Roughly 100 people got up to speak, both for and against the rezoning of 222 Corfield St., at Tuesday’s public hearing which many said has divided the City of Parksville.
The meeting was literally split down the middle of the Parksville Community and Conference Centre with the hundreds in attendance sitting on one side for pro supportive housing and the other for those against the rezoning, with microphones on either side of the auditorium for the two sides.
During most of the meeting, the two sides yelled cheered and booed. One man, who said he is against the rezoning and project, brought a bucket of dirty needles from a property off of Despard Avenue.
Of the approximately 100 people who spoke, the majority vocalized their reasons against the rezoning of 222 Corfield St. The meeting lasted for more than four hours with dozens of people getting up to speak a second and third time.
The public hearing was for the rezoning of 222 Corfield St., which is planned to be used for a supportive housing project that would have about 50 studio and one-bedroom suites. The project received $6.9 million in provincial funding in March and the land was purchased in a partnership between the city, Regional District of Nanaimo and the Town of Qualicum Beach in 2017 with the expressed purpose of building a supportive housing facility.
Additional space will be included for winter shelter use, operational from November to March, according to oceansidehomelessness.com. Island Crisis Care Society will provide 24/7 staffing and maintenance of the building. Staff will provide support to residents as well as security and management.
According to a report from the City of Parksville dated June 11, the city had received 250 written submissions for the proposed change in zoning at 222 Corfield St. Of the correspondence, 183 support the proposal, 63 are opposed and six raised questions for council’s consideration.
Multiple times throughout the evening, Mayor Marc Lefebvre had to remind the gallery to not speak out, whether it was to boo or cheer, while others were speaking.
“This is not a hockey game and this is not a football game, so please refrain from booing or clapping or stomping your feet,” he said.
Lefebvre continuously reminded people through the evening that the public hearing was for the rezoning of the property and not about the potential residents of the supportive housing.
Comments opposing the rezoning ranged from lack of services nearby, impact to the tourism industry and safety of residents. Some said the location would be better suited for affordable housing.
While comments in support of the project ranged from the fact that its location is nearby to numerous services such as SOS, Salvation Army soup kitchen and Forward House and that it would provide secure housing for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
One of the residents opposed, Pam Lee, who lives on Corfield, said she plans to operate a licensed daycare out of her home.
“How can I assure parents and the children that we’re going to care for that they are safe?” she asked.
One person in favour of the project, who The NEWS was unable to identify, asked that the location of the supportive housing be kept as is.
“I am the face of a resident that will live in this building,” she said, adding that she is not an addict but suffers from “interconnected health issues.”
Rhonda McLellan, who lives at the end of Corfield Street, said she is opposed to the site rezoning for the project as it currently stands. She said she is opposed to the location and the possibility of drugs on site with people in a “vulnerable state.”
“I think there is a need in our community to help these individuals and I would be more than happy to step up in some capacity to do that,” McLellan said. “I have to disagree with the way this is being proposed currently.”
Renate Sutherland, the former executive director of the Society of Organized Services, said there is a number of misconceptions about the proposed project. The first, she said, was the reports of people claiming this is a new project. Sutherland said this project has been in the works since 2011.
“This has not been hidden in any way,” she said.
The proposed project, Sutherland said, will not be “wet housing.”
“That is misinformation that has been spread through the community. Every person that enters this program, and it is a program agreement that people will sign, have to agree to a case management plan and a wellness plan,” Sutherland said.
Doug O’Brien, a main proponent of the group protesting the supportive housing project, suggested the idea again of using 222 Corfield St. as a site for an affordable housing project that he said “is custom made for Parksville.”
“So many of those individuals that you’re speaking of and many of those that are in danger of being homeless, they would qualify for this,” O’Brien said. “They would do very much better in an affordable rental housing project than one where there is drug use down the hall.”
Immediately after O’Brien got up to speak for the third time, a representative from BC Housing said he would like to clarify that the affordable housing O’Brien was speaking of is part of a Canadian housing fund that is open for non-profit providers. He said 222 Corfield St. is under the rapid response to homelessness which is a program for funding for homeless people or people at risk of homelessness.
Three Regional District of Nanaimo directors — Bill Veenhof, Julian Fell and Bob Rogers — also got up to speak during the meeting. Veenhof and Rogers were in favour of the project, while Fell said he’s in support of the rezoning but in opposition to some parts of it.
Fell said he was told this is “once in a lifetime” funding that would be given elsewhere if it wasn’t accepted within a short time period.
The bylaw amendment for rezoning 222 Corfield St. will come back for third reading at Parksville city council July 4.