Rezoning for new $32-million jail rejected by Fredericton planning committee
Opponents tell committee the money would be better spent housing people, not jailing them
Fredericton's planning advisory committee is recommending council reject the rezoning needed for construction of a provincial jail on the city's south side.
Committee members voted 4-3 this week to reject city staff recommendations to allow the jail to be built in the Vanier Industrial Park.
The issue will still go to council on Jan. 9, where councillors will hear public input. Council will vote on the issue in the second meeting of the year, on Jan. 23.
The planning committee report includes more than 60 letters of opposition, including one signed by multiple residents of Lincoln Heights, a nearby neighbourhood.
The letters express concern for safety and property values, but the majority question the project to begin with, regardless of where it's built. Those letters say the province should be spending the money on affordable housing and mental health help instead of a $32-million jail.
"As a youth care worker in this city working to build a therapeutic home environment for apprehended children, I directly see the lack of mental health and addiction services and the need for change," wrote McKayla Arseneau.
"Building an expensive prison and then paying to simply sustain the lives of these vulnerable persons is not an
effective use of provincial funds."
Resident Dirk Groenenberg wrote to councillors opposing the project, saying, "This thing would house many who are now unhoused in Fredericton at much higher cost than to build more affordable housing, and give a much worse experience and chance at improving their lot than if given a chance at housing in the real community."
Many of the letters had the same wording, which includes a concern the jail "will be targeting the most vulnerable members of our communities: people with mental illness who live in poverty."
CBC has reported the province is withholding records that explain the reason for the decision to build this jail, but it has previously said a Fredericton jail is needed because of overpopulation and transportation issues for people who currently have to be held in Saint John.
Men's jails were not overpopulated until months after the announcement of the new jail, CBC News analysis has found.
In November, councillors were split on whether to approve the sale of the land to the province. The sale was approved with a 6-4 vote.
That vote paved the way for the 25 acres to be sold to the province for $1,075,000. The site is made up of two adjoining parcels of land at the southern ends of Blizzard and Dorcas streets.
The land would be used for the construction of a jail based on the design of the Dalhousie Regional Correctional Centre, according to a city staff report.
The facility would have five units, each containing 20 beds, along with nine segregation and admission cells.
In the report presented to committee members Wednesday night, staff acknowledged the "higher-level social issues raised by this proposal," but said from a planning perspective, the zoning is reasonable "given the location of the site in the far reaches of the Vanier industrial area."
Coun. Eric Megarity voted in favour of the zoning recommendations. He said he looked at the issue only from a land-use perspective. He said in his opinion, the jail meets the requirements for this type of zoning.
"There could be a lot of more discussion and a lot of more presentations for that one particular item," he said.
City of Fredericton spokesperson Shasta Stairs said Thursday no city planning staff member would be available for an interview.
With files from Aidan Cox