Parksville gives go-ahead to contentious supportive-housing project

The City of Parksville has approved a development permit for new supportive housing, as opponents prepare to fight the plan in the Supreme Court of B.C.

Parksville received legal advice that it could proceed with decision-making on the project, despite the lawsuit filed in August, Mayor Marc Lefebvre said Friday.

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A housing agreement and a 25-year-lease, each with B.C. Housing, were also approved this week by council for the modular housing project at 222 Corfield St. South.

After a four-hour public hearing, council approved the rezoning in July to pave the way for a $6.9-million provincial expenditure on the building.

The property was bought with support from local governments to use for social housing.

Along other Vancouver Island communities, such as Victoria, Saanich and Nanaimo, Parksville and its surrounding region are experiencing a lack of affordable rental housing and increasing numbers of homeless residents. Meanwhile, the opioid crisis continues to claim B.C. lives.

Estimates put the number of homeless people in and around Parksville at about 100.

Controversy erupted over the choice of the Corfield site, with critics saying the facility should not be located in that residential area and should not be so close to downtown. Neighbours worry about a potential increase in crime in the area, including drug trafficking.

They said that while they are in favour of a staffed affordable-housing development, drug addicts would be better housed in a specialized treatment centre.

The issue remains a hot topic in Parksville, a community of 12,500 catering to tourists who are attracted by its sandy beaches.

The proposed 34,930-square-foot building is one of the first in B.C. to win municipal approval under the province’s rapid-response-to-homelessness program.

Plans call for a three-storey building with 52 housing units, consisting of 38 studio apartments and 14 one-bedroom units, plus another three shelter units. There would be common areas for dining and food preparation.

Project opponents raised more than $32,000 for legal costs in a social-media campaign.

Residents and property owners Ron Chiovetti, Adam Fras, Doug O’Brien and Melanie Van Der Stock, plus Victoria-based Berwick Retirement Communities Ltd., filed a petition to the court in Nanaimo on Aug. 3 against the City of Parksville. Berwick is in the process of developing a seniors facility with 188 suites at nearby 180 Jensen Ave. East, with development partner Revera Inc.

The municipality has not yet responded to the petition.

Petitioners are asking the court to quash the rezoning and to declare that Parksville did not properly notify nearby property owners of the proposed rezoning.

They maintain that city hall did not act fairly when deciding on the proposal. The document said critics were intimidated, interrupted and cut off and did not get enough time to state their reasons for opposing the rezoning during the public hearing.

Allegations have not been proven in court.

Lefebvre, who supports the project, said Friday that he could not comment on the court case. “I firmly believe that the majority of the city of Parksville supports it.”

Violet Hayes, executive director of the Island Crisis Care Society, said if all goes smoothly, the facility will open next year. The next step is for B.C. Housing to apply for a building permit.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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