By COLLIN GALLANT on June 2, 2023.
A permit to allow a sober living transitional shelter on N. Railway Street has been formally challenged by a business and property owner in the area, the News has learned.
The city’s subdivision and appeal board convened Tuesday to hear arguments against the Mustard Seed’s proposal to develop a storefront to accommodate up to 10 individuals at a time while they sought permanent residences.
The social service agency says the facility is needed and is similar to previous community service use at the site, while business owners say the location will detract from the block and hamper a “revival” on the business strip.
A written decision will be issued in seven to 15 business days.
Krista Nieman, a property owner on the block who filed the appeal, told the News “it’s nothing against the Mustard Seed, by any means, or what they want to do, but it’s just not a good location.”
Her statements to the appeal board argue that the placement goes against the city’s own stated goals of renewing the central business block, and was approved despite other applications for social services at the site receiving greater scrutiny and operating conditions.
“It was approved 6-1 (by the municipal planning commission), when there’s no policing plan, no good neighbour plan.”
In April, the city’s municipal planning commission ruled in favour of the proposal for the building at 425 N. Railway St.
The current permit would see work create bedrooms for up to 10 people seeking transitional housing in an alcohol and substance free environment.
Mustard Seed officials at the time stated the average stay for an individual was 14 days while other accommodation and programming was arranged. Interim programming would take place off site during the day.
“The goal is not to just house people, but house them permanently and get them out of the (social services) system,” said Bill Nixon, the Mustard Seed’s director of similar programs in other Western Canadian cities, at the time of the April decision.
“We’re not coming in to the community to make things difficult but to make it better.”
But, several business operators on the block attended, and the issue was debated for 45 minutes, with opponents posing questions about consultation process and asking for assurances.
It was formerly the Champions Centre, then the subject of a planning commission controversy in 2022 when it was allowed to operate on a temporary permit for “emergency day shelter” during the pandemic.
It was further proposed to become an overnight shelter by the Mustard Seed last summer, before that group rescinded its application and later acquired the former Salvation Army Centre of Hope in the winter.
Nieman’s statement reads that the dry shelter “is not compatible with the neighbouring businesses which are bars and restaurants, specialty shops, a children’s dance studio.
“There are still consequences for nearby business owners and customers who are dealing with people with mental health issues.”
The subdivision appeal board is a quasi-judicial body that hears appeals of planning decisions.
In 2021, it ruled in favour of the City Centre Development Agency which supported owners against the use of a storefront the corner of Third Street and Sixth Avenue downtown as a daytime shelter. That led to the multi-agency effort funded by the province’s pandemic relief program to be relocated temporarily to the Medicine Hat Curling Club, then for several months to the N. Railway location.