Fort St. James mayor and council rejects rezoning on Second Avenue

Fireweed women's shelter will for women fleeing domestic violence not be moving to Second Avenue, at least not yet.

Fireweed Collective Society’s Safe Haven for women and their families fleeing domestic violence will not be moving to Second Avenue, at least not yet.

The vote to amend zoning which would have made the move possible was two for and two against to get it past the second reading, and so the motion failed.

Councillors Riley Willick and Joan Burndeniuk moved and seconded the motion to pass the third reading of a rezoning bylaw the Fireweed Collective Society had hoped would make it possible to relocate their women’s shelter into a house they have purchased on Second Avenue. The bylaw would still have required another vote for final adoption.

With only four of the district council present, Councillor Russ Gingrich and Mayor Rob MacDougall’s votes against the third reading of the bylaw defeated it on the table.

This was after a public hearing heard from residents of the street who were not comfortable with the shelter moving over the approximately one block from where it is on Stuart Drive in the Sitka Building to a house the society has purchased at 241 Second Avenue West.

Owners of property on the street voiced their opposition to the move in a public hearing before the council meeting.

“I do not want to raise my children across from the women’s shelter,” said Nadine Hoy, who was concerned about safety around the shelter. She said she and her husband would lose the chance to get to know their neighbours. “I’m not against the women’s shelter … I’m just struggling because this is my house.”

Neil Hoy said he thought funding should be found and used to build a more suitable structure for the shelter.

Brandi Hanterman and Kelly Inden were presenting at the public hearing on behalf of Fireweed Collective Society and said the house is exactly what they are looking for, a home for women and their children fleeing abuse.

“There’s a lot of reasons we’re excited about this space,” said Inden.

Elizabeth Hoy said while she appreciates the work the shelter does, she is concerned about spillover into the street.

But Hanterman said safety concerns, while understandable, are unfounded. The facility does not allow drugs or alcohol on site and in the 10 years of operation, the RCMP have not once been called to deal with angry spouses or critical incidences.

“We’re good neighbours,” she said. “There’s cooking and baking and kids playing.”

She explained there are security cameras on site and there is staff there 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

She also said they like the location because the area already has a variety of zoning. “We felt that it would be an appropriate fit in that neighbourhood as well.”

The facility houses a maximum of eight individuals, including children, in two bedrooms in their current location. Moving into the larger home would allow the shelter residents more space, but the numbers of individuals would stay the same.

The society can not afford to purchase the hotel they are currently located in, according to Hanterman and Inden. The building, which was a motel, is now owned by the Nechako Valley Community Services Society (NVSS), and NVSS has since bought what was the Sikh Temple and will likely be moving their services there.

When discussing the zoning later in the regular council meeting, the mayor and councillors had a very lengthy discussion about the matter.

While MacDougall said he did not feel safety is as big a concern with the shelter as people often think, he was reluctant to take residential housing off the market and would prefer to see the shelter stay where it is.

“I think there’s an opportunity to expand where they are,” he said. “It’s there and it’s working.”

“I’m a firm believer if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” said Gingrich.

Burdeniuk expressed concern the council was overstepping their mandate by discussing what they felt the organization should be doing.

“Our question only is: Is that an appropriate area to have that facility,” she said.

Hanterman said on Thursday, after she learned about the decision, the group was disappointed and she will be getting the board together to discuss their next steps.

“We need to look at our options,” she said.