Controversial autism centre plan dropped for Queen Street mansion

A controversial proposed six-bed autism treatment centre will not go ahead in a mansion on Queen Street South.

Proponent's lawyer says the fight over a city bylaw he considers discriminatory is not over

A 2015 photograph for a previous real estate listing shows the 20-room mansion in Hamilton. It previously sold in 2007. (Tom Vogel/Supplied by Judy Marsales Real Estate Ltd.)

A controversial proposed six-bed autism treatment centre will not go ahead in a mansion on Queen Street South.

The city rejected an Oakville woman's application to turn the mansion into the centre late last month, and she has decided she will not appeal the decision.

"This decision was heavily influenced by the fact that the offer on the property has expired and so there is no deal in place," said her attorney, Wade Poziomka, in a statement to CBC News.

An online real estate listing lists the home for sale for just under $4 million

Poziomka said the fight over a city bylaw he considers discriminatory is not over.

The decision comes after a Hamilton committee set up to decide on minor exceptions to city planning rules denied an exception needed for the plan to go ahead, saying it didn't seem to be "minor".

The November meeting of the Committee of Adjustment drew a large crowd of opposed neighbours and Jason Farr, the city councillor who represents them. 

The centre's founder, Lisa Stephenson, declined to comment beyond the statement from Poziomka.

'No issue with the concept, just the location'

The nature of the centre and what services would be available there became the focus of a heated debate.

But the narrower issue on the committee's table was whether to allow a so-called "residential care facility" to open up within 300 metres of another facility. A city bylaw currently prohibits that.

Farr said that bylaw will be discussed at a Feb. 20 meeting of the city's planning committee, when city staff will bring a report about the "radial separation" bylaw requiring the distance between residential care facilities.

But he reiterated that he didn't see this project as one of those facilities.

"It was never a residential care facility but instead an institution and an institutional use," he said. "This wasn't about radial separation for me."

Lisa Stephenson had proposed an autism treatment centre on Queen Street South. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

"The idea was something that the proponent should be commended for," Farr continued. "I have no issue with the concept, just the location in a residential neighbourhood. I hope that she rebounds, finds something that does meet zoning."

'Councillors have not had the courage'

Meanwhile, Stephenson and others involved in the centre, along with "other community stakeholders," are now deciding whether to apply to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario against the city's bylaw, Poziomka said.

The bylaw, he said, "inappropriately raises barriers to disabled individuals who require supportive housing in the city of Hamilton."

Poziomka called out city leaders.

"Councillors have not had the courage to stand up for the disabled community and do what is right and so it will likely be a group of stakeholders who this will fall to in order to compel the city to protect Hamilton's vulnerable citizens," Poziomka said.

At the committee's November meeting, Farr said he's not opposed to the city amending its bylaw regulating how far residential care facilities are from each other.

Reprises the Lynnwood Charlton debate

The bylaw became an issue during a debate several years ago about the location for a mental health services centre called the Lynwood Charlton Centre.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission at that time wrote to the city of Hamilton, suggesting council "break down the barriers instead of building new ones" with an arbitrary distance rule. The city ultimately lost an attempt to block the centre moving neighbourhoods.

Farr admitted the issue doesn't come up as often as some other planning rules. He said he's looking forward to the discussion on Feb. 20.

"We'll probably want to deal with it sooner, rather than later, so that it's off the table as an argument and we can deal with the real crux of [planning proposals]," he said.

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca

About the Author

Kelly Bennett

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Kelly Bennett is an award-winning reporter who lives in Hamilton. She grew up in Victoria and covered economics and arts as an investigative reporter in San Diego. She loves digging into great stories, hiking and playing the violin. Drop her a line anytime at kelly.bennett@cbc.ca.