Council votes down motion to freeze Uplands project

A bid to delay development of a low-barrier facility on Uplands Drive was rejected by Nanaimo council Monday.

A bid to delay development of a low-barrier facility on Uplands Drive was rejected by Nanaimo council Monday.

Council voted down a motion put forward by Coun. Bill Bestwick to put a freeze on the controversial development and submit a review for other site options.

In a seven-minute prepared address, Bestwick said he is not opposed to supportive housing, but is opposed to the process that ultimately chose the Uplands site to house up to 35 people.

“My opposition is with regard to the process – the lack of public consultation, the size of the operation and the composition, or tenants as proposed,” said Bestwick, adding he is not simply using the issue to “pander for votes” for the upcoming municipal election.

Bestwick said he supported similar housing facilities on 10th and Wesley streets, as well as at Bowen and Meredith roads, but has been opposed to the Uplands site since last year because it was not in the original agreement.

“I want to correct those members of the community who have the notion that I am opposed to supportive housing in the City of Nanaimo. That notion is simply not true or accurate,” said Bestwick.

Council voted against Bestwick’s motion 8-1.

Coun. Jim Kipp, who seconded Bestwick’s motion to open up debate, said society’s most vulnerable shouldn’t be punished by not building supportive housing at the site because city hall has “at times, issues communicating with residents.”

“I totally don’t want to confuse the issue of homelessness with what Coun. Bestwick is really getting at – that we are pathetic sometimes in our communication … let’s not confuse the issue of homelessness and a strategy that is on the table,” said Kipp.

Kipp added that council has listened to the public by delaying the construction of a supportive housing facility on Bowen Road, after that site was strongly contested by hospital-area residents.

“We have to re-envision our community now and it starts with taking care of our most vulnerable,” said Kipp.

For the second straight council meeting, several delegations both for and against the Uplands project addressed council.

Coun. Bill Holdom said he disagreed entirely that the public did not have opportunity to discuss supportive housing.

When a memorandum of understanding was signed with the province in 2008 for the Housing First strategy and prior to that in 2004, when former mayor Gary Korpan first attracted provincial funding to build housing for Nanaimo’s homeless, Holdom said the city’s residents appeared to be onside with the strategy.

“It’s not that there weren’t opportunities for people to talk about the issue. It’s interesting to me though, that as soon as a site is announced, that’s when we hear from the public, especially the public surrounding that particular site. I think we have provided all kinds of opportunities for consultation,” said Holdom.

He said he voted against Bestwick’s motion because “I’m not as convinced there have been great flaws in the procedure or process.”

Using a rare personal privilege request through Mayor John Ruttan, Holdom also asked for an apology from Bestwick for comments he made two weeks ago at an information session organized by the Concerned Citizens of Nanaimo, a group that has challenged city hall on the Uplands supportive housing project.

At the session, Bestwick said publicly he thought his colleagues on council were acting “dishonest at best, deceitful at worst” on the Housing First strategy and that council and staff were acting “without common sense.”

It was the second time this term Bestwick was asked to explain his actions.

Last winter both he and the city secured lawyers over a conflict of interest issue. Bestwick voted in favour of allowing Boston Pizza a variance for an LED sign. At the time, Bestwick was coach and general manager of the Nanaimo Clippers junior A hockey team, which Boston Pizza sponsored.

The issue cost taxpayers $12,800. Bestwick was reimbursed $10,000 for lawyer fees while the city incurred $2,800 in legal costs.

Bestwick said he did not intend to offend his colleagues with his recent remarks.

“The intention was not to offend anybody. It was my thoughts and my thoughts alone. It was not directed at any individual or individuals. It was no direct attack and no offence should be taken. I do apologize,” he said.

The Housing First strategy will provide Nanaimo with more than $30 million to build 160 units to house the city’s homeless, some of whom are addicted to drugs or alcohol or suffer from mental illness.