Group home appeal denied
Pineview residents concerned about traffic, safety
Saturday, Feb 18, 2017 06:00 am
By: Doug Neuman
A privately run group home for six young children will be permitted to operate in St. Albert’s Pineview neighbourhood after the subdivision and development appeal board denied an appeal.
Resident Carrie Andrews presented the appeal Feb. 15 in St. Albert council chambers on behalf of neighbouring residents, citing several concerns about the proposed group home operated by Stepping Stones Group Care.
The six children are all under the age of seven.
Andrews cited concerns about parking, traffic congestion, negative impact on amenities, loss of enjoyment of their property, safety concerns for children already in the neighbourhood, and the loss of the sense of community where everyone knows their neighbours.
She summed up the concerns in her closing statement that the group home would interfere with their “quiet enjoyment” of their property.
“It’s not the group home we are against, it’s the location of the group home,” she said. “We’re against this location in the quiet cul-de-sac.”
Board chair Dana Popadynetz explained to the 30 people in attendance that the board’s role is to rule specifically on the development application, exclusively within the context of the city’s land-use bylaw.
“The primary concern expressed tonight was traffic and safety surrounding traffic,” he said. “It’s our opinion that the applicant, and the owner-operator of this group home, made it very clear that the impact of traffic would be negligible, with a maximum of two staff vehicles there at any given time.”
This was also the opinion of the city development officer Kathleen Short. In her written submission to the board, she noted the three-car garage with a three-car driveway would provide sufficient parking at the site, and that the traffic associated with the group home would be comparable to the traffic of any large family moving into the neighbourhood.
Group homes of up to three people are a permitted use for R1 residential in the land-use bylaw, while group homes of up to six people are considered a discretionary use, meaning neighbours have the opportunity to appeal the development permit.
With a dozen neighbours speaking in opposition to the group home, the discussion got heated. At one point Popadynetz ejected a man from the hearing after several warnings about speaking out of turn, and security subsequently escorted him from the building.
Neighbours raised a broad range of issues and concerns about the group home. Most cited the traffic concerns that Andrews raised. Some said they were worried their property values would drop, and that the character of the neighbourhood would be affected.
One man said he was worried there would be “killers,” “rapists,” and “halfway-house people” in the neighbourhood. Another man asked what benefit there would be to neighbours if the group home opens.
One neighbour said she was concerned about what kind of people the staff members working in the group home would be. In total there were a dozen neighbours speaking in opposition to the application.
Efrem Bahta, Stepping Stones director, addressed many of the concerns opponents had raised. He said there would be one or two staff members on site most of the time, with visits from a social worker twice a month, and the traffic impact would be minimal.
He explained the group home is intended to house six young siblings, all under the age of seven, who have been exposed to abuse and neglect. They are currently living in separate foster homes, but provincial ministry officials asked him around Christmas time to establish a group home so they can all grow up together.
“There are not 17, 18-year-old teenagers coming out of jail,” he said. “They’re a family. They’re young kids. They’re babies for the most part.”
Bahta said he does not deal with adults, and the concern about a halfway house is unfounded as it’s not even within his organization’s area of expertise.
He said while he understands many neighbours expressed concerns about traffic, he believes those arguments are masks for “social” concerns they might have.
“The mentality of ‘not in my backyard’ is really disheartening,” he said. “These kids need a home. They have the right to live in a community. They have a right to live in a place where they add value.”
Several people spoke in support of the group home, including two who live in Edmonton who spoke in general terms about the importance of inclusiveness in communities. Two from St. Albert spoke, including Aime Hughes who said she lives next door to the proposed site.
She identified herself as a social worker and said she wanted to emphasize that not everyone in the community was opposed to the development permit, and that she supports the children moving into her neighbourhood.
“What they need is a community,” she said. “Where else are they going to go? Who’s going to care for them?”
St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud attended the hearing, and although she didn’t address the board she said afterwards she was disappointed by the “ugliness” she heard.
But she acknowledged the lack of information that’s often available to people – she herself having gone in with the impression that the group home was for adults with disabilities – and that work needs to be done.
“What I really learned is we need to clarify this process,” she said. “Whether it’s clarifying provincial legislation or municipal bylaws, we need to really look at what is causing this to continually happen.”
In this case Renaud said she hopes that once the dust settles, neighbours will welcome the family into their community.
“I think at the end of the day most people are good, and when they see these little children and understand that what they need is love and community, that hopefully things will turn around.”
Renaud has addressed city council in the past about the issue of group homes, after a similar appeal where neighbours of a proposed group home for adults with developmental disabilities was appealed. Prior to her election, she was the director of St. Albert’s Lo-Se-Ca Foundation, which provides services for adults with disabilities.
She and current Lo-Se-Ca Foundation director Carmen Horpestad expressed concern at the council meeting Oct. 3, 2016, about what they had heard at that appeal, including some who compared living next to a group home with having a death in the family and others worried about their children’s safety and dropping property values.
Mayor Nolan Crouse brought a motion to council Dec. 5, 2016, to allow six-person group homes as permitted rather than discretionary uses under the land-use bylaw, meaning notifications would not have to go out to residents when a development permit is issued.
Other councillors, while they unanimously supported the motion to have the proposed changes come to council for debate, expressed concerns about what kind of group homes would be allowed.The proposed changes are expected to come to council for debate before the end of August 2017.
should be ashamed of themselves! http://www.stalbertgazette.com/…/Group-home-appeal-denied-2…#Inclusion is a right not based on appeals!