|Prince Rupert's Lester Centre was the venue for Monday's
Public Hearing related to the 11th Avenue East apartment building proposal
Close to two years since the prospect of some affordable housing led by the Lax Kw'alaams Band was first introduced, the City will require a bit more time to hear concerns and provide for answers on the topic.
That decision made after two and half hours of discussion that covered a range of themes and with a growing number of questions asked of Prince Rupert City Council.
Questions deemed by the Mayor and Council as ones that they could not answer on the night and as a result, Monday's Public Hearing into a proposed apartment complex off of 11th Avenue east was put into a state of suspension.
Mayor Brain having taken the pulse of the room and the debate as something which will require more time to explore the issues further.
The process to resume sometime most likely at the September Council session, seemingly when the Mayor and Councillors will have done some research and received further details on the issues raised prior to the pause.
That despite a pool of civic advisers on hand for the evening that should have been able to share some knowledge on some of the themes being raised; or at least explained why no one could answer those questions on the night.
The decision to make for a break in the process came after the tone of the event morphed from that of a review of a land use change, towards that of a community rally in favour of affordable housing and a rather wide ranging discussion on social issues and Indigenous issues.
The long running conversation one that touched on themes of un-ceded Tsimshian territory, an act of long needed reconciliation and a clarion call that the need for more housing in the community is dire and no opportunity should be lost.
The Hearing began focused on the actual housing proposal and quest for the land rezoning, with the City's contract planner from iPlan providing some background on the topic from the city's point of view.
That was followed by a thorough review of the proposed project from Human Studio and Michael Green Architecture, the firms working on the file on behalf of the Lax Kw'alaams Housing Society.
The near twenty minute overview covering a range of themes related to the structure, outlining the breakdown of the living space of three, two, one bedroom apartments and studio units.
The inclusion of some Senior's housing, as well as the range of amenities that the building will feature also made for part of the extensive review.
The night was then turned over to the small group in attendance scattered around the Lester Centre, though what may have been lacking in turnout was made up by way of vocal contribution, with two very different themes explored on the evening.
For the residents of the immediate area of the apartment that may be impacted by the structure the key themes of concern were related to the city's site selection process, a perception of a lack of transparency by the City towards information sharing, worries over additional traffic issues that could be created and questions over how the building will be serviced by civic utilities.
Among some of the topics raised by the area residents were:
Questions on any tax benefit for the City
Who will be responsible for the sewer/water utility hook ups
Concerns over the scope of the building to be built near their residences
Concerns over rezoning of land that had previously been listed as for residential and park use
A feeling for many that the City has had no transparency on the issue, with the project for some to be considered as a 'done deal' before they even had heard of it
Questions as to what other sites the city had made available to the Lax Kw'walaams Housing Society for consideration
Observations as to how this now sets a precedent for the development of commercial buildings in other residential areas
What kind of a cap if any is there on the total amount of residents for the complex
Perceptions that the site chosen by the city was the worst possible option, located in a gully with little sunlight and a steep decline to the building location making for a logistical construction issue
Concerns that the way the process is moving, that the project is being pushed through
What plans are there for Waste Management
Will the apartments be available to others besides Lax Kw'alaams members
Traffic themes were also a strong focus for the area residents who noted the following:
Questions related to the length of the traffic study that was conducted and how few had opportunity to see itThe area is a blind hill on a narrow roadway
It already has issues with excessive speeding and concerns over drunk drivers roaring through the area
Parking seems limited at the proposed complex where would any overflow parking go
The volume of residents that will live in the complex could make for a doubling of the traffic impact on the area
Is there an option to access the site from Prince Rupert Boulevard to alleviate traffic issues on 11th
For those in attendance in support of the development, the more prevalent theme related to a need for affordable housing, the topic of traffic issues one which many on the night noted could easily be addressed by the City and Ministry of Transportation.
Much of the conversation for those advocates was focused on social themes, at times recounting the history of the community and a need to reconcile the history of the past with the hopes for the future.
Mayor Gary Reece represented Lax Kw'alaams at the meeting providing his thoughts on how the project was on traditional territory, and how the development would offer opportunity for their people.
He also noted how times have changed in Prince Rupert, which is now features close to 50 percent residency of First Nations people, noting how it was through the investments of the First Nations in the years since the pulp mill collapse that kept the community going as well as the important role that they play in the social and cultural life of the city noting of the All Native Basketball Tournament each year.
Mr. Reece also highlighted how the proposed project is just the first of what could be many more investments to come in the region.
Others to speak on the night included former Chamber President, Michelle Bryant, Paul Legace and Arnold Nagy from the Unemployed Action Centre, as well as individual residents of the community in support of the development.
