Community members with an opinion on a rezoning process to consider a four-storey social housing project at 1406 Bowen Rd. once again lined up to the podium to share their views with city council and staff.
Wednesday’s meeting was carried over from a previous public hearing last week as dozens of people, mostly those in opposition, lined up at the mike. Due to the sheer volume of speakers, the hearing was carried over to a third meeting (scheduled for May 5) to accommodate everybody as the 200-seat Shaw Auditorium was once again packed with residents spilling out into the hallways of the Port of Nanaimo Centre.
At issue is a 36-unit Bowen Road social housing proposal, one of five social housing projects in Nanaimo intended to provide people with mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse issues a place to live rather than live on the streets.
The $34-million projects, paid for through the province’s Housing First strategy, will include 160 units citywide.
“We have people on drugs or people who are alcoholics or have mental problems living in the community in residential units already,” said Coun. Bill Holdom. “The difference between these people and the people we’re trying to help is money. This is a poverty issue.”
While some speakers addressing council did speak on zoning related issues such as traffic concerns and impositions on other properties, most spoke about concerns over potential negative effects on children at nearby Quarterway Elementary School and nearby property values.
The Bowen Road location is the only site requiring rezoning and, as a result, a public hearing.
One speaker verbally attacked Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan and accused some councillors of acting rude “with their body language and rolling of their eyes.”
“I laid into the mayor pretty good (Wednesday night),” said Lance Geselbracht, a developer who owns and rents apartments across the street from 7-Eleven on Pryde Avenue.
“I asked the mayor to immediately stop proceedings until he is ready to announce where in the north end that the other facility is going to go,” said Geselbracht. “The city is in the process of divide and conquer. They’re afraid to announce the north end location until they have full planning approval to build the one on Bowen Road. This process is horribly flawed.”
Holdom said the north end site can’t be announced until the final contract from the province is complete.
“It’s annoying me on how long it’s taking the province to approve the north end site. We’re getting beat up on that unnecessarily and the province needs to get a hold of that and the treasury board needs to make its decision so people can see proof that we’re trying to distribute these throughout the community,” said Holdom, who left the room during Geselbracht’s outburst on the mayor.
He said he had trouble with Geselbracht’s approach to council.
“My grandfather gave me some advice when I was first getting married and he said it worked for him and he recommended it to me,” added Holdom. “He said when you feel yourself getting really hot and you’re not sure whether you can keep control go for a walk. Get out and go for a walk … so that’s what I did. Last night was one of those times. A guy shouted at my mayor and told him to shut up and I didn’t need to listen to that so I left.”
Holdom said he remained in earshot of the proceedings before returning.
Four of the 30 speakers spoke in favour of the Bowen Road project. Another social housing project is also slated for 1598 Townsite Rd., just a few hundred metres to the other side of Quarterway school.
Nicole Sendey said if she had had the proper information given to her during previous public consultation meetings she wouldn’t have purchased an investment condominium on Townsite Road.
“Had I been told it was wet housing on either side I probably wouldn’t have purchased my investment that required me to work two jobs,” said Sendey. “If there is so much outcry on disinformation people were given maybe we should address that first.”
Colby Althouse said other schools in the area, including Montessori and Brechin Elementary School, need to be considered in the process as well.
“When I went to Brechin, we often walked through Bowen Park to the pool. One day we saw a man masturbating in the park and we were turned around and we never went again. We didn’t understand why, we were too young. I don’t want that to happen to other children, and it would be a shame to lose Bowen Park again. The city has just managed to reclaim it from things like that,” she said.
Geselbracht said he is worried about his property losing value and questions the kind of people social housing will attract.
“Some of the guys I had in my building before I improved it, I call them a cross between hyenas and vampires in that they’re comatose during the day,” he said. “These guys that are abusing drugs are lethargic … It’s at night when they come alive. It’s at night when they’re going to be doing the things that concern the hell out of us. I call them a pack of hyenas because they will then congregate and when you put these 72 residents into a concentrated area they’re going to congregate, there’s going to be hanger ons, there’s going to be places where they feel comfortable and do stuff. They’re not going to be in their room at night. With one counsellor in there at night there will be a free flow of people in and out of those houses.”