By Mike Archer. Despite the fact Abbotsford Council voted four to three to accept $15.3 million dollars from the provincial government in order to build the proposed ACS/BC Housing low barrier shelter for homeless men, Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman stepped in and voted with the ‘No’ side creating a tie and killing the proposal.
The proposal, which has taken six years of negotiation and work by officials at the City of Abbotsford, BC Housing and Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) at the direction of Council, would have been the smallest supportive housing project ever built by BC Housing.
After impassioned speeches from councillors Henry Braun, Patricia Ross and Dave Loewen, councillors Bill MacGregor, Les Barkman and John Smith argued that homeless people, who are currently living on the streets of Abbotsford would be a threat to the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) if they were taken off the street, housed and helped to get back on their feet.
“It may be irrational, but that doesn’t matter,” said councillor Smith.
Councillor Patricia Ross spoke passionately about the need for Abbotsford get past the fears of a few downtown merchants and answer what she referred to as ‘The desperate need for low-barrier housing in this city.”
“We have neglected our social well-being in this community. We’ve begged the provincial government to step up and they are here. I’m tired of sitting in my warm office, with a full belly watching the unspeakable suffering on our streets,” she said.
Councillor Dave Loewen, whose brother died in Northern BC of drug addiction, spoke with a faltering voice, and broke down crying at one point as he told council this issue is crucial for the community, and urging those opposed to the project to set aside their fears and begin the long process of dealing with homelessness in Abbotsford.
Councillor Bill MacGregor said, “It matters not where they are tended so long as they are tended,” and then voted not to let them be tended at the proposed site – ‘where’ apparently takes precedence in the time it took him to get from one end of his sentence to the next.
Councillor Les Barkman said he had actually talked to two homeless people at a fundraising function once who told him housing wasn’t the help they needed.
Councillor John Smith reminded the room “I was a banker,” and explained that investment dollars would not flow to a community where downtown merchants are afraid of homeless people and said, “It doesn’t matter if their fears are irrational.”
Councillor Moe Gill spoke at length about the valuable contribution the ADBA and the Chamber of Commerce have made to the community and, at the end, said he would support the proposal but, seeing as it would likely fail, Gill put forward a motion to ask Fraser Health if they would consider building a low-barrier shelter over on the former MSA Hospital grounds.
Both Councillors Ross and Braun warned council that a passing comment at a Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) meeting in response to a question from Abbotsford about whether or not such a thing would be possible was hardly a commitment.
Loewen remarked that, while current downtown business owners might not invest more in Abbotsford due to their fear of the homeless, the kinds of businesses from outside Abbotsford the City should attract might actually be attracted to a community that has shown compassion towards and an ability to deal with its social problems.
City of Abbotsford Press Release:
Rezoning Application Defeated by Council
ABBOTSFORD February 18, 2014 – Abbotsford City Council has defeated the
rezoning application for a proposed zoning bylaw amendment and development permit
variance application for 2408 Montvue Avenue in downtown Abbotsford, announced
Mayor Bruce Banman.
The property is presently zoned Downtown Abbotsford Commercial Zone (C7).
The C7 zone allows for residential use on upper floors only in conjunction with another
permitted use. Abbotsford Community Services had requested a site specific text
amendment that would amend the zoning to allow for Community Service uses.
“Council has to ensure that any changes made to our bylaws are made for the greater
benefit of the entire community,” said Banman. “While we are keenly aware of need for
additional supportive housing options in our community, we also need to make sure the
interests of all residents are considered in our decisions.”
Council deferred the decision on February 3 after a six-hour Public Hearing where
delegates provided feedback to Council on the pros and cons of the proposed zoning
“We heard directly from more than 90 people at the Public Hearing,” said Banman, “and
we heard that the proposed rezoning was not the right fit for the businesses and
residents in the immediate area.”
“Council is committed to finding the right solution for social housing in Abbotsford, but
after hearing the public’s voice and having time to reflect on the impact of these zoning
changes, Council has decided that this particular amendment was not appropriate for
the neighbourhood at this time.”
2/18/14 18:40 – Editor’s Note: Councillor Loewen has pointed out, “Comments made on Abbotsford Today seem to suggest that the Mayor has an option not to vote. That is incorrect. An abstention is entered as a ‘Yes’, so in fact, if he had abstained, the vote would have been entered as 5 – 3, in favour. I think the public has been misled in believing mayors may abstain because whenever the decision is not in question, the Mayor does not raise his hand, but unaware to them, it is entered as a ‘Yes’, unless he specifically requests to have a ‘No’ registered for him.”
My only comment is that, with council voting 4 to 3 in favour of the ACS proposal, Banman’s abstinent ‘Yes’ vote would merely emphasis council’s majority decision by making it 5 to 3. By voting ‘No’ he caused tie, killing the motion and thereby went against the will of council.
In that way, Bruce did step in to kill the ACS proposal. No other conclusion can be drawn.