Saskatoon city council voted unanimously Monday night to approve a large new affordable housing project in the city's Blairmore suburb, despite concerns from area residents.
The Métis-led Camponi Housing Corporation plans to build a complex at 727 and 803 Hart Road that would include more than 150 affordable rental homes and necessary supports, including a daycare, retail stores, Wi-Fi hotspots and spaces available to the wider public.
While priority would be given to Métis applicants, units will also be available for other Indigenous people as well as non-Indigenous people.
Monday night's approval turned on Ward 3 Coun. Ann Iwanchuk, who had previously signalled she would seek to defer council's decision.
But Iwanchuk ultimately said she was comfortable moving ahead, saying she had not heard any compelling reasons to delay. All 10 other councillors joined her in backing Camponi's plan.
The night was not without its criticisms, however, particularly about the consultation process that took place, including a virtual public meeting due to the restrictions imposed by COVID-19.
One woman who spoke against the project called the process "undemocratic."
"It doesn't look good for the city," she said. "I'm ashamed of saying you guys are my councillors and my mayor."
Another opponent to the project, James Allemeersch, presented a petition of more than 160 area residents who did not support the needed rezoning for the project.
But some councillors expressed concerns about materials that had been circulated with that petition which included inaccurate information about the project.
Councillors also called for unity and understanding in the area.
"I heard some concerning assumptions about the future neighbours on the site," Ward 2 Coun. Hilary Gough said. "This provides a really unique opportunity to start early in getting to know who those neighbours will be."
"I've heard some some very encouraging words from some residents and also some concerns, and the more you get to know one another and develop those relationships, the more successful this will be for everyone," Mayor Charlie Clark said.
Residents write in
Letters attached to Monday night's agenda had touched on areas common to previous rezoning debates: decreased property values, density, traffic flow and homeowners' surprise and disappointment that the land could be rezoned when they bought their homes on the assumption the land would remain zoned as is (in this case, as low to medium density).
Some people also wrote that Camponi has not answered all questions about its plans.
Letter writers also expressed fears about increased vandalism, more crime and the future "ghetto"-ization of the project.
Michael Jones wrote that "the local area does not need another community within two other communities and a thriving business area."
Jones instead suggested a "prime location" for the project: a new building built on the downtown lot where the Saskatoon Fire Department ordered the closing of the City Centre Inn due to unhealthy living conditions earlier this year.
"Get the construction company to approach the owners of the motel and purchase it, demolish it and build their new community there. It will be closer (walking distance) to many of the services and facilities that they will need," Jones wrote.
Toby Esterby, Camponi's executive director, spoke out against some of the concerns last week, saying they betrayed an "antiquated viewpoint" on race and inclusion. He said the project was located in Blairmore so that its tenants would have access to the nearby amenities.
One city councillor, Ward 1's Darren Hill, decried some of the negative criticisms on Twitter over the weekend.
Voices of support
The North Saskatoon Business Association (NSBA) supported the project.
"To impede a project that will most certainly be given a green light would be as unfortunate as it is unnecessary," wrote Keith Moen, the NSBA's executive director. "The adage that time is money is true at any time, but is even more accentuated during this global economic crisis, as an unnecessary delay could potentially have negative consequences in terms of accessibility to current federal government programs."
The project also had the blessing of the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, the Saskatoon chapter of the John Howard Society and the Métis Addictions Council of Saskatchewan, as well as city administrators.
Laura Hicks had asked to address councillors on Monday night. She lives across the street from the site of the proposed development.
"I support it because I support people's access to safe affordable housing and I don't support people's racist stereotypes and biases towards Métis and First Nations people," she said in an email to CBC News.
"This neighbourhood is a wonderful place for an affordable housing development. There is access to amenities, bus routes, schools, leisure centres and walking paths. Access to safe affordable housing is a basic human right and this development is helping people achieve this."