A zoning change that allows for expansion of the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter was unanimously approved by Red Deer city council Wednesday.
Mayor Tara Veer summarized council’s general sentiment by stating she feels a good balance was achieved between satisfying the neighbourhood’s concerns and the needs of the 47th Avenue shelter, which is at capacity and expects increased demand once the pandemic is over.
The shelter’s executive director, Rayann Toner, said the national council of women’s shelters found most abused women are now “keeping their heads down” coping with the COVID-19 crisis, but a much greater need for shelter services is anticipated once the pandemic is over.
“Later, we could get triple or quadruple the calls,” added Toner.
She noted the shelter is already “stretched beyond our limit,” having to turn away 1,500 women and children last year — which equates to about four persons a day.
Toner told council there’s nothing more difficult for her staff than telling vulnerable clients “we have no space for you.”
While design plans for the larger shelter building are still undetermined, it could be up to four storeys high.
Toner would like to see an increase to 48 beds from the current 40 and to create 12 transition housing units to help women become more independent after leaving the shelter.
She told council that a reconfiguration of bedroom space will allow for more families to stay there.
As the shelter is only funded to operate with a certain number of beds, the expansion can’t far outstrip available funding, she said.
Council opted on Wednesday to rezone the current women’s shelter property to direct control from a previous R2 residential. This allows for some commercial operations that are directly connected to the shelter to open at ground level, including a day care for children of clients.
City council will have the right to deem which commercial or service operations are appropriate.
Part of the city-owned property next to the shelter was also rezoned to direct control for the shelter expansion. Since some environmental concerns were raised, city planners removed the creek escarpment from the rezoned portion of the lot.
This means the creek bank along the east side of the lot will remain as environmental preserve.
Council heard a historic scout hut that sits on the property is not slated for demolition, but can be preserved or moved, according to the wishes of several citizens who came forward with proposals that will be considered at a future date.
Coun. Michael Dawe said he would have preferred to see more concrete plans for what the expansion will entail, as well as studies of creek bank stability, before supporting the rezoning. But he was told these will be required later, as part of the process of getting the development approved.
Like other councillors, Dawe ended up approving the rezoning, recognizing the importance of the community service being provided.