A new supportive housing development project slated to go into a hotel along Highway 16 is now dead in the water following a public outcry.
Earlier this summer, BC Housing entered into a conditional sale agreement with the owners of the Capri Motor Inn to purchase the hotel and adjacent restaurant with the intention of repurposing the existing buildings.
The plan was to create a supportive housing development containing up to 60 units while the building next door, which is currently the Tandoori restaurant would have been converted into a kitchen facility for the housing development. However, one of the conditions of the sale was successful Official Community Plan and zoning amendments for the property.
Those bylaw changes were in front of Smithers council on Aug. 8 for third reading, but they decided not to go ahead after several members of the public spoke out against the development.
An earlier report to council said there is a shortage of supportive housing in Smithers. Currently, there are 28 transitional and supportive housing units in town but many more are needed. There has been a rising number of homeless individuals in the community, steadily rising rental housing costs and a steady zero rental vacancy rate in recent years.
Businesses in the neighbourhood wrote letters to council opposing the idea, suggesting the location was not ideal because of the proximity to an elementary school, seniors residence and could be unsightly for tourism. Concerned citizens of Pioneer Lodge also wrote a letter, worried for their safety if a supportive housing development was adjacent to their property.
Councillor Sam Raven thought the development should go ahead and that this project was needed for the community. She said that a central location is required for supportive housing and that supportive housing isn’t just for people with mental health and addiction issues, but for those that can’t find housing because of physical disabilities or have low income or require support to live independently.
Councillor John Buikema noted that a project of this magnitude needed the community behind it and he didn’t think it was.
The motions to change the OCP and bylaws in order for the project to go ahead were defeated with Councillors Frank Wray, Buikema, Calvin Elliott and Laura Leonard opposing them.
Mayor Gladys Atrill said everyone can take a breath now and then determine what actions the community should take next to address the housing shortage in town.
“We do need support from BC Housing, we need support from provincial agencies,” she added. “But we also need some willingness and support from the community as well. Smithers is very small geographically, there’s no place that we can put something that it won’t be close to someone. And somehow we’re going to have to do it anyway, at some point, or what we see today [in regards to homelessness] is what we’re going to see in six months and 12 months and 18 months.”
In a statement, BC Housing said they are saddened that Smithers town council voted to defeat the proposed rezoning of the Capri Motor Inn given the urgent need for more affordable housing in the Town, especially for people experiencing homelessness.
“BC Housing staff worked closely with the staff of the Town of Smithers to carefully select the Capri Motor Inn location after a comprehensive search. The Capri Motor Inn was selected as an appropriate site after close consultation, while other potential sites were ruled out,” the statement continued.
“Despite council’s decision, BC Housing will continue working with the Town to help address housing needs in the community and will continue exploring alternative locations for housing projects. Everyone in the community benefits when we take care of those who are most vulnerable.”