THE fate of what could be the District of North Vancouver's first alcohol recovery centre is in the hands of the community for the next 45 days, following a unanimous decision by council Monday.
Council approved engaging its alternative approval process for the North Shore Support Recovery House, a two-storey, nine-bed, women-only centre earmarked for the north end of Lloyd Avenue. The alternate process means the project's opponents have until Jan. 28 to garner signatures from 10 per cent of the district's electors, about 6,000 signees, and trigger a district-wide referendum on the issue.
If no petition is completed, the district will reconsider the centre's merits and drawbacks following a public information session in early spring.
While no one spoke against the aims of Turning Point, the Vancouver non-profit that would run the centre, many residents objected to handing public land to a private interest. The district bought the parcel in 1970, using the existing house as a rental property until swinging the wrecking ball in 2010.
"We are opposed to rezoning parkland," said Bob MacWhirter, a neighbour who was one of several speakers opposed to the development. "This would set a very dangerous precedent."
MacWhirter objected to the lack of community input, which he said constituted an abuse of process. "Removing park dedication is something that affects all the residents of the North Shore," he said, beseeching council to send the message that parks are not grounds for development.
Turning Point vice-president Marc Strongman said the centre would be used "for helping people in need with addiction." The current site is ideal, according to Strongman, who said no other locations were being considered. He said he passes the area frequently and that he's never seen anyone using it as a park.
"This has been used as a house for as long as I can remember," he said. The project also received support from Gloria Dei Lutheran church pastor Kim Staus. The Gladwin Drive church has hosted weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and Staus said a recovery centre would be an addition to the district.
"I commend you for this proposal," he said. Staus also said the land is not currently used for recreation. "I have never seen anybody using those properties as park," he said.
Council is undertaking the alternative approval process out of an abundance of caution, according to district staff.
"As it was not designated as park, it could be argued that the alternative process is unnecessary," said chief administrative officer David Stuart.
Stuart also stressed that council's ruling would not set a precedent.
"This is site specific. This is not a slippery slope," he said.
The Murdo Frazer Park will be unchanged by the development, assured Coun. Doug MacKay-Dunn.
"We won't be doing anything to the pond or the ducks," he said, addressing an email from a child who feeds those ducks. "Not a blade of grass will be disturbed."
One of the project's detractors asked council to uphold the spirit of the ruling made by council in 1970.
"The council of the day, upon purchasing it, immediately rented the property for 40 years," argued MacKay-Dunn.
The former RCMP officer said he's received numerous heart-tugging emails from children who are fearful their park would be taken away.
"When people start using young children in that way it is inexcusable," MacKay-Dunn said. "You should be ashamed of yourselves."
Turning Point's abstinence-based treatment puts an emphasis on employment and education training, as well as offering a program dealing with the links between domestic violence and substance abuse. It generally requires anyone looking for help at their centres be sober for a minimum of 48 hours before checking in.
"Many women are sent to recover in the middle of a drug ghetto by their communities, who don't want to deal with them," MacKay-Dunn said, discussing the challenges of getting sober in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
When struggling with addiction, a higher power is essential in putting your life back together, according to MacKay-Dunn.
"Nature is a higher power," he said, explaining the need for the facility's picturesque setting. "The question is whether the immediate community will allow this," he said.
That community received empathy from Coun. Robin Hicks.
"I only learned tonight that this wasn't a dedicated park," said Hicks.
Hicks requested council incorporate some recourse for neighbours if they experience adverse effects because of the recovery house, a call echoed by MacKay-Dunn.
"If this doesn't work," MacKay-Dunn said, "they will be out of there." The need for the facility was reiterated by Coun. Mike Little, who discussed the difficulties of dealing with rehabilitation facilities.
"That whole process is so displacing," he said. "I don't debate the need for this type of facility on the North Shore. . . . The debate is about the suitability of the land."
Mayor Richard Walton said every email he'd received on the subject related to land-use concerns.
While the area is covered with grass, there is nothing in the district bylaws precluding numerous developments, according to Coun. Lisa Muri.
"We could put in an athletic field, right now, today," she said.
A field house, tennis court, concession, or numerous other structures could be erected on the site, Muri said.
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