Red Deer’s municipal planning commission determined the former Lotus nightclub was not an appropriate place for an addictions treatment centre. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Downtown location for addictions treatment centre is denied by Red Deer commission

Lack of parking, recreation, food service facilities were some of the concerns

Plans to turn a former downtown Red Deer nightclub into an addictions treatment centre were narrowly shot down by the city’s municipal planning commission Wednesday.

Due to the absence of member Daniel Jerusalimiec, there was a tie vote of 3-3, which meant the application for the Dream Centre development did not pass.

Wes Giesbrecht, co-chair of the proposed centre, was in council chamber to hear the decision, but declined to comment, even to say whether the decision will be appealed.

Mayor Tara Veer said, in her justification for voting in favour of the development, that it was sure to be appealed regardless of the decision, because of the deep polarization in the community over the downtown location.

Everyone agrees that Red Deer needs an addictions treatment centre, said Veer, but many feel the downtown is not the place for it, as the city’s core is already suffering from the detrimental effects of having a concentration of social care agencies that serve addicted and homeless people located there.

Veer added the downtown’s C-I commercial zoning planning rules allow social care agencies, whereas few other locations in Red Deer do. She suggested bringing this “weakness” in the city’s planning rules to city council’s attention so they can be reconsidered.

Meanwhile, Veer voted for the proposal with mixed feelings, saying “it’s a significant ethical/legal dilemma for me on principle.”

She said she’s supporting it largely because she feels there are no grounds in the existing downtown planning rules to refuse it.

But the Dream Centre wasn’t approved for 4614 50th Ave.

While Veer and public commission members Troy Corsiatto and Tony Lindhout voted in favour of the proposal, city councillors Lawrence Lee and Vesna Higham, and public member Kevin Jackman, voted against it. A stalemate means a defeat.

Opposition rested on concerns about the lack of designated parking spaces, recreation and kitchen facilities for a 48-person treatment centre and a proposed 600-person conference centre.

As well, there were fears that adding another social care facility in the city’s core goes against the principles of the downtown development plan.

Lee said the city’s plan envisions an attractive shopping district and mixed-use area “where people can live, work and play.”

Approving yet another social care agency is a contradiction of the plan’s strategy for attracting new businesses, he added.

Higham feared area businesses could be beset by more addicted people, saying the proposed centre doesn’t have adequate plans around food service and recreation. She was also uncomfortable about the centre having only 10 designated parking spaces for a 600-person conference area.

While there are several public lots in the area, she said these spots are also needed by shoppers and downtown staff.

Lindhout supported the application, reasoning it might not be the perfect location, but other parts of the city don’t meet all the zoning requirements. He also saw advantages to redeveloping a former nightclub, saying “It could be an asset to the area.”

Corsiatto repeated a phrase he heard at the public hearing: “Nothing changes if nothing changes.”

He thought the proposal could have worked with restrictive conditions the planning commission would have applied on particular uses and improved building aesthetics.

The commission will be asking the appeal board to consider those conditions if the project is given the green light on appeal.

It will also be requesting that city council review the land use bylaw definitions that restrict institutional service or temporary care facilities to the historic downtown.

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