After more than 16 months of debate and controversy, Red Deer city council unanimously approved a development permit for a fenced-off supervised drug consumption site to open in the Rail Lands.
Providing a business licence for the facility gets final approval in January, Turning Point can develop a site where substance abusers can use street drugs in a supervised environment that prevents overdose deaths, at 5233 54th Ave.
Only the Supervised Consumption Services facility is subject to multiple conditions — and a seven-year sunset clause.
This means the development permit expires in 2025. At that point, the SCS will have to come before council again for a new permit. Mayor Tara Veer successfully introduced this amendment, citing the amount of community concern over the facility, and that this is the first time a SCS will operate in the city so unforeseen problems could arise.
Turning Point’s executive director Stacey Carmichael wasn’t sure what to think of this: “I will have to talk to the funder (Alberta Health) to find out if they are willing to invest in something that’s only been approved for seven years,” she said.
The 54th Avenue site requires extensive renovation, including an expansion to the building’s back to accommodate the rest of Turning Point’s services. The harm reduction agency is planning to move all of its operations to that site from its current Little Gaetz location.
“I feel we are moving in the right direction,” said Carmichael, who still hopes to open the SCS site open in the first half of 2019. She noted Red Deer’s opioid deaths remain among the highest in the province.
On Monday, Council unanimously approved a development plan for the site that showed an updated building front, with parking spaces at the back and front.
Council was told there’s little space for landscaping, but there will be flower pots and raised garden bed. One advantage of lthis, councillors heard from administration, is better sight lines — which is important since Turning Point must install a door-eye viewer on the rear entry door for the safety of people exiting the building.
Turning Point will also have to ensure that any shopping carts or bicycles used by clients are stored at the back of the building and not visible from the street.
The agency must also erect a fence, ranging from six to eight feet, all around the site — including the front of the building. Carmichael later questioned if this would create a compound-like appearance that’s not in keeping with the rest of the street and reinforce the stigma against her clients.
As well, the agency must pay for a 1.5 m wide concrete sidewalk along 54th Avenue in front of the property.
While Turning Point must submit an exterior lighting plan, council was told better street lights are also needed along this stretch — an item that could be discussed in the 2019 budget.
If the SCS’s business license is passes third reading next month, the facility would have permission to operate 24 hours and day, seven days a week with video surveillance. There must be regular neighbourhood cleanups of needle debris 150 metres around the facility. There would also be a liaison person from Turning Point appointed to address with the city any emergency issues or community concerns that arise.
And additional conditions can also be applied as they come up to protect the safety, health and welfare of Turning Point clients, staff and members of the public.
Veer said, “I believe we were able to resolve a lot of the (public) concerns that were made to us“ with the development permit conditions.
Coun. Ken Johnston summarized the sentiment of many on council, saying, “This is an opportunity for Turning Point to deliver on the trust the community has put in them.”