The city is putting forward a proposal to rezone land on Gladys Avenue to allow for supportive housing, at the request of city council.
City manager George Murray told The News the city will bring forward an official community plan (OCP) and a zoning amendment for some properties “in anticipation of future opportunities around low-barrier supportive housing.”
The site is located on the west side of Gladys Avenue, just north of George Ferguson Way.
Murray said due to challenges in the past to supportive housing projects at the rezoning stage, the city is seeking to proactively rezone the city-owned properties and is “cautiously hopeful that this will help facilitate a future low-barrier housing project.”
In 2008, Abbotsford entered into a memorandum of understanding with BC Housing to build provincially funded supportive housing projects. A facility was originally slated for Emerson Street, near the Matsqui Recreation Centre. But after neighbours protested, the project – the George Schmidt Centre – was relocated to King Road near the Abbotsford Airport.
In February of this year, a tied vote by council defeated an application from Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) to build a 21-bed supportive housing project for men across from ACS headquarters at 2048 Montvue Ave. Some of the opposition, including from the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA), was due to the location of the site on a special city downtown zone – C7 – which prohibits supportive recovery use.
The new proposed site does not fall within the C7 zone.
Tina Stewart, executive director of the ADBA and candidate for Abbotsford council in the municipal election, said she met with the ADBA’s board of directors on Tuesday to discuss the proposal, and the organization will be issuing a letter of support.
“Our concern the last time was that we didn’t want to see a C7 property rezoned, to maintain the integrity of the zoning. This is not within the boundaries of the ABDA and it’s not a C7 property.”
When the ACS proposal was rejected, city staff were instructed to look at other sites. The former MSA Hospital site on McCallum Road was put forward as an option, but Fraser Health has announced plans to build a campus of care for seniors and a community health centre there, along with multi-family housing, retail and park space, subject to a request-for-proposal process.
Murray said that site is not out of the question for supportive housing, “but I’m not sure if low-barrier is the right housing mix for that particular site and neither does Fraser Health.”
Siri Bertelsen, general manager of planning and development services, said the city intends to create a specific zone that is related to housing-first as that was identified as a key component of housing by the city’s task force on homelessness.
Murray said this follows protocol in other cities that rezone land for these types of uses in hopes of getting grants and support from the provincial government.
The city is aiming for a public information meeting on Oct. 1 from 6-8 p.m. at the Gateway Community Church.
Staff predict the rezoning proposal will go to council on Oct. 20 and to public hearing at the Nov. 3 meeting – though the timeline is subject to change.
Following a public hearing, council has the option to vote on third reading of a project. Frequently, the decision is deferred to the next meeting of council to allow councillors to consider the views of the public.
If council defers the decision on the rezoning at the Nov. 3 meeting, it would likely come up at the Nov. 17 meeting of council, after the Nov. 15 municipal election – though the current councillors would still be present for their final meeting. The new council will be sworn in on Dec. 1.
In a news release from the city, Mayor Bruce Banman says that “although this process will follow the city’s regular, established procedures for official community plan and zoning amendment bylaws, it can be seen as a proactive step for council in considering new initiatives that address issues of homelessness in our community.”
Asked whether there were talks with BC Housing about a particular project, Murray said, “Nothing has been approved, but we continue to work hard on it.”