Appeal board turns down Edmonton businesses fighting inner-city shelter plan

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Appeal board turns down businesses fighting inner-city shelter plan
WATCH ABOVE: Businesses and neighbours of an inner-city shelter are fighting a proposed plan to build a new one, An appeal board turned down their arguments, but now they want the city and province to hear their concerns. Kendra Slugoski reports. – Jul 26, 2017

The subdivision and development appeal board has sided with the Hope Mission — and against local businesses — by agreeing to a proposed redevelopment the Herb Jamieson Centre into a new homeless shelter for 400 individuals.

The vote from the five-member panel means the old building, that dates back to 1954, can be torn down and replaced with a modern facility that will handle the current number of men who need shelter, said Bruce Reith, the executive director of the Hope Mission.

The decision was fought by the Mission’s neighbours, who see chronic problems in area businesses.

“It’s already affected a lot of our businesses,” said Brenda Chow, owner of the Garden Bakery.

“We have a lot of people that come in that are drunk or doing a lot of vandalism, just trying to collect money from customers, just being around, sleeping on the streets. We’re already in a downturn of the economy and this just adds on top of that.”

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However, Reith said a very small number of individuals cause problems, pointing out why the shelter is needed. He said the Hope Mission sees as many as 10,000 clients come through the doors each year.

READ MORE: Edmonton shelter opens city’s first 24/7 beds for less fortunate 

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“They’re short term, they’re on their way up to the oil field or fighting forest fires or whatever. But you have your hardcore four per cent — 300 to 400 hardcore individuals — that really need help and support.

“So that’s the community wellness area, that’s a great idea. We’re sort of the safety net, any time, day or night.”

The subdivision and development appeal board (SDAB) heard plans for a potential $43-million hotel are at risk with the shelter staying in business just north of downtown.

“They might just scrap their project because what’s happening,” said Bob Chinn, an advisor from Quinco Financial, representing investors who own 22 lots in the area.

“Did you know the garbage trucks have to check to make sure nobody is sleeping in there?”

READ MORE: Edmonton counts homeless population 2 years after price of oil crashes

Renderings of the proposed Herb Jamieson Centre redevelopment in Edmonton, July 26, 2017. Courtesy: City of Edmonton

Phil O’Hara, the president of the McCauley Community League, was hoping the plan could be put on hiatus for a year until May, when the city’s inner-city wellness plan comes back with its recommendations that could include a wellness centre in the former Edmonton Remand location.

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“Really, the key player is the province,” O’Hara told reporters. “It’s not what the SDAB does today, it’s what the province does in the long run because these organizations need provincial money to make this work.”

READ MORE: Calls for more Edmonton social housing instead of $2M homeless camp removal 

Reith said his hope is to get $8 million from the province for the Jamieson rebuild, with fundraising covering the other half. He said $2.5 million has already been collected, including $1 million from one large donor.

The construction plan is to break ground in 2018, go through one winter where the shelter would have to find another warehouse-type location, and then have the new building with wide open spaces instead of the cramped quarters it has now ready in mid- to late-2019.

As much as opponents wanted to shine the light on Edmonton’s homelessness problem, the SDAB’s task was to consider the building itself.

“The building overall, with additional public realm improvements, will enhance that site,” Edmonton senior planner Harry Luke said.

It will be set back from the sidewalk more than the current building and will have a rooftop garden where the men there can spend the day instead of on the street.

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