By Letter to the Editor on April 30, 2021.
Editor: Last month’s decision by Lethbridge City Council to reject the Mustard Seed’s application to allow the approval of a sober drop-in centre and soup kitchen on 13th Street and 1st Avenue South demonstrated two things:
One, the development-approvals process (under our land use bylaw) worked as it is supposed to work;
and two, this development-approvals system has significant shortcomings at least when it comes to controversial developments like this.
Â Lethbridge has a serious problem with how it presents development proposals to the community.
This needs to be fixed.
Unless we do so, we will continue to divide our community, continue to alienate business owners, and continue to fall behind in providing necessary services to disadvantaged or vulnerable residents.
Â We have seen this recently in different locations, but mostly in or near the downtown.
All have prompted significant opposition from some residents. Most have made adjacent business owners feel trapped; social-services developments which are intended to help vulnerable residents have put business owners in the no-win position of risking their life’s work and livelihood (if they don’t oppose the development), or risking being vilified as uncaring and selfish (if they do oppose it).
Many business owners are – rightly – angered at being put in that position, because in fact they can and do care deeply about their business and still care about their community and its vulnerable residents.
Â Unfortunately our approach to our development-approval process leads consistently to the same outcome: the loudest negative voices force the abandonment of the project without a path forward to the needed solutions being found, and Lethbridge suffers.
Each time, “it’s like dÃ©jÃ vu all over again,” in the words of the ever-quotable Yogi Berra.
Yogi also said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.” The quote speaks to the dangers of not having a plan or roadmap, and having to accept where you arrive at without one.
Lethbridge continues to “wind up someplace else”, to our detriment.
As a growing city of 100,000 people, we will continue to face the problems that small cities face if we do not have necessary resources and facilities to help us deal with them effectively.
At the same time, we very much need our business community and citizenry to feel safe and supported.
Â I’m committed to fixing this problem. It will require a lot of collaborative work and some measure of courage from council. Whether the recently-approved task force (under the Community Wellbeing and Safety Strategy) will have any impact on this process remains to be seen – and could take some time.
Until then, we will need to dedicate ourselves to having more proactive discussions with our community leaders and those who are directly impacted by a development.
It will require us to get buy-in from stakeholders, especially business owners and nearby residents.
This effort will not (and cannot) supplant the development-approvals process, but it will allow the development system to function more responsively to our community’s needs.
Â Like most changes in governance, success here will happen in a series of small steps, but it is achievable.
Our city needs essential services and facilities for our marginalised populations, and they have to be accessible to those in need. We cannot hide our heads in the sand on this.
Equally important, the livelihoods of our business owners and their employees must also be protected.
We can and must do both. The approval of necessary developments like these must start with that goal in mind, and we need to work with developers and stakeholders to find the path that gets us to that goal. And we need to bring the community along in those conversations.