City council approves site for housing, cultural centre

The Asooahum Centre has a home.

The Asooahum Centre has a home.

Red Deer city council unanimously approved the rezoning of 4615 Riverside Drive to make way for the Red Deer Native Friendship Society’s long-awaited affordable housing and cultural centre.

The 9-0 ruling Monday came after more than three hours of an emotional and passionate public hearing that drew 31 people to speak in council chambers.

Those in support talked about the urgency and need for the project while others raised concerns about flooding, impact on nearby businesses and loss of green space.

But in the end, councillors said they believed this was the best location out of the 20 sites looked at by a joint committee made up city representatives and aboriginal community members.

Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said often the white person has told the aboriginal people where they should be on their land. She said this was an important collaborative process.

“The aboriginal housing project will provide needed and multi-family housing and in the future a cultural space for our community. Cultural space will bring tourism. It will bring learning and understanding,” said Wyntjes. “We can’t predict what will happen with the flooding but I really hope if that happens no matter what side of the river we come together as a community. We’re taking a very important step in Red Deer history.”

Last November, city council rejected a site in Clearview North in light of backlash from the neighbourhood. A joint committee with members of the local aboriginal community and the city was tasked with finding another site.

Worries over flooding was raised repeatedly throughout the hearing. Studies showed the 3.5 acre site is above the 2005 flood level.

Coun. Tara Veer, who sat on the committee, said 20 sites were considered including Riverlands, Fort Normandeau and Red Deer College but were not selected for one reason or another.

Veer said she has been given every reassurance that the site is not in a flood plain and in the fringe.

Resident Shawn Moore spoke against the rezoning because he was worried about the impact that was already gone in the river valley with the Civic Yards and the North Highway Connector project.

“I believe they could use the site for the expansion of the (Lions) campground,” said Moore.

Liz Hagell, a local nurse, said an inclusive city is a healthy city and by approving the rezoning would send a message that Red Deer is an inclusive city. Hagel said she is concerned about trees too but she is also concerned about people.

Nearby business owner Brian Rystra said he believed in the project but he has concerns about the impact a residential area would have on his business such as about loitering, vandalism and parking issues.

“As much as I support I don’t think this a good place for them,” he said.

Others raised concerns over lack of sidewalks and isolation from the rest of Red Deer. But members of the aboriginal community did not raise any concerns over isolation.

Leslie Stonechild, a First Nations man, who has lived in Red Deer for 30 years talked about the support needed for First Nations in Red Deer. Stonechild said he has heard a lot about “us or them” and there is no “us or them.”

“Unfortunately there is lack of education by the past education that has brought us all adults here,” said Stonechild. “I hope many people come to the Friendship Centre and the new cultural centre that will come on this land.”

In other council news:

• A development permit for a carwash on 56 Carleton Avenue in Clearview Market was given the green light.

Concerns over noise were raised at a Feb. 19 council meeting. Since that time, the developer has altered the blueprints by re-configuring the building and adding a fence around the facility. The one-storey 9,700 square foot carwash will have 10 wand bays and one touchless bay. The site will be accessed from Carleton Avenue through a joint access with the future Shell Gas Bar/Tim Horton’s site.

• Butting out at outdoor public events, festivals and concerts may be the next step in the city’s revised smoke-free bylaw. City council gave first reading to changes that would prohibit smoking at places that require a special event or use of streets permit and where the public is invited or permitted to attended. Council will consider second and third reading on July 8. In February, council banned smoking within 10 metres of playgrounds, sports fields, spray parks, skating rinks, toboggan hills and skate parks.

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