few units available for women. We are turning women away because we don't have resources in our housing."
O'Shannacery said Lookout has 87 units of housing in New Westminster and has no parking for any of them. She said the society needed one stall for a temporary time and said it's "extremely unlikely" women living at the Elizabeth Fry development would need parking.
Capt. Dave Macpherson said the Salvation Army's experience has shown that new facilities may cause concern when being planned, but they are well received once they're built if they're planned well.
"Leadership is making the right choice when it is not the popular choice," he said. "I encourage you to do that tonight."
A Garfield Street resident said McPherson touched on the main issue when he said the facilities are assets when they're well planned.
"We just don't feel like this process has been a well-planned, well-communicated, well-rolled-out process," she said.
The woman said area residents have voiced rational concerns, some of which relate to the consistently changing nature of the plan. "This meeting it's this plan, this meeting it's another plan," she said.
Several area residents suggested the city should work with the society to find a more suitable site for the development on Columbia Street.
Monica Hardjowasito, a member of the McBride-Sapperton Residents' Association's executive, said the association has several concerns about the process. She said the development seems to change from "week to week, moment to moment," which causes concerns.
Resident Janet Dorsett said the process has been "extremely frustrating" for area residents, as they don't understand how council can vote on the project when residents have so many questions. She noted that the information about whether a daycare centre will be provided in the development changes constantly.
"First it was on the table, then it was off the table," she said. "Then tonight we find out it is on the table again."
Douglas Dorsett said the lack of questions posed by council has contributed to the divisiveness in the community and is to blame for the relationship area residents have with the Elizabeth Fry Society at this time. While the society does "outstanding" work, he said council has created an "us-against-them" feeling by not asking questions about parking, daycare and other issues related to the proposal.
During the official community plan amendment process, a daycare was proposed. The society then dropped the building by one storey and indicated that daycare may not proceed immediately, but would remain a permitted use in the building.
Justine Patterson, the society's clinical director of family counselling and addiction services, said the society hopes to provide a 37-space daycare that would operate seven days a week. She said the need for daycare is on the rise, and the need for nontradi-tional hours would serve the needs of staff at Royal Columbian hospital and TransLink (which is opening at the Brewery District)
Bayes said the society will determine whether daycare is viable further into the process.
She said community care licensing has provided preliminary approval for outdoor play space that would be located on the roof of the building and secondary play space at the nearby park, if an appropriate supervision plan is provided.
"The community is feeling that council hasn't heard them," said McIntosh, stressing she is not "the enemy" because she couldn't support the rezoning as it stands.
McIntosh said she doesn't believe that 22 parking spots are enough for the development.
Coun. Jonathan Cote said the process has been difficult for the applicant, the neighbourhood and city staff, so he hopes the city can learn from this process so future processes aren't so polarizing in the community.
While residents have concerns that this would lead to future institutional development along Sherbrooke Street, Cote views this as an isolated proposal.
A father of three young children, Cote said he contemplated whether this is an area he would be prepared to raise his family and concluded he would love to live there.
Coun. Bill Harper said the proposal may appear to be changing, but from council's perspective, the uses in the building have remained consistent.
"To city council, nothing has changed," he said. "You could put that daycare in six months from now, three years from now or tomorrow."
Harper said he believes that the type of institutional uses that residents fear will take place on Sherbrooke Street will actually be built at the Brewery District development.
He said council's role is to weigh the pros and cons and consider what's in the best interest of the city, and he believes the project is beneficial for the whole community.
Given that Sapperton is a neighbourhood that could potentially see a major expansion to Royal Columbian Hospital and more traffic from a six-lane Pattullo Bridge, Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said he couldn't "quite understand why this one has risen to the top of the agenda" and generated so much concern.
He noted that a house on the site that will be developed has housed up to 15 men in a recovery facility in the past.