July 20th, 2024

Public hearings postponed following marathon council meeting


By Lethbridge Herald on December 14, 2022.

Two public hearings into land use amendments, regarding the Castle Apartments and Halmrast Manor, requested by the Lethbridge Housing Authority will continue on Jan. 24 in council chambers at City Hall. Herald file photo

Al Beeber – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – abeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Two public hearings into land use amendments requested by the Lethbridge Housing Authority will continue on Jan. 24 in council chambers at City Hall.

The bylaw amendments regarding the Castle Apartments and Halmrast Manor seek to change classification of the properties from Downtown Commercial to Direct Control.

The purpose is to move certain uses from discretionary to permitted to allow LHA to offer 24-hour support services for residents.

At Halmrast, those supports would include an on-site social worker or community worker and security.

LHA CAO Robin James told the hearing it twice offered concierge services at Castle Apartments that were discontinued because of a lack of funding. The concierge model, her report to council stated, “has proven effective at keeping people housed when the right supports are in place.”

She also said the LHA, when doing intakes of “low acuity” homeless, only introduces one at a time to either housing units.

“We’re not taking the highly complex individuals into this property, we’re taking individuals who require light supports and assistance to remain in a recovered, healthy housed state,” said James of the Castle Apartments.

After two lengthy public hearings on Tuesday, council gave first reading to Bylaws 6390 and 6391 and will revisit them next month.

The time will allow council to hear more information about the amendments. Members of the public who didn’t make presentations Tuesday will be given opportunity to speak at the January hearings.

Both hearings prompted numerous responses from downtown businesses and residents concerned with the impact of changing the designation of the properties. The first alone lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours.

This vocal opposition came even after the LHA asked council to remove the terms “resource centre” and “shelter” as allowable uses, with the only change remaining being “supportive housing, unrestricted” as a permitted use.

Supportive housing, unrestricted, means, according to Bylaws 6390 and 6391 “development providing accommodation for residents and associated support programs meant to foster self-sufficiency. This use may include common kitchen and dining facilities, showers and bathrooms, training rooms, relaxation areas and laundry facilities as well as offices and accommodation for staff. Major child care and minor child care may be incorporated as an accessory use. Shelter, group home, boarding house, and medical and health facility (inpatient and outpatient) are separate uses.” Speakers expressed concern that direct control, even with those changes, would still allow the freedom to have uses that give them reason to oppose the amendments.

The bylaws contain lists of permitted and discretionary uses for the properties and a development officer can only approve a use that is listed. Additional unlisted uses can’t be added, requested or approved without going back to city council and requesting an amendment to either Direct Control bylaw, the City told The Herald Wednesday in response to a question.

Direct control districts, says the Municipal Government Act consultation workbook on Page 92, are special land use districts that can be designated in the land use bylaw.

“Direct control districts are typically used when a proposed development does not fit within the other land use districts in the land use bylaw or a development is unique,” states the MGA. 

“Council may use direct control districts when it wishes to have control over the development of the land or use of the buildings within an area,” the workbook adds.

During presentations, council heard a litany of complaints about drug use and criminal activity downtown from business operators who have long operated in the core.

One restaurant owner said staff have been stung by needles, that sex acts have been witnessed on baby changing tables in washrooms, and drug use happens in washrooms which he said are among the few that are open to the public downtown.

Another owner of a restaurant near the Castle Apartments said his business can’t take many more financial hits due to homeless issues.

Speakers talked about vandalism to vehicles and staff fears for their safety as one after another person used their allotted five minutes of time to express opposition to the amendments.

Needles, feces and discarded clothing along with break-ins were among the problems mentioned by speakers.

One lawyer stated the Bylaw 6390 amendment doesn’t comply with the Downtown Lethbridge Area Redevelopment Plan (DARP) and that a plan to address homelessness needs to be developed by the City and province. He added that Direct Control would allow the City to do whatever it wants to down the road.

This person said he couldn’t understand why a zoning change needs to be made so LHA can offer a concierge program at the facilities since it has already done so, a question also asked by councillor Nick Paladino.

One property owner said while the amendment may help LHA there is fall-out with residents not willing to follow the rules – those people simply leaving the properties to meet with their drug dealers at neighbouring properties, which he has experienced.

He said concentrating supportive housing for the homeless downtown is a mistake, one which benefits drug dealers.

He said in discussions about the homeless situation residents who pay taxes and are told to shut up are forgotten in the conversations. And he said people are tired of keeping their mouths shut.

One lawyer who has worked downtown since 2015 told the hearing nobody knows what the impact will be of changing the land use bylaws. He said he’s a strong believer in downtown and his response to the hardships in the city’s core has been to invest in it.

Calling himself young and progressive, he told council he wants to invest in downtown.

Sarah Amies, community director of the Downtown Lethbridge BRZ, told the first hearing that opposition to the bylaw change isn’t a matter of NIMBYism but “rather a wish to witness continued revival to the businesses in the downtown area.”

She said “we’ve recently witnessed significant improvements and considerable investment in downtown. Despite these initiatives, the downtown core has lost businesses this year and we can see more,” she said.

Closures are happening because of a variety of reasons including retirement, a difficult economic outlook and “increasingly ongoing criminal destructive behaviour. New business recruitment in the downtown is an ongoing challenge. It will be made easier if we can ensure a safe, vibrant and well-maintained core,” Amies said.

While the board supports a variety of housing models downtown, it can’t support the bylaw changes as they stand, said Amies.

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Say What . . .

And downtown sinks further into the abyss! Reality check from those of us still trying to survive downtown – it isn’t getting better but worse. You may as well have put that money spent to revitalize into a barrel and burned it to keep warm in this cold.
I have never seen criminality allowed to continue like this in all my years in this city. For those who state that police doing their jobs will make it a police state, go to China, Russia, Belarus, Iran, Argentina, even some places in Mexico to see what a police state is actually. The 1% of you that is!
Other centers have tried pumping millions into more housing and guess what, if failed! More people arrive, more unemployed people, more people who refuse to work for living and feel society owes them.
How many times have you tried to get some type of service or buy something and you can’t because you were told they are short handed?
Lot’s of jobs, but why work when you can be fed, clothed and housed for free with our tax dollars!

Herbert

I totally agree. They should move those people into Jason Neudorf’s neighbourhood where residents don’t seem to mind having useless low-life scofflaws who live off the taxpayer’s dollar and devalue neighbouring properties.