Elizabeth Fry expansion riles Sapperton residents

Catherine Cartwright is helping to collect signatures of Sapperton residents who are concerned a proposal by the Elizabeth Fry Society to expand its facility will change the character of their residential neighbourhood. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Catherine Cartwright is helping to collect signatures of Sapperton residents who are concerned a proposal by the Elizabeth Fry Society to expand its facility will change the character of their residential neighbourhood.

Some residents in the Sapperton neighbourhood are upset over plans by the Elizabeth Fry Society to expand its facility at Sherbrooke and East Columbia.

The group plans to go to city council on Monday to oppose the society’s rezoning application to two pieces of property on Sherbrooke so it can build a 21,000-square-foot facility with four storeys on the north side and two on the south. The upgraded facility will be used for Elizabeth Fry’s corporate office and provide space for training, 10 long-term client apartments and 37 public daycare spots.

Nearby resident Ken Grekul objects to the plan to change the zoning from residential because of what he believes are implications for the future. He is worried if rezoning is approved it will be the start of more commercial buildings being built on the east side of Sherbrooke opposite Royal Columbian Hospital.

“We have nothing against Elizabeth Fry. We’re against the commercial or institutional zoning,” said Grekul. “Where do you stop? They’re going to go right down Sherbrooke.”

So far, he said, 93 signatures have been collected for the petition just from residents living on Kelly, Fader and Garrett streets between Sherbrooke and Braid.

“We like our neighbourhood,” said Grekul. “There are other areas Elizabeth Fry can go to. On Columbia Street there are some empty lots, but they’re more expensive.”

Catherine Cartwright, Grekul’s wife, said, “It’s not about being against Elizabeth Fry, it’s about anybody coming in and taking away single-family housing stock from the neighbourhood.”

They don’t mind the new development at the old Labatt Brewery site adding commercial space or another possible commercial development at Braid and Brunette, but they want their Sapperton neighbourhood to remain intact.

“Everybody’s pretty tight in the neighbourhood,” said Grekul. “The UBE (United Boulevard Extension) really brought us together.

“Leave us alone, we’re quite happy. Don’t start encroaching on us.”

Shawn Bayes, executive director of Elizabeth Fry Society, said the rezoning will not take away any housing stock because one lot is for society parking and the other is a home that housed a drug addiction treatment program.

She also said the rezoning they are asking for is so site specific because it is a non-profit organization it would be difficult for developers to try to use a similar tactic.

“It is a very focused, narrow designation,” said Bayes. “In this case it is so narrow and specific that it would be a very hard sell.”

Area resident Trina Graydon has other concerns, in addition to those of Grekul and Cartwright. Graydon said her family moved there 20 years ago, before the society set up shop in Sapperton in 1996. It has not always been a positive experience for her.

“What they led us to believe when they opened up is quite different than what happened,” said Graydon.

According to her, Fry claimed the building would house abused women and women with children with nowhere to go. Since then, it has also been a transition home for women leaving prison.

“There was never any mention of that when they came in,” said Graydon. “I’m worried about what kind of people they’re bringing into our neighbourhood.”

In 2008, Kelly Ellard, the convicted killer of 14-year-old Reena Virk in Victoria, was living at the society’s home. Graydon said area residents didn’t find out until Ellard was arrested for breach of probation and assault for an incident in Sapperton Park.

She said there have been many instances when the police have been called because of disruptions caused by women residing at Fry, or by their male acquaintances.

Bayes said she was shocked to hear a resident make such a complaint because the police rarely show up at their facility.

“We’re known for being a good building,” said Bayes. “People don’t drink in our building, it’s not allowed. For alcohol we have a zero-tolerance policy.”

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