A proposal to build a recovery house on land designated for park use in the District of North Vancouver is not sitting well with some area residents, who say the project, if approved, could set a worrisome precedent.
"My concern is not at all with the project – there is definitely a recognized need for it on the North Shore," said Sean Wightman, a North Vancouver resident who lives near the site of the proposed recovery house. "It's important to have places where people can get help. My concern is taking an area away from a park."
Project supporters, however, say the site in question – acquired by the city in 1969 – is a vacant lot that was occupied by a house until it was demolished several years ago.
"There is no net loss of park land," District of North Vancouver Councillor Doug MacKay-Dunn said Monday. "And if the society for whatever reason down the road should vacate the property, it would revert to the district."
City council was to discuss Monday evening a proposal for a nine-bed recovery house at a district-owned site near Murdo Frazer Park.
For the project to go ahead, the district would have to repeal the 1969 bylaw that created the park through a procedure known as an "alternate approval process."
Under that process, council can carry out a planned course of action unless 10 per cent of voters call for a referendum. That process, and the timeline proposed for it, doesn't provide enough public input to what amounts to a significant change in land use, some residents maintain.
"A change in policy like this should be put to a referendum or a vote," said Bob MacWhirter, who lives near the site of the proposed centre. "Everybody in the district should have a say in this, and they're not informed."
The district considered nine sites before settling on the property that is currently envisioned as the home of the recovery house, Mr. MacKay-Dunn said. The lot is connected to municipal water and sewer services and has never been in the official boundaries of a park, he said.
According to a council report, district staff hand-delivered an invitation to a Nov. 26 information meeting to 14 neighbours in the immediate vicinity of the project; 36 people showed up.
Although "neighbours are sympathetic to the concept and understand the need to support North Shore women recovering from addictions," they had concerns about removing the site's park designation as well as parking and traffic issues, the report states.
The proposed facility would be run by the Vancouver-based Turning Point Recovery Society, which operates recovery houses in Richmond and Vancouver.
Currently, there is no recovery facility for women on the North Shore, Turning Point executive director Brenda Plant said. As to the potential precedent set by removing the park designation, Ms. Plant said she hoped those concerns could be addressed in future talks among council, residents and the proponents.
"I know we have no intention of going back to the district and saying, 'Hey, we've got one, can we have another one?' " Ms. Plant said, referring to potential approval of the project on park land. "I can't speak on behalf of other social service providers, but the district is assuring us that these are extraordinary circumstances."