|Prince Rupert City Council
member Reid Skelton Morven
has taken to his FB page to
expand on his themes on the
housing issues in the community
(photo from his FB page)
The openings and closings to his expanded treatise on housing focus on some of his early days as a youth in the area, his passion for affordable housing and his proclamation to be the relentless force of progress, compassion and social equity.
Mr. Skelton Morven's first draft of his housing talking points came as part of the February 3rd Council session, where he expressed his disappointment at what he saw as the curse of NIMBYism creeping into the discussion.
He returned to the theme on Wednesday, with his Facebook post which he called a clarification, but at times seemed to double down on his original themes and add some more fuel for a simmering fire.
From the Councillor's commentary and the follow up comments found from across the community through the social media pulpit, the already heated housing issue and the gulf between residents would seem to be widening and the tone of the conversation it appears is getting somewhat off focus of what's important ... that of delivering housing for those that need it the most.
To the issue of the Kootenay proposal Mr. Skelton Morven said:
I spoke up on February 8th at our council meeting because I firmly believe that we as leadership must serve with a lens of compassion, and make the decisions in the best interests of not only the totality of our community, but especially those who need us the most to speak up for them.
This project at this time is being limited due to the public feedback from homeowners within proximity of the development, which we as a municipality have no control over, as the Province & BC Housing are the applicants proposing the developments. With an unfortunately high number of disagreement, they decided to modify their initial proposal and develop what was already permitted on the property. Which is resulting in a loss of anticipated units.
For me specifically & personally, It’s discouraging & disheartening to see such immense efforts of pushback specifically from a few key individuals in their efforts to acquire these signatures from other homeowners in the area.
I want to acknowledge that we are indeed allowed a difference of opinion, and to voice those opinions in the democratic process. But we also need to take into consideration the effects on enacting such a stance, and the drastic long term affects that limiting the number affordable housing in our community has on not only inter-generational wealth, but inter-generational trauma as well, which creates more barriers for those trying to break free in the process.
I said it then, and I will say it again, there is very much a “Not in my backyard mentality” when it comes to these types of developments, and to see those that helmed this petition, and are within proximity to these developments push back & use language like “there are too many undesirable people in this neighborhood already” is disappointing to me, and that is saying the least.
The last paragraph does raise an alarm over perceptions that may be in the neighbourhood and flags an issue that is concerning; though it comes without any corroboration in the way of documentation, or audio/visual presentation from the Councillor.
He provides no context when it comes to that pushback he is concerned about, and whether it was one person's comment, or a volume of neighbourhood residents that he has taken issue with.
As a result, it has evolved into a statement of hearsay that has brought the conversation to a boil, relayed in what is the rhetorical echo chamber of Social Media, which lately is where Council often seems to do a good portion of their governance.
For those that don't follow City Council all that closely, it should be remembered, that the one public access opportunity to listen in to the discussion on the Kootenay project that we had was lost last year.
That through a Council session in October which suffered some unfortunate electronic gremlins which meant that anything on the record at that session was lost to the digital universe, with no video record to call on for a review.
And with council through their ongoing COVID response continuing to limit any opportunity for the community to attend meetings in any form to speak to issues of note, those with concerns are finding it harder and harder to get their say in a public forum on important issues such as housing issues in their neighbourhoods.
What the City Councillor did not include in his lengthy review of how he views the disagreement over the housing question on Kootenay, was the preamble to the entire proposal of the summer, which started with residents expressing concerns over a lack of information provided to them when it came to the proposed development.
|The original design for the housing on Kootneay Avenue
(from City of PR Agenda package of May 2020)
When first proposed in the Spring of 2020, the original plan was to increase the volume of housing in that area by 37 units, that increase coming through the proposed construction of a large apartment building designed to front Kootenay Avenue which seems to be the focus over the pushback that the project received.
Such were the concerns that some council members heard, that at that time both Councillors Cunningham and Niesh insisted that the city expand the previously agreed on notification zone, so as to ensure that whatever information they may have to provide made it to a wider audience.
"We've got to take into consideration the people living in this area if they have some input .. they are the ones directly affected and 100 metres or a 100 yards doesn't cut the mustard ... I really want to hear from the residents of that neighbourhood.
I would like to extend the boundaries for public notification as wide as we can, whether its on one side of Smithers or the other ... I think we have to expand this to the whole neighbourhood and I like the idea of a lot of there's a lot of people who sometimes have something to say that don't necessarily live right there, so I think it's important that we engage the public as much as possible on this -- Some of the comments on the Kootenay proposal from Councillor Barry Cunningham in May
The impression to take it seems now from the social media chatter, is one that while the residents may receive that information, they should not really express any concerns that they may have through public feedback; particularly if it doesn't fit into the desired outcome that Council would wish for.
Through the entire process, for the most part, the largest concern from the residents of the area appeared to be attached to the scope of the largest of the buildings planned and the worries about the footprint that it would project over the surrounding homes.
That in the end was the revision made to the housing plan which reduced the total for proposed available housing units from the proposed higher level, though curiously made for a decision by BC Housing to take it below the current level already approved for that area.
While Councillors Skelton-Morven and Mirau both asked about the net loss of the housing on the site at the February 8th session, neither inquired if another design might have returned the housing stock to at least the original level; or offer up another building of lower profile on the site to add to the housing in the area, something which might have helped in getting a better understanding of the situation.
However it was not explained by the city's contract planners at the time if any additional units proposed could be delivered in some other form with less of an architectural profile, or why the new model was short of the existing level of housing.
Councillor Cunningham also spoke to the issue that night, noting how as deigned the project will enhance the neighbourhood in many ways.
None of the other Council members chose to address the topic that night, that in a meeting that lasted all of twenty eight minutes.
In the end, the process of public feedback, as flawed as it appears to have been to Councillor Skelton-Morven, did work as currently designed. As the plans for improved housing will move forward and the concerns over the one building profile from those in the area was addressed.
Beyond the Kootenay controversy, when it comes to the status of housing in the community, Council members have shown little interest towards providing a bit of a public review on the volume of past housing proposals that once were hailed as solutions, but which have since vanished from view.
We made note of some of them earlier this week as part of our look at councillor Cunningham's call for more senior's housing options in the community.
Many of the former housing proposals we took note of could have resolved a number of our current housing issues, long before the city reached this particular crisis point.
Those areas of land that were once to be developed, still appear to be there, awaiting some kind of direction and leadership toward constructive housing solutions.
Council has had some success in recent years when it comes to putting housing in place, they may want to review how they handled those issues at the time and see if they can get to that level of progress again.
|Council Group shot from a past city correspondence
The next Council session comes up on Monday evening, it provides a timely opportunity for all the City Councillors to go on the public record and share some thoughts, not only to clarify their views on the Kootenay situation, but to speak to the issue of housing in a larger view.
Both when it comes to the need to ensure that affordable housing finds its place, but also to advise if residents in neighbourhoods have any right to expression of their concerns, or if they should just accept any proposal now as something that has to take place regardless of the stresses it may create amongst neighbours.
Perhaps they could take some time to consider if their handling of the flow of information to the community of late may be contributing to the current gulf between community members; an approach that doesn't seem to be helping towards their desired outcomes towards a solution to the housing issues.
If City Council hopes to bridge the gulf on housing in the community that seems to be building, they may want to consider if they are truly engaging the public, or now just dictating the terms of what may be coming their way.
You can find more on the meandering path of housing in the community from our archive page here.
Past themes from City Council sessions can be explore from our Council Discussion page.