Comment: Health facility bad for Hillside-Quadra area

Our families have been residents of the Hillside-Quadra neighbourhood for more than 40 years. We have seen the intrusive nature of development in this low-income area, especially when imposed without accommodation.

For instance, in the late 1960s, the dense low-income housing development, then known as Blanshard Courts, was built by the federal government. It displaced many families in the Rose Street area. The complex was constructed with limited attention to the needs of residents, and without any recreation facility for the children, youth and families housed there.

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After much lobbying by neighbourhood members, the city eventually responded by helping to acquire the Winifred Clarke Centre as a community recreation facility.

In the early 1970s, the provincial highway department extended Blanshard Street north, virtually cutting off the western part of our neighbourhood with a fast highway to the ferry.

In the 1980s and 2003, S.J. Willis and Blanshard were closed as neighbourhood schools, meaning a commute for elementary and junior high school kids.

In 1993, the school district sold off green space near S.J. Willis to a private developer for housing. At least the neighbourhood was compensated by $500,000 for loss of green space, which amount was leveraged by the city to build an invaluable $1-million Quadra Village Community Centre.

If it were not for the sterling efforts of local businesses and residents, we would not have such a vibrant Quadra-Hillside village, in spite of current density and traffic issues.

Now Island Health and the Capital Regional Hospital District want to build a restricted facility for “complex health,” including dementia patients, in the heart of our neighbourhood on the green space of Blanshard Field.

The problems here are several:

• Their proposal is not a community-accessible facility, but a five- or six-storey health fortress, ironically with the imposing title of The Summit. (They claim patient needs demand outer security and restricted public access and exit.)

So far, there has been little willingness on behalf of Island Health to share some facilities with the neighbourhood: a library, indoor and outdoor recreation space, a clinic or community garden, for instance.

• Island Health does not have a good record of credibility with community stakeholders, according to a community relations and communication review.

To build credibility with stakeholders, Island Health must be seen as accessible, receptive and responsive (in terms of appropriate actions) to community concerns, as opposed to indifferent, reactive and defensive, which all undermine credibility.

Most stakeholders described Island Health in the latter rather than the former terms. Island Health requires a shift in communication activities to place greater emphasis on dialogue-outreach in order to rebuild its credibility with the community.

• The proposed residential facility brings huge amounts of service, hospital, staff and visitor traffic and parking without the attendant benefits of patronizing local business. Such institutions buy food and services in bulk from outside, while our area suffers the traffic and parking impacts. Pay-parking for visitors and staff encourages overflow congestion on our residential streets.

• The proponents claim such an institution is within the community plan of the early 1990s, but 20 years ago, the property was a vibrant school, playing field and play areas. Such a restricted institution was never envisaged then and would be a drastic change.

• Officials at Island Health refuse to consider any compensation for this removal of green space and imposition of a huge facility. They claim there is no profit, as in the S.J. Willis example.

But let us be clear: Oak Bay council twice rejected the lodge expansion under protests from its residents. Island Health is planning to consolidate two health facilities here. By freeing up sites to sell or for further development, is it not receiving a huge benefit/profit at the expense of Hillside-Quadra?

Don’t get us wrong. We are not nimbys.

We do not oppose such a needed regional facility, but why in the middle of urban greenspace and without adequate compensation for impacts in the form of amenities or funds?

We realize that there is no legal obligation to consult concerning structure and design, nor to accommodate neighbourhood needs or interface with the local community, but there is a huge moral imperative to do so if such a $70-80-million facility is to be welcomed. Island Health credibility is again at stake.

Please make your views known at the open house, Saturday from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the gym of CDI College, 950 Kings Rd.

David Turner and Leni Hoover are residents of the Hillside-Quadra neighbourhood.

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