More than 150 people signed up to address council’s planning committee on the Salvation Army’s application to build a shelter and health complex, making it one of the most high-profile municipal issues in Mayor Jim Watson’s administration.
The committee, which is taking the rare step of meeting in council chambers, could take up to three days to hear all the delegates.
The Salvation Army wants to build a shelter and health facility at 333 Montreal Rd., where the Concorde Motel currently exists. The operations from the Booth Centre in the ByWard Market would be moved to Vanier and the Salvation Army’s building in the market would be sold.
Carleton University urbanism professor Benjamin Gianni, who also lives in Vanier, said the Salvation Army’s facility would “erode” a struggling neighbourhood and he criticized the organization for not saying how the complex would affect the community.
“It’s downright negligent,” Gianni said.
“We’re going to end up with a Downtown Eastside image,” Louise Levesque said, referring to the infamous Vancouver neighbourhood.
“It will preclude business and residential investment in the area and as a result it will lead to a reversal to what we’ve seen in economic development on Montreal Road,” Vanier resident and economist Randall Bartlett said.
Tim Aubry, a University of Ottawa researcher who lives in Orléans, said the city needs emergency shelters, but not the size the Salvation Army wants.
“And we should get people out of them as quickly as possible and we now have the social know-how to do that,” Aubry said, emphasizing the city’s buy-in to a “housing first” homelessness strategy.
Quartier Vanier BIA chair Mark Kaluski said commercial landlords have lost deals and have been forced to drive down rents because of the Salvation Army’s proposal.
Quelque Chose Patisserie owner David Seba said Vanier residents rather shop in his Westboro bakery rather than shopping at his flagship Vanier bakery.
“Things are getting worse in Vanier,” Seba said, alleging that his sales dropped as soon as the Salvation Army announced its intention to relocate the shelter to Vanier.
Cathie Orfali, who will soon open a financial planning business in Vanier, said if council changes the land-use rules for 333 Montreal Rd. to allow a shelter, it would be sending a message to other business investors: “Watch out. Invest at your own risk.”
On the other hand, Gordon Diamond, who lives in the condo building across from the Booth Centre in the ByWard Market, questioned the Vanier opponents’ concern that property values would tank with the arrival of a shelter. He said his unit has doubled in value over 16 years.
Diamond, the co-chair of the market safety and security committee and who was once in charge of the city’s transit department, encouraged the committee to approve the proposal because it would better for Salvation Army clients. “We want them to have a better chance,” he said.
Marie-Josée Houle of the Action-Logement housing organization, which is also located on Montreal Road in Vanier, supports the Salvation Army’s plan because it will be purpose-built to help homeless people in the central-east community.
“They will have a place to go,” Houle told councillors, noting that “homelessness in Ottawa continues to grow.”
The proposal has attracted fierce opposition from Vanier residents. Ottawa-Vanier MP Mona Fortier and MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers — both attended the planning committee meeting — have also written to council questioning the Salvation Army’s proposal.
The 9,600-square-metre, H-shaped building would have 140 emergency shelter beds, 100 beds for men in various support programs, 50 beds for men in an addiction and rehabilitation program and 60 beds for men requiring specialized health care. The blueprint has a central dining facility and spaces for several day programs, including counselling, life skills training, housing supports and family services. There would also be an outdoor amenity space.
The building would be six storeys at its tallest point.
Opponents largely question the emergency shelter component of the proposed complex.
Coun. Jan Harder, chair of the planning committee, said the committee’s decision must be based on “sound land-use planning principles.”
That is, social issues that are involved with relocating the operations to Vanier are out of order during debate.
Harder said no one will be able to ask about potential funding for the Salvation Army, housing programs and the characteristics of the people who will be clients of the proposed facility.
Delegates have been talking about those issues anyway.
The committee is planning to sit until 5:30 p.m on Tuesday before returning Wednesday morning.