Parksville housing project makes headway, rezoning suit dropped

Siding and drywall are going up at the new Orca Place supportive-housing project in Parksville, where homes and support services will be provided to 52 residents planning to move in this summer.

The work comes as a lawsuit challenging the rezoning process that permitted the $6.9-million housing project has been dropped.

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An official consent dismissal order, which means parties involved in the B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit have reached an agreement, will be filed in B.C. Supreme Court this week, lawyer Mark Sagar said Wednesday.

Sagar represents the group that launched the suit last year.

When the project was announced in Parksville, its location in a residential area near downtown sparked heated debate.

The supportive housing, with around-the-clock staffing, will serve people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and who are seeking help for problems such as mental-health issues and substance abuse.

It will offer a range of services, such as life and social skills, employment planning and managing the transition to independence and recovery, as well as referrals to other supports, B.C. Housing said in a statement.

As a result of negotiations between B.C. Housing, which is funding the project, and city council, the city has become the sole owner of the land at 222 Corfield St. South, which gives it control over the site. The city paid $700,000 for the property, and repaid a $492,400 grant-in-aid from the Regional District of Nanaimo.

The city has arranged to lease the land to the province for 25 years. The Island Crisis Care Society will operate Orca Place under contract.

Lease provisions have been altered to remove a planned cold-weather shelter from the project, Coun. Doug O’Brien said. The shelter would have served homeless people who were not part of the supportive-housing component. A related food service was also taken out of the deal.

Meals will be provided to supportive-housing tenants.

O’Brien, one of the parties who initiated the lawsuit, said Wednesday that he withdrew from it in January because he wanted to be able to participate at the council table.

The revamped lease is “very tight,” he said, and includes limiting the number of units to 52 and not allowing beds in the space once allocated to the cold-weather shelter. That area could be used by a non-profit organization providing a service, O’Brien said.

Violet Hayes, executive director of Island Crisis Care Society, said the society received 118 applications for the units.

The 52 individuals accepted as tenants are “absolutely delighted, of course — it is life changing,” she said.

Once the project is ready, about three tenants will move in daily. Hayes praised the building, saying it has lots of windows, some of which have views of Mount Arrowsmith.

About 20 staff, mainly full-time, are being hired, Hayes said.

A community advisory committee will be established. Anyone interested in joining the committee can call 778- 441-4227 or send an email to office@iccare.ca

A plan to find another location for a cold-weather shelter is underway, B.C. Housing said.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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