Four residents spoke out in opposition to the proposed rezoning of the Sikh Temple which would see a daycare and “family hub” on Ash Street.
Nechako Valley Community Services Society (NVCSS) is interested in purchasing the property in order to create what they call a “family services hub.”
However, the two families occupying residences on the same street attended the public meeting before last week’s council meeting to voice their opposition to the project, which would see the Sikh Temple renovated to house a daycare facility for up to 50 children and child and family counselling services, which are currently being offered out of the building in the Sitka Building on Stuart Drive West NVCSS shares with Fireweed Collective Society.
The women’s shelter and support services Fireweed offers would stay at their current location.
Ash Street resident John Butler spoke in opposition to bringing the NVCSS child and family counselling services onto Ash Street.
“We do have young families in the area,” said Butler.
“I don’t want council to be at all confused by the word ‘children’ -don’t sugar-coat it,” he said. “As a teacher at the high school level … some of them do come with a litany of problems and do not for a moment think that it’s all sugar and spice and everything nice.”
There is currently one young family on adjacent property to the proposed facility. Butler occupies the only other home on the street. Two other lots are currently vacant.
His fear is also for the currently quiet neighbourhood to be impacted by the increased traffic and for the rezoning to open up the site for future uses not currently allowed in the current institutional zoning.
Ann McCormick, board member for NVCSS, explained some of the reasoning behind the “family hub” approach, and said with expanding services by both Fireweed and NVCSS and NVCSS wanting to help develop a daycare facility in the community, it only makes sense administratively to bring the two under one roof.
“The logistics of having two spaces and asking families to go across town to the Sitka Building just seemed kind of odd to us,” said McCormick. “I understand your concern, but we have indicated that we are not prepared to have any overnight services.”
“The vision is to create a family-centred space for all the families in the community,” said Suzanne Lorimer, who has been working on developing a daycare facility in the community since 2008. She said having the daycare in a residential neighbourhood helps to give the facility a “family-centred feel” and is more welcoming.
Ash Street residents with children, Erica and Blake Olesiuk, also voiced their concerns about the clientele who may be attending counselling and the possible impact this could have.
“As a parent I don’t want that to compromise my family,” said Erica Olesiuk, and her husband questioned the need to put the facility in that exact location.
“We have explored a variety of options in Fort St. James,” said Arnold. “Real estate is not easy to come by or finding the building of that magnitude and that size.”
The requirements for a daycare facility in particular are constricting enough to limit their options significantly, and the cost to build new is too prohibitive, according to Lorimer and Arnold.
During the regular council meeting, mayor and council moved to pass the third reading of the amendment with a proposed covenant which they hoped would help to alleviate some of the residents concerns.
The covenant would explicitly limit the use of the facility for a transition house. The rezoning will still have to be adopted to become finalized.
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Arnold said afterwards he had expected to hear concerns from the residents because of the previous rezoning application when Nezul Be Family Services was looking at purchasing the property. The proposal was rejected by the prior mayor and council after residents on Ash Street opposed the changes.
He said he’s optimistic their organization can continue working with the neighbourhood.
“It’s always difficult moving into a quiet neighbourhood,” he said.
He also thought the proposed covenant proposed by the council would help to alleviate some of the residents’ concerns for the future use of the building.
“I think that’s an excellent concession,” he said.
Arnold is also optimistic because of the great support base from the community behind them for the new development.
They have over 30 letters of support from community members, stakeholders, and businesses.
“We’ve had a lot of people anxious about getting it going,” he said.
Lorimer also appreciated the concerns voiced by the residents, and said she hoped they felt they were heard by the town and this was shown by the covenant which would prevent the use of the site as a transition house.
She said the clients of the family services the site would host are not people residents should be concerned about.
“They’re the people all around us … it’s our community,” she said. Her dream is to offer a vibrant place where families can feel positive about getting support.
As for her proposed daycare, she will be trying to create a homelike atmosphere the community is looking for when dropping off their young children and to encourage and foster natural development processes through curiosity about their environment and through play.
“We just want to build on that,” she said. There would be a greenhouse to learn about food and growing some food themselves. She said she has already put thought into how they might also be able to landscape to provide as much privacy as possible for the neighbours.
“I just really want to create a totally respectful relationship with out neighbours,” she said.
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