St. Albert could become more inclusive with a simple text amendment.
On Monday, council decided to push forward a Land Use Bylaw amendment that would make all group homes a permitted use within residential neighbourhoods, despite recommendations by city administration to hold off on the changes.
Under the current bylaw, group homes of up to three people are a permitted use in R1 residential districts, while group homes of up to six people are considered a discretionary use, meaning neighbours have the opportunity to appeal the development permit.
For privacy reasons, notice given to neighbours does not include info about the nature of the residents or the number of staff required to operate the home. Given there are many misconceptions associated with the term group home this has caused uncomfortable rhetoric during appeals.
In February, one appellant said he was worried there would be “killers,” “rapists,” and “halfway-house people” in the neighbourhood.
The group home was intended to house six siblings, under the age of seven, who had been exposed to abuse and neglect.
Disability advocates have argued that the current bylaw is discriminatory. On Monday, staff told council that the current iteration of the Land Use Bylaw would likely not withstand a legal challenge.
“Families have had to fight for the right to live in St. Albert, and I think that’s wrong,” said Coun. Cathy Heron during Monday’s meeting.
Administration recommended coming back to council in spring 2018, after the city had completed its review of residential districts in the Land Use Bylaw (LUB).
“We thought it would be advantageous to coordinate with that and not just specifically amend this portion to make group homes permitted in residential districts,” said Adryan Slaght, director of planning and development for the city of St. Albert.
Staff told council that a simple text amendment doesn’t address the complexity of the land use, which contains many sub-categories such as transitional housing, treatment centres and group homes.
While council supported further changes down the road, it did not want to put the matter off entirely.
“We can signal delay or we can signal action. Let’s signal action,” said Mayor Nolan Crouse.
A simple text amendment will be presented for council’s consideration on Aug. 28. A public hearing has also been scheduled for that date.
While she understands the need for more clarity around the different supportive housing categories, St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud was glad council did not put the matter off another seven to 10 months.
As former director of Lo-Se-Ca, a non-profit organization that provides supports to adults with development disabilities, Renaud has personally been involved in an appeal process. She said the experience was negative for everyone involved, but particularly humiliating for the individuals hoping to live in the community, as well as their families.
“It’s hard to hear really old misconceptions about people with disabilities and the value they don’t bring the society, when in fact they are very unique contributors to every community and every job site,” said Renaud.
“What’s really always helpful is when you have a municipality that’s willing to say we’re an inclusive community in every sense of the word,” she added. “That means employment; that means housing; that means policy.”