Ottawa

Salvation Army shelter discussion should stay at planning, city lawyer says

The city's top lawyer is recommending against an Ottawa city councillor's request to have the Salvation Army's proposal for a 350-bed facility considered by a joint committee that would look at social housing and homelessness issues alongside planning considerations.

Rideau-Vanier councillor had asked for joint committee to consider social issues alongside zoning request

An artist's rendering of a proposed new Salvation Army facility on Montreal Road in Vanier. (Salvation Army)

The city's top lawyer is recommending against an Ottawa city councillor's request to have the Salvation Army's proposal for a 350-bed facility considered by a joint committee that would look at social housing and homelessness issues alongside planning considerations.

The city's set aside Nov. 14, 15 and 17 for the planning committee to consider a rezoning application and a proposal for a new $50-million Salvation Army facility on Montreal Road.

The Salvation Army plans to close its existing shelter on George Street in the ByWard Market and sell it to help pay for the new facility, which would be home to counselling, skills training and a 140-bed emergency shelter.

There has been vocal opposition to the project — in particular, the scale and nature of the proposal — and Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury had requested that the upcoming staff report on the project be considered by a joint meeting of the planning and the community and protective services committees.

But in a memo to councillors Jan Harder and Diane Deans, the heads of the two committees, City Clerk and Solicitor Rick O'Connor advises against it.

Any decision at the planning committee, and later approved at council, that strayed from the jurisdiction of the Planning Act would likely be overturned by the Ontario Municipal Board, O'Connor warned.

"Considerations with respect to how the city will provide supportive housing and homelessness services, how the Salvation Army shelter will be funded once it is built, or the city's allocation of its resources to the shelter once it has relocated and added new services are housing policy considerations and not planning considerations," O'Connor wrote.

City council could, with three-quarters of the vote, suspend its rules of procedure and go ahead with the joint committee, he wrote, but if they did, the meetings on Nov. 14, 15 and 17 would have to be rescheduled to give the public enough notice.

Council next meets Nov. 8.

The meetings in two weeks are expected to draw large crowds, and so has been moved to council chambers, instead of the Champlain Room, the planning committee's usual meeting spot.

But it's unclear how issues surrounding the broader social context of the shelter's location — a likely topic among public delegates — will be addressed within the narrow mandate of the planning committee, which will consider amendments to the official plan and zoning to allow the facility to be built.

In a separate memo to the mayor and city council, O'Connor also said there are no current provisions with the city that prohibit the creation of shelters in a particular neighbourhood or on a main street and no cap on how many shelters the city can have.

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