Council shoots down re-zoning for old clinic

Move leaves homeless shelter project in limbo

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Thanks to a ‘nay’ vote on re-zoning, Slave Lake’s Mat Program remains homeless. And unless some other solution can be worked out, its clients will be out in the cold for the season.

After a well-attended public hearing on Nov. 3, council killed the re-zoning proposal that would have set the process in motion of putting the overnight homeless shelter in the old Associate Medical Clinic building on 3rd Ave. NE.

Response on social media was rather harsh, accusing council, probably unfairly, of not caring, etc. etc. Perhaps as a response to that, mayor Tyler Warman posted a video in which he attempted to explain the situation. One factor was, he said, “a strong voice (from the community) said having it here is not the right idea.”

So where is the right place? Warman said he looks forward to having that discussion.

“As a community let’s figure out what the path forward looks like.”

What it looks like to the supporters of the Mat Program is town council is the bad guy. But probably none of them live in the same neighbourhood as the proposed location for the homeless shelter. Several who do live there appeared at the Nov. hearing and made their opposition quite plain.

“The location couldn’t be worse,” said one neighbour, from across the street. “It’s surrounded on all sides by residences.”

Concerns were expressed about safety for children in the neighbourhood, and for older residents. The possible effect on property value also came up.
Again and again, presenters said ‘not in a residential area.’ They also pretty much to a person said they believe the service is needed – just not in that part of town.

Supporters of the zoning change praised the location and minimized the disruptions a homeless shelter might cause.

“This is the ideal place,” said one. One of the supporters of the zoning change was the town’s own planning department.

Barb Courtorielle, who as the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre Executive Director is the chief proponent of the Mat Program, presented a sheaf of letters and a petition to council.

She explained that the idea would be to have both the overnight shelter and a ‘transitional housing’ program housed in the same building.

“We do have success stories,” she said. “the Mat Program is saving lives.”

Council’s discussion and debate occurred later in the meeting, when members of the public were no longer in attendance (though some may have been listening online). Council was reminded again and again that the question before them was a general one about zoning, and not about any specific use. But in practical terms, it seemed to be all about the homeless shelter.

Councillor Darin Busk made it plain he thought council’s vote was on the Mat Program, regardless.

“We’re going to face the backlash,” he said. “So we’re the ones that should make the decision.”

Which they did. Busk, leery as he was about the proposed use, was one of those who voted in favour. Joining him were Warman and councillor Brice Ferguson. Voting against the zoning change were Julie Brandle, Shawn Gramlich, Joy McGregor and Rebecca King.

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