Red Deer city council took a lukewarm first step to securing a proposed downtown location for a temporary warming shelter.
The site is located at 4934 – 54 Avenue in Railyards, a former Parks building that is currently being used for storage. First reading of a rezoning bylaw amendment was passed to allow for the proposed site.
Council heard a site needs to be selected sooner than later in order to have a temporary centre open in November and run until March 31.
Mayor Tara Veer said the warming shelter is one part of the plan to end homelessness.
She said the city heard from residents last year that it has a responsibility to protect the city’s most vulnerable when Berachah Place closed.
“We are trying to balance out those broad objectives of ending homelessness but until we get there we recognize we need interim measures along the way to protect our vulnerable citizens,” she said.
Concerns were raised about the site selection process, safety and impacts on the neighbouring businesses.
“We want to be able to support our citizens that are having trouble,” said Coun. Paul Harris. “But at the same time we don’t want to create chaos for the rest of the community. By introducing a new facility we have the potential to make the nuisance problems downtown worse. I want to make sure we don’t do that.”
Harris said it is key to have a location that will contribute to making the community healthier. He said they have to find a careful balance between the people who are vulnerable and the rest of the community.
The proposed site is at the former Parks building in the Railyards District.
Coun. Lawrence Lee said the warming centre is something the city needs but he was not sold on the site for the long-term. He said the sense of urgency of making a decision doesn’t allow council to dig into and ask the questions behind the criteria.
The site was selected following a review of the last winter’s warming centre. A committee was made up of city staffers and other stakeholders.
A number of sites in Red Deer were reviewed but were not disclosed.
Angus Schaffenburg, the city’s acting planning manager, said it did not make sense to put a warming centre outside of the downtown because the resources and supports for the vulnerable are located downtown.
Lee said that is one consideration but it is not necessarily balanced when you consider the current effects on downtown businesses.
“The downtown is experiencing a leakage of business to outer cores and other jurisdictions due to the perceived or real issues about safety and the homelessness and the traffic downtown,” said Lee.
Coun. Lynne Mulder said she needs to hear more from the community on the issue. She is not concerned about the long-term vision for Railyards because the shelter is proposed as a temporary measure.
The city is currently working through the procurement processes to choose a contracted agency to run the proposed centre from Nov. 1 to April 30, 2016, with the possibility for extension to the following winter season.
Coun. Ken Johnston said a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) review will take place which is important.
“People want to weigh in here,” said Johnston. “We obviously need it and this site has a lot of pluses. However, the wooded area behind it and the potential for the issues that come with it need to be fully developed.”
The proposed building is currently being used for storage and will likely be demolished in the long term with the site sold for redevelopment.
Last year Berachah Place closed and a temporary warming centre was set up at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in downtown Red Deer.
A public hearing on the rezoning is slated for Aug.17.
In other council news:
• A decision to endorse and advocate alongside Red Deer College in its bid to change its status to a polytechnic university was tabled. Council will hear a presentation from RDC officials on Aug.31 before making any decisions.
• There is no shortage of land in the city.
Council deferred a submission of a notice of intent to annex from the County of Red Deer for a two-year period. An intent motion will be reviewed in 2017. The city currently has a 14-year supply of land.
Mayor Tara Veer said the city is still growing but not as quickly as it was a few years ago.
“I feel very strongly that this is in the best interests of the community because of the economic slowdown,” she said. “By the same token it allows the city time to plan our next annexation and growth and focus on other areas of community priority.”
Under the Intermunicipal Development Plan (IDP), the city can file an annexation application to maintain a 30 to 50 year supply of land for urban style development. It can also choose to defer the annexation application. The city last annexed land from Red Deer County in 2009, a process which took more than two years from the filing of the notice of intent to provincial approval.
Council agreed in July 2013 to defer the submission of a notice of intent to annex for a minimum of two years.
• A new community graffiti strategy will be undertaken by the Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre in partnership with the city.
• A request to add 20,000 additional customers to Red Deer’s water treatment and transmission service will be debated on Aug. 17.
Administration required more time to clarify information contained within a report from Stantec. Council tabled the issue until its next meeting.
The Sylvan Lake Regional Water Commission has requested to tap into the city’s water treatment and transmission service. The commission includes Sylvan Lake, Red Deer County, Lacombe County and five summer villages.
• Coun. Paul Harris will once again throw his hat into the ring for a committee spot at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Council endorsed Harris’ bid and the estimated $13,000 associated with the role. Harris said he will continue to advocate for housing, ending homelessness and community infrastructure needs. Harris would be required to attend a minimum of three committee meetings.