February 28th, 2024

‘Sober’ living facility OK’d for N. Railway

By COLLIN GALLANT on April 13, 2023.

North Railway St. business owners Krista and Steve Nieman speak in opposition of the Mustard Seed, which is seeking to operate a storefront on the street as transitional housing for up to 10 individuals at a time before permanent housing can be secured.--News Photo Collin Gallant

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

A plan to use a building on N. Railway Street as a supportive “sober” living facility for up to 10 residents has been approved about eight months after an application to use it as an emergency overnight homeless shelter was rescinded.

The new plan for the former Champions Centre, located at 435 N. Railway St., was approved at Wednesday’s meeting of the municipal planning commission.

It allows the Mustard Seed to house up to 10 individuals at a time in an alcohol- or substance-free environment, providing some counselling until other affordable housing becomes available, according to provincial officials with the social services agency.

Several other property owners expressed concern, even though the new plan replaces a 25-person capacity emergency overnight-only shelter suggested at the municipal planning commission last spring.

At that time local business owners objected and the MPC postponed the issue until further talks took place on the specific plan.

The new proposal was approved by a 6-1 margin after 40 minutes of discussion between the Mustard Seed, planners and two nearby business owners.

Since no rezoning is required, the matter does not need council approval.

“It is always our goal to become a good neighbour,” said Bill Nixon, the Mustard Seed’s chief programming officer who oversees similar facilities in Alberta and British Columbia.

He said the agency currently operated 335 such spaces in Calgary, where the average stay for a resident is about 14 days.

“The goal is not to just house people, but house them permanently and get them out of the (social services) system.

“We’re not coming in to the community to make things difficult but to make it better.”

Krista and Steve Nieman own several buildings on the block and also operate businesses nearby. They were allowed time to directly ask Nixon to explain the operations, but left the meeting still feeling the facility would cast the area in a bad light and could be problematic.

“It’s a great thing, but we have concerns,” said Krista Nieman. “We went all in investing in our businesses in an area that the city is promoting as ‘up-and-coming.'”

“I think it’s a step in the wrong direction, and it could be detrimental to the neighbourhood,” said Steve Nieman.

City planners say exterior changes are planned and the use of the vacant building for the purpose supports city goals of increasing affordable housing, different housing types in the centre of the city, while supporting the social sector.

MPC member Coun. Andy McGrogan said he supports the plan that differs from the 2022 proposal.

“In my mind it’s quite a different proposal,” he said. “There’s a need for it, and I’m not sure there will ever be a perfect spot.”

Under the new plan, space would be rented to those seeking affordable housing on a month-to-month basis for up to one year.

The upstairs would feature bedrooms, two communal washrooms and office space for between two and three support staff who would remain on site at all hours. It would be closed to the public and include space to work with residents on connecting them with employment, other housing and life skills.

Conditions of the permit include that the commercial kitchen on the main floor not be used. The Mustard Seed plans to deliver meals from its community centre on Allowance Avenue.

Any major change or increased use of operation would require another development application that would be considered by the MPC, said planners.

Last summer the Mustard Seed applied to convert the space to house an emergency overnight shelter capable of housing 25 people overnight, but then would be required to leave during daylight hours.

At that time, the MPC set a list of conditions, including talks between property owners in the area, and that the Mustard Seed draw up a formal mitigation plan for loitering, litter, noise and onsite security.

The application was withdrawn when the group purchased the former Salvation Army Centre of Hope shelter building, near Kingsway Avenue, which it had been leasing since the previous spring.

[Editor’s Note: This update article correct the name of Bill Nixon and his job description.]

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