Municipal zoning hinders Elizabeth Fry Society move to downtown Sydney

·2 min read
Elizabeth Fry Society of Cape Breton executive director Darlene MacEachern, right, makes a presentation to Cape Breton regional council alongside Alison Aho of the society's board of directors. (Erin Pottie/CBC - image credit)
Elizabeth Fry Society of Cape Breton executive director Darlene MacEachern, right, makes a presentation to Cape Breton regional council alongside Alison Aho of the society's board of directors. (Erin Pottie/CBC - image credit)

A non-profit society that helps women transition away from criminal activity is looking to create downtown apartments in Sydney.

But it says its current housing proposal isn't possible due to the Cape Breton Regional Municipality's zoning regulations.

Officials with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Cape Breton want to purchase a building in downtown Sydney to provide room and board to women and girls looking to get back on their feet.

The society has been operating a residential facility for 18 years. Its apartment program is currently run on the outskirts of Sydney.

Elizabeth Fry officials say they are losing money on rent and the space is not convenient.

'We're not doing our folks any favours'

"We're not doing our folks any favours by … keeping them sequestered outside of the city when all the services are located in the downtown core," Darlene MacEachern, the society's executive director, told the municipality's mayor and council.

MacEachern told council that money was set aside for the project but the federal funding is time-sensitive. CBC asked the society for further details, but those messages were not returned.

The society was close to purchasing a building last year, but had been told by CBRM planning staff that its proposed apartments fall under the definition of a 'correctional dwelling,' which is not permitted in Sydney's downtown core.

Contractual agreement

Alison Aho, a criminal defence lawyer and a member of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Cape Breton's board of directors, said the shelter program offers rehabilitative care and is part of a contractual agreement with the Correctional Service of Canada, but it's not a correctional facility.

"I encourage an analysis of the land-use implications to be conducted by this planning committee in establishing what is permitted in these various zones," Aho told council.

"Notably, I urge the committee to consider allowing correctional dwellings in the downtown central business district zone because of how important the centrality is for delivering services."

Aho said there is a men's halfway house operating in downtown Sydney, but CBRM staff say that facility was allowed under previous zoning rules.

Erin Pottie/CBC
Erin Pottie/CBC

Deputy Mayor Earlene MacMullin asked if the project could be moved forward before another opportunity is missed.

"There has to be a way that we can be more helpful than hindrance because if I have to see a woman's group home saying no to another opportunity ... I am not going to sit here and say, well, it was the best decision for us all."

CBRM planning director Michael Ruus told society members that the quickest and easiest way for them seek out a zoning amendment is through a bylaw review process.

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