They collectively raised many themes on the night among them:
Housing is not a privilege but a right
A need for area residents to put aside privilege
The time is now to stop treating people like they're not good enough to live in an area of town
Move away from the Colonial attitude of telling First Nations where to live
The land in question is stolen land and how they should not have to ask to develop on their own land
The land that the city sits on is unceded Tsmishian land
In a time of reconciliation, this is not reconciliation
The members of Lax Kw'alaams are living in large numbers in their current homes because there is no affordable housing available in the city
Those that should be considered, the tenants of the building are not in attendance and their perspective should be kept in mind as well
Concerns over recent renovictions and how current landlords are abusing tenants rights
A need for more housing such as this all over the city
|Mr. Harvey Russell representing Lax Kw'alaams Band housing
outlined the need for housing and what their proposal offers
Of all the contributions to the debate on the night, the most helpful towards putting the proposed development into perspective came from Harvey Russell, the Lax Kw'alaams lead on their housing issues.
Mr. Russell delivered a measured overview for the night charting much of the background towards the proposed development, an engaging conversation that at least will have provided the residents in the area with some additional notes for consideration.
He outlined how this particular proposal evolved through the funding provided first by the Christy Clark government, reinforced by the current NDP government of Premier Horan,
Mr. Russell noted how the proposed site is on their territory and the Band wants what is best for its members and how the Band is determined to see the project proceed, noting how they are working with the City of Prince Rupert as part of the City's 2030 vision planning.
He observed how this site was the best site presented to the Band by the City and they will continue to work towards the best compromise.
Towards concerns over traffic he suggested that those were all areas that could be successfully addressed, while noting for those concerned about lost mountain views that the building itself won't impede on that as the mountains will still be within view of the area.
He also observed as to how this is just the start for work towards affordable housing, with Prince Rupert home to the Nisga'a, Haida and Gitxsan who all may have their own ideas on how to address housing issues for their people.
To close his presentation, he offered an invitation to the Grand Opening and noted how the project will be good for Lax Kw'alaams and Prince Rupert and when Lax Kw'alaams succeeds, Prince Rupert succeeds.
For the residents of the area, some of the tone and shift of the conversation on the night offered up concerns; with many asking why the discussion of a land zoning issue had turned into a forum on race and division in the community.
The residents also returned some focus on the lack of information on site selection, asking for clarification from the City on what they had offered to Lax Kw'alaams and making their own recommendations as to some of the options that could have or should have been explored.
On the site selection, the city representatives on hand did not address what they had offered up, or outline what other available land may be in their hands around the city that could be suitable for such a scale of development.
But the two other sites that had been offered up were noted by the firms working on behalf of the Lax Kw'alaams, both of which were in the 11th Avenue or Hays Cove Avenue areas, both of which were deemed unsuitable for the scope of the project under consideration.
The residents of the area repeatedly noted how they were not against the call for affordable housing but noted they believe it has to go in areas that are more ready for development, citing a number of abandoned school locations, or other areas of level land which already have access to civic services.
Many of the questions posed by the public seemingly could not be answered on the evening, that despite having many of the City's Senior staff members in attendance who must have had some familiarity with the file which is now closing in on close to two years.
The prospect of Lax Kw'alaams led housing was first revealed at the Prince Rupert 2030 Vision presentation of 2019, with the file working its way forward through the months leading up to the Public Hearing of Monday.
As it is, the process in place towards a Public hearing is one where the Council members do not speak to questions during the hearing, but rather address them later on during the Regular Council consideration of the issue.
With the Mayor suspending the Hearing after the two and a half hour point, the council members did not have to address those concerns on Monday, deferring the opportunity until the September session when they may have more information on hand to speak to the issues raised, prior to having to make a final decision on the fate of the rezoning application.
As he brought the Public Hearing to its suspended status, Mayor Brain offered up a few closing thought son the topics of the night.
Noting that suspending the process was a proper course of action as the city council members were lacking in some of the information requested by the participants.
"I have to thank everybody for actually a very respectful dialogue this evening, I'm actually very proud of the conversation that's happened tonight because I think its important that we're making decisions and you know we're not tearing each other down when we're trying to make those decisions ... I do want to alleviate anxiety on both sides, because I do want to make sure we're making a good decision that's going to be the right compromise if that's what Council ends up doing"
He observed how Council knows that there is a need for Housing in the community, noting of the City's current policy of partnership with BC Housing with similar dollar a lease provisions in place.
Mr. Brain adding that this site was the one that the city had available for the scope of the project under consideration, as well as how the project is not a city proposal but one that has been proposed by Lax Kw'alaams.
"That was the site that the city had available that had access for a site like this ... we don't go around telling them what sites they should have, we say these are what we have available and they are selected on that merit ...
Our job as land regulators is to ensure we hear all the voices around that ... our job is to ensure that there is a fair process , technical challenges are being heard, various Ministry's are being involved the public has a chance to have their say"
Stating the City is committed to hearing from everyone, he observed how the process has been followed as required by the Local Government Act,
He also noted that there will be a chance to follow up on the concerns of the Public Hearing, when the session resumes in September, by which time Council may have some answers from those asked on the night.
As a matter of process, Councillor Mirua made an inquiry as to how the September session would be defined, he was advised that it would be considered a Second Public Hearing on the topic.
The evening one that was quite informative and well worth exploring.
The Full Video of the Public Hearing can be reviewed below:
For more notes on Monday's Council session see our Council Timeline feature here.
A wider overview of housing themes in the community can be explored from our Housing archive.