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Roller discos and recovery centers: how much control should you have over your neighbourhood?

Posted on 4 March 2013

2013-01-31 13.02.48

When my partner and I were looking for a house, there was one that we really liked. Good space, nice kitchen, big yard. And one of the best parts was it backed onto a greenbelt. But before we thought about making an offer we did some research. Turns out the greenbelt was slated for a new subdivision. If we hadn’t checked it out we would have bought a house we thought backed onto the woods only to wind up buying next to a construction zone.

I think most people, when choosing where to live, consider the property itself, as well as where it is located. You might love the idea of owning a cheap multistory building, but not if it’s in the middle of a highway. The problem is, we only have direct control over our own homes, and not everything around them.

That’s where the Official Community Plan comes in. By its own definition:

An OCP is a statement of objectives and policies to guide decisions on planning and land use management within the City.

Essentially, a guideline to give you a sense of what the city plans on doing with various neighbourhoods. You don’t want your residential street to be transformed into strip malls without notice.

That’s a key point missing in some of the criticism being leveled at the Haldi Road residents fighting the city’s ongoing efforts to build a recovery center in their neighbourhood. People are characterizing them as “NIMBY“s willing to “forsake the forsaken.” And I get why the critics would do that – they are sympathetic to the needs of women struggling with addiction. But having questions about where the recovery centre should go doesn’t automatically mean you are unsympathetic to the needs of those who would use the center.

Here’s some things I think are important and even essential to a city, but don’t want built next to me: police stations, hospitals, movie theaters, McDonald’s, and night clubs. I’m sure you have lots of things, too. You’re not against them, but you don’t love the idea of sirens going up and down your street every time there’s an emergency or excited revelers lining up down your street to get into a club every Friday night. It would alter your neighbourhood and negate at least part of the reason you live where you do.

The people who live in the Haldi Road neighbourhood bought somewhere with a school and houses and wilderness. They like it that way and expected it to stay that way. Why wouldn’t they? The zoning bylaws said it would. The Official Community Plan put in place recently backed that up- so much so that when city council tried to alter zoning rules to build the recovery center, a court case said they couldn’t because it violated the OCP.

In this sense, there may be something more than whether or not a recovery center can be built in the Haldi Road neighbourhood at stake in this story. It might also be how much control you’re allowed to have over your own neighbourhood. The residents of Haldi Road have zoning bylaws, the Official Community Plan, a petition signed by members of the neighbourhood, turnout at numerous meetings, and a court ruling saying that they want their residential neighbourhood to remain a residential neighbourhood. If council successfully bypasses all of this, what does it mean for the zoning bylaws and Official Community Plan in any neighbourhood? This time it’s a recovery center, but it could hypothetically be anything: replace a school with a strip mall, a park with a garbage dump. The last one, incidentally, almost happened in my own neighbourhood in the 1980s until community members fought back.

A recovery center may have merit. But as the debate continues, ask yourself: if a recovery center, or a performing arts center, or an all-night roller disco was going to be built on a piece of land in your neighbourhood, how would you feel? Would you want to be consulted? And what if you and your neighbours decided you really didn’t want it to happen? How much control should you have over your neighbourhood?

Filed under: cities, Prince George

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