Legislation that would ease restrictions on the number of people who can live in a group home will come before St. Albert city council on Monday.
If the amendment is approved, group homes of up to six people could locate within St. Albert residential neighbourhoods without having to notify neighbours.
Currently, group homes of up to three people are permitted, while group homes of up to six people are considered a discretionary use, meaning neighbours within 30 metres must be notified and can appeal the home’s development permit.
A minor text amendment to the city’s land use bylaw would make group homes – currently defined under the city’s land use bylaw as having up to six residents – a permitted use.
Mayor Nolan Crouse, who brought the legislation forward, said the amendment is minor enough there’s a possibility it will pass all three readings at Monday’s meeting, meaning it would be introduced into law at that point.
“The amendment is really taking out the bias toward people who have special needs. That’s what the spirit of it is,” Crouse said.
“This is my proposal, so that if someone comes along with an application for a group home it is permitted and it would likely receive approval without there being a hearing or notification given to neighbours.”
Although neighbours do not receive information about the nature of the residents or number of staff at group homes, misconceptions about the homes have led to volatile appeals in the past.
In February, during an appeal related to a group home for six siblings under the age of seven, one appellant worried there would be “killers,” “rapists” and “halfway-house people” in the neighbourhood.
Crouse said the current bylaw’s bias is evident because unlike group homes, large families do not require special permission to move into a neighbourhood.
“It’s really trying to say … because you have special needs there has to be special circumstances,” he said.
“This is like 1960s thinking.”
The amendment came forward after council received a presentation on July 10 regarding group homes from city development officer Kathleen Short.
A report to council earlier defines group homes as having a residential character where those who live there require specialized care, guidance and supervision. “Treatment centres and transitional residential services are not a permitted use within residential districts,” the report states.
Councillors heard at that time that the majority of group home applications the city receives are for more than three residents.
Staff told council at that meeting that the current bylaw probably would not withstand a legal challenge, and councillors voted unanimously in favour of a full administrative review of the bylaw.
Details on the exact wording of Monday’s amendment were not available at press time.
There will be a public hearing for the bylaw at 5 p.m. before city council votes on the amended bylaw.