City of Edmonton hears appeal of new Boyle Street Community Services building

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City of Edmonton hears appeal of new Boyle Street Community Services building
Boyle Street Community Services is moving forward with plans to trade in its current building beside Rogers Place in downtown Edmonton and move a fe4 blocks north, but it's being met with opposition from the local community. Sarah Komadina has more. – Nov 10, 2022

Boyle Street Community Services is moving forward with plans to trade in its current facility for a newly renovated building, but it’s being met with opposition.

The organization plans to leave its home on 105 Avenue near Rogers Place and move two blocks north to a building on the corner of 101 Street and 107A Avenue that in recent years housed a laser tag facility.

On Thursday, the City of Edmonton’s subdivision and development appeal board heard from 16 appellants.

Lawyer Janice Agrios, representing the Chinatown and Area Business Association and Chinese Benevolent Association of Edmonton, spoke first.

She said everyone acknowledges the importance of the work Boyle Street does and said the appeal is about land use plans complying with the zoning bylaw.

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Agrios pointed to the Katz Group — who owns the Oilers Entertainment Group that operates Rogers Place — helping fund the project, and describing it as a win-win.

Click to play video: 'Boyle Street thrilled with community donations for new home'
Boyle Street thrilled with community donations for new home

But, she said consideration for Chinatown and the McCauley neighbourhood wasn’t taken into consideration.

Agrios said the new building is zoned for commercial use, and not for the social services Boyle Street provides to the city’s most vulnerable.

“It is a large, 75,000-square-foot drop in centre, that provides programming various social service supports and other services to provide the homeless,” Agrios said.

“It does not follow the ARP and it’s not an allowable use under the zoning bylaw.”

Agrios said the way Boyle Street applied for this application was carefully crafted to meet the current zone restrictions.

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“In order to allow the zoning on this site, the ARP needs to be amended, and the site needs to be rezoned.

“If city council decides that it wants this site to be for a social agency, or a drop in centre, or a day shelter, city council does have the authority to allow this.”

Boyle Street executive director Jordan Reiniger said they applied with the same uses they have in their current building.

Reiniger said this is a pretty routine matter when you do a development permit application.

“There is a lot fundamental misunderstandings about the work that we do, and you can even hear in the appellants submissions not really understanding the intended use of the building,” Reiniger said.

“There is a sense that Boyle Street is a soup kitchen, or all we do is people go there to be warm — but really, the fundamental driver of our work is finding pathways to engage in healing.”

Boyle Street serves more than 12,000 people. According to the organization, there are about 2,900 people experiencing homelessness who are on the waitlist for housing in Edmonton. That number has more than doubled since March 2019, BSCS said.

Earlier this month, Reiniger said the organization’s current building is inaccessible and “literally crumbling” so this new project couldn’t come at a better time.

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Click to play video: 'Boyle Street Community Services moving'
Boyle Street Community Services moving

He said the centre provides access to that healing through Indigenous activity and ceremony.

“That’s really the driver of what we do, and the facilities that we build are through relationships and connecting to people so we can get them access to those services.”

As of Nov. 1, BSCS said it had reached 75 per cent of its $28.5-million fundraising goal so far, without any government assistance.

The Indigenous name given to the new Boyle Street Community Centre is okimaw peyesew kamik. In English, the Cree name translates to “King Thunderbird Centre.”

Other members of the central Edmonton community expressed concerns about how this will impact businesses.

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There are fears there will be more social disorder like vandalism, broken windows, loitering and defecting or urinating around the building — resulting in damage to businesses and personal property.

Funkienesse Association of Alberta’s Ed Lam said in the last six years, safety has become worse around their school.

“These instances are leaving our teachers and volunteers very worried. We take every precaution to prevent these encounters but close proximity to homelessness, leave our community and school vulnerable,” Lam said.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton’s Chinatown Business Association concerned over Boyle Street shelter building move'
Edmonton’s Chinatown Business Association concerned over Boyle Street shelter building move

McCauley Community League president Alice Kos told the board this has turned into an “us” versus “them” issue — but she said that’s not the case.

She wants to see an increase in services for people who are struggling with homelessness and addictions. She doesn’t want to see an existing service pushed away from the ICE District.

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 “I’m so proud to live in an area that does its part, but access to food, shelter and support service should be in every neighbourhood. McCauley is generous  — make every neighbourhood generous.”

Kos said Boyle Street isn’t the only vulnerable group. Through tears, Kos said Chinatown is vulnerable, and the McCauley neighbourhood is vulnerable.

Kos said the proposed development will have a negative impact on the area.

Frog Lake Cree Nation chief Gregory Desjarlais made the three-hour trip to Edmonton to support Boyle Street. He said this is an opportunity to work together, and people should embrace the new building.

“A lot of people that are homeless and utilize the service are First Nation, and I believe they can’t get in to this court house, and so there has to be representation from the leadership from the treaty area,” Desjarlais said.

“I believe we have to look for a solution and not try and knock down a project that has already been approved by the city.”

Desjarlais said the size of the facility is needed due to the number of people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton, the new centre is part of the solution.

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The board will issue its decision in writing within 15 days of the hearing.

Click to play video: 'Boyle Street Community Services in downtown Edmonton moving to new home'
Boyle Street Community Services in downtown Edmonton moving to new home

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