Fiscal constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic sent proponents of a downtown addictions treatment centre back to the drawing board — with an eraser.
Instead of a three-storey structure, plans for a smaller, two-storey Dream Centre were discussed and eventually approved by Red Deer’s municipal planning commission on Thursday.
Due to the tighter space, the commission also reduced the number of client beds to 40 from a proposed 48.
The Dream Centre’s board co-chair, Wes Giesbrecht, had explained to the commission that central Alberta’s financial climate has been adversely affected by the pandemic that struck in mid-March.
It made sense to be “fiscally responsible” and cut renovation costs for the $2 million project in half, he said.
By rejigging plans to maximize existing space, it was possible to avoid having to add another floor to the building.
Members of the commission heard all services would be contained within the building’s existing two-storey footprint, including 16 sleeping units for 48 clients, a commercial kitchen, recreational space, offices and assembly space for up to 200 people.
The exterior of the former Lotus Club at 4614 50th Ave. would still retain all of the design features that had previously been stipulated (except the third floor addition). This includes more windows, lighting and other visual enhancements.
Giesbrecht feels fundraising will be more feasible after $1 million is removed from project costs, and said the facility could start operating six months from the start of renovations.
This is important, he added, since there are reports of domestic violence and alcoholism rates escalating during the viral lockdown.
Although the new application proposed beds for 48 addiction centre clients — the same number as in the previous three-storey proposal — this troubled commission member and city councillor Lawrence Lee.
Lee unsuccessfully tried to reduce client numbers to 16, based on one-person-per-bedroom occupancy. He cited health and safety concerns brought on by the pandemic as rationale.
But other commission members felt this big of a change could impact the viability of the centre’s operations. They instead opted to reduce to 40 the number of client spots, as proposed by Mayor Tara Veer.
Veer explained having eight fewer beds in the two-storey structure would alleviate some of the space constraints in the kitchen and recreational areas.
The question of whether Red Deer’s downtown is the right place for an addictions treatment centre was again raised by Lee and public member Kevin Jackman, who cast the two dissenting votes against the proposal.
Lee noted even fewer offices and businesses are now operating in the city’s core because of the pandemic. He believes the centre would create an imbalance, tipping the scales further in favour of all the social service facilities that serve people who are causing disturbances.
Jackman said addictions treatment at this location goes against the city’s vision for a downtown that is “vibrant,” business friendly and an attractive place to live.
But the majority on the commission voted in favour of the revised development.
Public member Daniel Jerusalimiec said he doesn’t know whether treatment centres belong where the problems are, or away in more rural settings.
“I am no expert… I err on the side of compassion… (believing) that this will be beneficial to the downtown and improve the vagrancy rate.”
Most members felt the revised Dream Centre proposal, which was recommended by city planners for approval, satisfies all area planning rationales.
If it was denied, they reasoned the decision would once again be overturned by the subdivision and development appeal board — which in December, overruled a previous commission denial of the centre.