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North end supporting housing project approaches permit stage

Some final architectural tweaks have been made to the 33-unit Uplands Walk supportive housing project as it heads toward the development permit application stage.

The Nanaimo Design Advisory Panel approved the schematic design last month for the project at 6025 Uplands Dr., and the drawings will be part of the permit application expected to be submitted in April.

If approved, construction on the project could begin as early as June with occupancy set for 2014.

"There are still quite  few steps to take before we get to ground breaking but we're moving ahead," said Karyn French, executive director of Pacifica Housing, project operator. "We're now looking at pricing and costing, schematic design, and then we'll be going to tender for construction."

The supportive housing project is one of four that will attempt to break the cycle of homelessness in Nanaimo. A 36-unit facility of Wesley Street opened earlier this month, an 18-unit opened in June 2011, and another 35-unit facility is planned at 1597 Boundary Cres.

The original plan of 35-40 units was deemed too many according to input provided by the community at two open houses last April and June, so the number of units has been dropped to 33. Also dropped were 10 units reserved for tenants aged 19-29. Instead, the entire facility will house people aged 45 or older who are homeless or at risk of being homeless.

"Certainly the site can hold more tenants but through community feedback we made some concessions around the size," said French. "It's below what we would call maximum efficiency, but B.C. Housing and the minister made a commitment that we would keep it at the 33-unit size."

Changes to the building stemmed from privacy concerns by neighbours as well as Pacifica Housing, which wanted to maximize privacy for its tenants as well.

As a result, where the building is closest to the northern boundary, the height of the building has been reduced by a full storey, and a treed buffer will divide properties to the north.

The building has also been set as far back as possible to the south end of the property, which has allowed for an outdoor space at the southwest corner of the property, and windows on the north side of the building are oriented to face east and west, rather than directly north to improve privacy.

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan said he is looking forward to seeing people in need of housing getting an opportunity to make a fresh start.

"We opened a similar facility just a week or so ago on Wesley Street and it was very positive," said Ruttan. "A resident who will be living there spoke publicly, and he said 'there is no question I've made some poor choices but I can't change what's happened and being able to stay here is a second chance at life'. It was very sincere and we need to hear from people like that whose lives have been saved by this program."

Ruttan added the multi-million dollar facility will be staffed 24/7 and the tenants will be selected based on their needs.

"There's been a lot of public scrutiny on this project but we're very optimistic this will work."

It is estimated there are more than 700 people in Nanaimo without a permanent address.

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