LAC LA BICHE - Last month, Lac La Biche County council selected a location for a Transitional Housing Project aiming to support the homeless population in the area. The project has seen years of research and dedication from the Transitional Housing Task Force, as they worked to find a suitable location to sustain a facility.
The group was originally established in 2017 and is comprised of over a dozen community partners, stakeholders and County officials.
However, the final project location is still concerning some residents in the area. Local resident Colin Cote voiced his concerns during the public portion of last week’s regular council meeting. The former councillor was vehemently concerned about the final location, a roughly eight-acre property located by “the east lift station near Alexander Hamilton Park,” according to council documents.
The property is located on 90 Street and 101 Avenue.
Cote says the site was selected against the advice of the task force, which has seen thousands of dollars and hours dedicated to shaping the project to address homelessness.
“A prime location for the facility was identified and proposed to council, and this location was not chosen. Not acting in accordance with the task force recommendation appears to be a waste of resources, expending resources and identifying solutions,” he said during the Sept. 27 meeting, citing other residents have shared similar concerns.
Originally, the task force recommended a property near Britton’s Your Independent Grocer along 99 Avenue and 105 Street. The location has been a contentious debate among council members and community residents who are concerned about the close proximity of the site to schools and homes. After consecutive months of public and private discussions that included the task force having to find alternative location options, Cote feels the public also wasn’t provided with enough reasoning on the alternative decision.
“The ensuing discussion by council… was done in ‘closed session’ which basically means ‘private away from the public's knowledge.’ We the public are not privy to the content of the conversation or council’s reasoning for not following the recommendation of the Task Force,” he said, referring to discussions last month.
Ultimately, the final location was chosen by a five-to-four decision on Sept. 6, and was a location proposed by the task force, said Coun. John Mondal.
“The site, which has been selected by the council, was proposed by the task force. It was option number three provided by the task force. So, we went with whatever was proposed by the task force. We did not select it by ourselves,” he said. Four locations were provided for council to vote on in September.
Opening up the decision
Cote asked council to re-open discussions on the location considering that not only was the site not a prime location, but also because of the narrow vote that resulted in the decision.
“All it takes to re-open the decision allowing for residents' concerns to be addressed is for one council member to bring forward a motion and consider the task force recommendation again,” the former councillor said.
“This would give the five council members who voted against the task force’s advice an opportunity to re-evaluate the decision or to re-explain to the taxpayers and voters the reason for your decision.”
The location near Alexander Hamilton Park could potentially impact tourism opportunities, leisure activities and raise environmental concerns, which Cote says make the decisions that much more serious.
“Why has council not considered the potential impact this facility would have on future tourism development in the park and in the nearby recreation areas? Why has council not considered the potential environmental impact of developing a sensitive area near our lakeshore?” he asked.
Ultimately, Cote explained his findings and concerns are based on the limited public information that resulted in the decision of the location. Nonetheless, he hopes to see more deliberations take place about the project.
“If it was a unanimous decision of council I wouldn’t be here… I think it’s worth bringing to council to at least give it more thought and if that’s your choice to not; that is your choice.”
The County is aiming to have the housing project up and running before winter. While Cote was thanked for his concerns, no motions were made following the delegation.