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Hillside-Quadra residents reject plan for mental-health facility

Hillside-Quadra — one of the poorest inner-city neighbourhoods in the city — shouldn’t be a dumping ground for more regional facilities, Capital Regional District directors were told Wednesday.
Area residents tour the old Blanshard Elementary site in February. They had hoped to use the property as an extension of the community centre, but the site is now eyed for a mental-health facility and social housing.

Hillside-Quadra — one of the poorest inner-city neighbourhoods in the city — shouldn’t be a dumping ground for more regional facilities, Capital Regional District directors were told Wednesday.

“You’re taking away our chance for health for this neighbourhood,” said Kelly Greenwell, executive director of the Quadra Village Community Centre.

Greenwell was responding to the CRD’s preliminary plan to replace the former Blanshard Elementary School at 950 Kings Rd. with a 50-bed mental-health facility and 150 units of social housing. The former school is currently used by the Vancouver Island School of Art.

Directors were told that Hillside-Quadra has a history of bearing the brunt of regional initiatives, from the loss of housing for the widening of Blanshard Street to the construction of the former Blanshard Court social-housing complex, now known as Evergreen Terrace, and the Summit at Quadra Village — the 320-unit seniors residential care facility now under construction, which was rejected twice by Oak Bay.

Resident Jenn Neilson said there are 7,500 people living in the neighbourhood, including about 800 in Evergreen Terrace.

“We really do need to have a community backyard and a community living room for them and for everyone who lives in the broader community to come together and to work on projects and to be active and to live full and interesting lives,” she said.

Greenwell said no one would ever build Evergreen Terrace today.

“No one would concentrate this much poverty on one site. Now you’re asking this neighbourhood to bear the pressure from this once again, when there’s plenty of ways that we can share this within the region,” Greenwell said.

“You can’t ask some of the poorest people in the city with the fewest amount of options to be the ones to take the lead in this.”

About 20 residents spoke to the CRD’s hospitals and housing committee, voicing their dismay at Capital Regional Hospital District plans for the site and the lack of community consultation to date.

Staff say planning is preliminary and they were simply bringing the report to the committee for information, given neighbourhood concerns and media reports.

Further consultation with Island Health, B.C. Housing and the community would have to be undertaken before it would be brought back to the hospital district for consideration.

The Quadra Village Community Centre wants to see continued neighbourhood use of the gym and maintenance of the green space on the site, as well as child care and a library.

But CRD staff note the site, which was purchased in 2016 from the school district for $5.8 million, is zoned for the proposed use and the hospital district has neither the legal obligation nor the authority to provide any of the amenities proposed by the community centre. Staff say the value of the land has more than doubled.

Several residents urged the CRD to sell the site to Victoria.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said that is unlikely. “I think we’d be interested in some land swaps or creative options. I think it’s valued at something like $14 million and that would drain our reserves pretty darn quickly,” she said.

Helps, who chairs the committee, said it’s time for the City of Victoria and the CRD to work together on the site.

The mayor said she hopes a solution will be found “that balances everyone’s needs, that has green space, that has a mental-health facility, that has underground parking.”

“But it’s going to take some hard work,” she said.

She agreed that the hospital district’s mandate is only to provide health facilities, but raised the prospect of a partnership so the community’s desires, the city’s wants and the CRD’s needs for the site can all be met.

Victoria council last month passed a resolution calling for the city to have a lead role in the redevelopment of the site, and for no net loss of green space. It also wants rapid creation of new non-market housing options on the adjacent provincially owned Evergreen Terrace.

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