Boyle Street denied permit to build south Edmonton overdose prevention site

This former hair salon in the Ritchie neighbourhood was proposed as the site of a health hub and overdose prevention site. Boyle Street Community Services said Wednesday it is now considering its next steps. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)

Edmonton's subdivision and development appeal board (SDAB) has revoked a development permit for a proposed health hub and overdose prevention site one block south of Whyte Avenue.

Boyle Street Community Services wants to set up the facility in a single-storey commercial building at 81st Avenue and 101st Street in the Ritchie neighbourhood. It would be the first overdose prevention site on the city's south side.

Overdose prevention sites allow people to use drugs without judgment or fear of legal repercussions. The facilities have trained staff to intervene if someone needs help after taking drugs.

In a decision released Wednesday following an appeal hearing last month, the SDAB found the city should not have approved the facility.

The plans failed to consider the principles of crime prevention through environmental design to "enhance the safety and natural surveillance of the parking area," the appeal board said in its decision.

The city also did not consult with its heritage planner over changes to the building's facade, the SDAB said.

The decision marks the second time the board has revoked the development permit. A previous permit was revoked last year over accessibility concerns.

Boyle Street's plans to open the facility have been met along the way with opposition from some Ritchie businesses and neighbourhood residents.

Early in 2023, the Ritchie Community League gave its support to the proposal on the condition that Boyle Street address community concerns.

In a written statement Wednesday, Boyle Street said it is disappointed by the SDAB ruling as it denies essential services for its clientele.

"The critical support that overdose prevention sites provide [is] needed now more than ever," the statement said.

"As we move forward, we will take the necessary time to consult with legal counsel and deliberate on our next steps.

"Our commitment to exploring all possible avenues remains unwavering, ensuring that this essential service is available in our community."

Running out of backyards

The board's decision was welcomed by Rob Bligh, one of the founders of Scona Concerned Citizens, whose family owns an insurance firm across the street from the proposed health centre.

Bligh said his group believes putting a supervised consumption site in a densely populated area with new businesses and apartment developments is a bad idea. People worry about crime increasing near the site, he added.

Bligh said his group is pleased the board agreed with residents and businesses who opposed the Boyle Street proposal.

"We're delighted that the reasons they cited are valid and they follow the city bylaws in doing that and the direction of council," he said Wednesday.

"We hope Boyle Street Street finds a better place, a better location, for the facility that they're putting in place."

Not everyone in the area is opposed to the health hub.

Ben Rix, co-owner of Bent Stick Brewing, a few blocks south of the proposed site, said he was disappointed by the board's decision.

While he understands why people are nervous, Rix said drug users are already in the neighbourhood so the Boyle Street facility is desperately needed.

"If you keep saying not in my backyard, at what point [do] you just run out of backyards?" Rix asked.

"There's a lot of folks in need of that place who are here already."