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Restrictions eased for group homes

People wishing to live in group homes will no longer need to notify neighbours and risk an appeal process before moving in.

City council changed the part of St. Albert’s land use bylaw governing group homes on Monday. They lifted restrictions on group homes larger than three people by allowing them as a permitted use in R1 and R2 low-density residential districts.

While group homes of up to three people were previously a permitted use in low-density residential areas, the land use bylaw listed group homes of four to six people as a discretionary use, meaning certain conditions were attached to their development permit. Those conditions included notifying neighbours within a 30-metre radius. Neighbours could then appeal the development permit.

A maximum of six people can live in a group home under the bylaw, excluding staff.

Treatment centres, detention or correction facilities cannot be considered as group homes under the bylaw. Group homes are intended for people who require specialized or personal care.

St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud has been an advocate in the past for the bylaw to change. She has worked with people with disabilities in St. Albert for 14 years and said the change removes a process many people found humiliating.

“I’m eternally grateful that it changed,” she said.

“The bottom line is very simple: people with disabilities … have the right to live anywhere they choose.”

Group homes have in the past been a contentious issue in the city, since neighbours were not informed about who would be living in the homes.

Coun. Sheena Hughes said that meant some residents jumped to the worst possible conclusions.

However, no residents spoke during Monday’s public hearing on the bylaw changes.

The changes passed through three readings, with Coun. Bob Russell as the lone vote against the changes.

During the meeting, Russell said he has had personal experience living near a group home which caused noise problems in his neighbourhood.

“What about the people next door? I think I as a councillor owe some respect to them, and I just don’t think we can inject a group home without some kind of notification,” he said.

But Renaud, who called Russell’s comments “misguided,” noted residents don’t receive notification for other potentially noisy neighbours, such as large families with children or people with motorcycles.

“That’s an old way of thinking, and St. Albert is an inclusive community,” she said, adding Russell’s comments during the meeting disappointed her.

Russell said his comments and vote were based on concerns he has heard from residents who contacted him about the public hearing.

“I think if you pay taxes for an R1 residential area, you should be able to have some say in whether or not a group home moves in,” he said.

“There are group homes, and then there are group homes.”

April Hudson: