A resounding rejection for EFry in New Westminster
The McBride-Sapperton Residents’ Association is firmly opposed to the Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver’s expansion plans in its neighbourhood.
The society has applied to the city to change the Official Community Plan designation for two properties on Sherbrooke to allow the group to proceed with plans to build a 21,000-square-foot expansion beside its current facility on East Columbia.
On Wednesday evening, EFry executive director Shawn Bayes and city planning staff met with the residents. Following two hours of discussion the association voted 36-0 to oppose EFry’s application, noting in their motion that if the project proceeds “it will be a massive and irrevocable intrusion into the single family neighbourhood.”
“What it boils down to is the intrusion of a commercial property into a residential area,” MSRA president Geoff Pinkerton said in an interview.
Pinkerton said for many residents safety is also a concern because society clients and visitors loiter in the area. “My kids and I walk across the street and that was the sentiment by many at that meeting.”
Pinkerton said there’s a lot of distrust in the community because the city has allowed EFry’s plans to get this far.
“There’s an appearance the city is backing [the expansion] because they’re going ahead with an OCP amendment,” he said. “It’s my belief there’s some tacit support for this already, even though they have to keep an open mind. There’s a feeling in the community the process is a done deal. It doesn’t make sense that it would not happen [or it wouldn’t have been brought forward].”
Pinkerton said although EFry has said it can’t afford to, the society should either be purchasing the properties adjacent to its current building along East Columbia or move to another part of New Westminster such as Downtown.
“There’s a real anger in the neighbourhood about why should we suffer for all the problems they are associated with there, just because EFry can’t afford to do what they should be able to do,” said Pinkerton.
The plans called for four storeys on the north side and two on the south at 273 and 275 Sherbrooke St. The expansion would provide corporate office and training space for the society, 10 client apartments and 37 public daycare spots.
“You’re always disappointed when you’re facing people who aren’t happy,” said Bayes of the residents association’s decision.
Bayes is a Sapperton resident and has lived in the area all her life. She pointed out there’s always been community services in the area, such as the B.C. Penitentiary and Royal Columbian Hospital.
She said there’s a need for affordable housing, and that EFry would help supply that with the 10 units of additional accommodation for single women and women with children it is planning to build.
Bayes said its dealings with dangerous women are done off site and not at the Sapperton building because of the children living there as well as the daycare.
“Thats a miniscule part of our work,” she said.
“There are very clear standards around children, which we meet, we’ve always met them. It’s a great neighbourhood. It’s a good neighbourhood to have a daycare in. The people in [the present facility] do not present a risk to children.”
Bayes said their plans are far from being a done deal.
Not only does the OCP amendment application still have to go through the advisory planning committee and city council, once that’s accomplished they still have to apply to rezone the property.
“We’re not seeking to have commercial space. At the end it will be comprehensive zoning, and those [regulations] are very narrow. It’s very specific,” said Bayes. “Council doesn’t pass anything on a rubber stamp, they decide everything on its merits. Everybody has anxiety, and when people are anxious they think of the worst-case scenario that they can think of. I guess that’s what people’s concern is. We’ve tried really hard to listen.”
EFry’s application will appear before the advisory planning committee on May 16.
Neighbourhood organizer Catherine Cartwright said 210 signatures from residents representing 128 homes in the area have signed a petition opposing the application.