With the city moving ahead with a fenced-off supervised drug consumption site in the Rail Lands, area businesses are miffed and left pondering what this means for them.
If the experience of Calgary police can be believed, the businesses have reason to be concerned.
Gareth Scott opened Fetch Haus, a pet store and grooming service, in the neighbourhood in March. With city council approving a development plan for a supervised drug consumption site Monday, Scott plans to leave the neighbourhood.
He has given notice to his landlord, despite having three years left on his lease.
“We will be moving as soon as we can make that arrangement. We have already a couple of prospects in the south end,” he said. “We cannot give over our hard-earned lifetime savings to drug addicts.”
Providing a business licence for the facility gets final approval in January, the harm reduction agency 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.
In Calgary, police have found at least one such facility has become a magnet for drug dealers and other criminals. Police recorded a spike in crime within a 500-metre radius of the Safeworks drug consumption site at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre, according to Calgary media. The number of social disorder calls were also up.
“We’re seeing a lot of open air-drug trafficking and people trying to sell stolen property,” Calgary police District 1 Insp. Rob Davidson told the Calgary Herald.
Fetch Haus’s Scott isn’t the only one looking to move away. The consumption site’s potential next door neighbour, the Central Alberta Archers Association, will look into the option also in the near future.
Turning Point’s executive director, Stacey Carmichael, has told the Advocate she hopes to open the site in the first half of 2019.
Council unanimously approved a development plan for the site on Monday that included an updated building front, with parking spaces at the back and front.
If the facility’s business licence passes third reading next month, it would have permission to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Scott said he is disappointed the site is moving ahead in the Rail Lands.
“It seems this was just a window dressing, having the hearing at City Hall,” he said, referring to the public airing in mid-November, where area business owners raised concerns over the location.
A temporary supervised consumption site has been up and running in the neighbourhood since Oct. 1 at Safe Harbour Society’s site at 5246 53rd Ave.
Scott said sales have been down at his business in October and November by around 10 or 11 per cent.
“We’ve had people saying they won’t come to our store because they feel unsafe,” said Scott.
He said he supports a rehab-type facility and addressing mental health issues, but not the supervised drug consumption site.
“We will not support enabling drug addicts to continue terrorizing this downtown area.”
The development permit approved by council expires in 2025. At that point, the proponent will have to come before council again for a new permit.
Turning Point must ensure that any shopping carts or bicycles used by clients are stored at the back of the building and are 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.
The agency must also pay for a 1.5-metre-wide concrete sidewalk along 54th Avenue in front of the property.
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 any emergency issues or community concerns that arise.
Scott said the measures fall short.
“First of all, they can’t force them to stay there … they cannot say ‘you’re shooting up, you have to stay here for eight hours, four hours, whatever,’” Scott explained.
“Having the fence around the complex only means people from the outside can’t go in there. It means nothing to those folks there. They walk down the street screaming and yelling, staggering all over the place daily,” he said.
Central Alberta Archers Association president Walter Wiley echoed Scott’s thoughts. He doesn’t believe the landscaping measures will help businesses and organizations in the neighbourhood.
While Turning Point must submit an exterior lighting plan, council was told Monday that better street lights are also needed along this stretch — an item that could be discussed in the 2019 budget.
The archery association, located at 5237 54th Ave., serves both youth and adults. Parents of young archers have already threatened to stop enrolling once the permanent drug consumption site opens, said Wiley.
“They will have a security co-ordinator, but that only goes so far… Obviously, they’re there to hear our concerns and that’s great, but it still doesn’t deter,” said Wiley.
He said once the site is up, in the next six months or so, he expects a decline in overall enrolment by about 40 per cent. This means it would become difficult for the not-for-profit organization to survive.
This would mean the archers’ association will consider moving, but the current location offers low rent and the space the group requires.
Gayle Leasak, who owns Pegasus Builders, said the company is building a three-bay retail-commercial building at 52nd Street and 54th Avenue. She is concerned about getting tenants once the building is up and running in May.
“We will probably have a difficult time in securing tenants in that building, just because of all the issues that go with having a site two lots down from us,” said Leasak.
“The drug addicts don’t have any respect for property,” she said, referring to the garbage and litter she came across Tuesday, which happened overnight, as an example.
Michelle Ross, general manager at Red Deer Bingo Centre at 4946 53rd Ave., said she is concerned how the consumption site is going to affect the business and the safety of her patrons.
“It’s frustrating and disappointing the development plan got approved,” said Ross.
The measures that Turning Point will take, such as installing video cameras and a see-through fence, won’t help the bingo centre, Ross said, adding that moving somewhere else would be too expensive.
“I think when these people are high on drugs, they don’t care. I don’t think it’s a deterrent for them… they’re not necessarily in their right mind from the drugs they’re doing, they’re not making proper decisions.”