By Mike Archer. Now that all the campaigning and posturing is over and we have a new mayor and council, one of the first pieces of business which must be tackled is the fundamental mistake made when the last council turned down $15.3 million in funding for a small low barrier supportive housing shelter for men who suffer from alcohol dependence.
The plan was well thought out and provided the best compromise between a cash-strapped city, a seriously unrepresented demographic, and a care community trying to do the right thing.
The Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) pulled out all the stops in fighting the proposal from spreading ‘news’ that a needle exchange was planned for downtown to claiming that zoning in Abbotsford, at least in their case, should never be changed. Because of their misinformation they should have been removed from any serious discussion of the issue but, with an election in the offing and voting blocks being auctioned off at a premium, the ADBA ended up taking center stage in the whole debate.
The fact its membership was divided over the issue and that not all members of the organization were afraid that helping alcohoilic men get off the streets and regain a foothold in society would somehow ruin the investments of small businesses was ignored by an executive determined to show a united front of scared ‘Mom and Pop’ business people terrified of losing their lifesavings if alcoholic men were taken off the streets..
The evidence presented during the hearings from other jurisdictions which have helped people get off the street was overwhelmingly in favour of the argument that such a shelter helps rather than hinders business growth and investment.
The argument made by the ADBA’s then President Paul McLeod that the C7 zoning which covers most of the Business Improvement Area (BIA) was a covenant which the City had to live up to or risk sending the wrong message to our children and grandchildren was absurd.
If it weren’t for re-zoning applications in Abbotsford, City council could probably meet two or three times a year for all the time it devotes to anything but re-zoning.
The 20-year covenant to which MacLeod was alluding was the BIA itself and was never tied to C7 zoning for any specific amount of time (much less 20 years), nor meant to affect the C7 zoning designation. The attempt by MacLeod and former mayor Banman, together with councilors John Smith, Bill MacGregor and Les Barkman, to pretend the two were inextricably related was disingenuous at best and otherwise simply wrongheaded and incorrect.
In fact, if the ACS had not added a 24/hr/day building superintendent to the proposal, in an effort to placate to ADBA, and simply leased out main floor space to businesses, it would never have even required rezoning.
Having effectively shown their cards by cobbling together and rushing through a re-zoning of a piece of property much closer to the ‘Mom and Pop’ center of downtown Abbotsford just in time for the election, Banman and McLeod must now explain why they thought it would be better for the ‘Mom and Pop’ merchants to have the shelter next door to them instead of up the hill where, together with the Wiebe family, McLeod owns property.
Or rather, they don’t have to explain, because, having failed in their bid for political support for their shenanigans in last Saturday’s election, neither man has any clout with the new council or official responsibility for the file.
Mayor Braun and council should bring back the ACS/BC Housing proposal, which was negotiated over several years and met all of the requirements of the City, the ACS, BC Housing and, most importantly, the men who will gain so much from its existence. It will serve the needs of the larger community as well as those of some of our most marginalized citizens.
The irrational fears of a few unelected business owners can no longer be used as a means to stop this community’s growth and progress.
A new ear has begun and Mayor Braun and his new council can demonstrate that fact by bringing back the ACS/BC Housing supportive housing project.