John Clinton

John Clinton is the executive director of St. Leonard's, a halfway house for male federal parolees in central Hamilton.

After a three-year battle with city hall, the St. Leonard’s Society of Hamilton can finally renovate its halfway house.

Pending final council approval on Oct. 9, the agency can make its Emerald Street property more accessible for people with disabilities. That will include an elevator and making rooms wheelchair accessible.

It marks the end of a long battle for the agency, which has operated the home at 22-24 Emerald St. for 38 years.

“We’re elated,” executive director John Clinton said.

The city’s planning committee voted in favour of the rezoning at its meeting Tuesday. Zoning laws have changed since the halfway house was built. When the agency applied to renovate the home, it required a zoning bylaw amendment.

Coun. Bernie Morelli of Ward 3 has opposed the zoning change, saying that there are too many similar services in the neighbourhood.

It’s changed the quality of the neighbourhood, Morelli told the committee, including break and enters and murders.

“We’re dealing with a neighbourhood that says it’s had enough, and this is an opportunity to say that,” he said.

But there’s no proof of a link between the halfway house and those incidents, said Ed Fothergill, planner for St. Leonard’s. And a city lawyer told councillors Tuesday that there’s no legal grounds to deny the application.

“I’m in a real quandary as to how we can say no,” said Coun. Brad Clark of Stoney Creek.

Dumping ground?

Coun. Terry Whitehead said again during the debate that Hamilton is a regional “dumping ground” for social services and mental health cases, including newly released inmates.

“We know that Brampton, Mississauga, Oakville and Burlington do not have halfway houses, and we know they have people who have been in trouble with the law,” he said. “They’re going somewhere. My understanding is they’re coming to Hamilton to some degree.”

The renovations, worth $3 million, will likely begin in the spring and take place in five phases over about three years.