Tribunal begins hearing Vanier shelter appeal

Opponents of a homeless shelter in Vanier are holding out hope a provincial tribunal will axe the controversial project more than two years after it received the go-ahead from Ottawa city council.

The city approved the Salvation Army's proposal for a 350-bed facility at 333 Montreal Rd. in November 2017.

On Monday, community members packed a room at Ottawa city hall where the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) began hearing the case. Lawyers for the Salvation Army, the City of Ottawa and opponents presented their opening arguments. 

Michael Polowin, the lawyer representing concerned residents and business owners, said his clients aren't opposed to the Salvation Army or the notion of a new shelter, but believe Montreal Road is the wrong place for it because the area already struggles with crime, poverty and mental health issues.

Salvation Army

'My clients are not NIMBYs'

"My clients are not NIMBYs," Polowin told the tribunal, adding later that he plans to show the city's decision to approve the shelter flies in the face of its own policies.

"City policy says 'not on traditional main streets.' [This shelter] fronts on a traditional main street. City policy says 'not in residential areas.' Three sides of it are in a residential area. Why is this to be allowed?" he asked.

In their opening arguments, lawyers for the city and Salvation Army said they'll attempt to explain why the site was selected, and demonstrate that, despite negative publicity about the shelter, housing prices in the neighbourhood remained unaffected and investment continues to flow into the area.

Francis Ferland/CBC

But Drew Dobson, who owns Finnigan's Pub, steps away from the shelter site on Montreal Road, disagreed.

"If you looked out your back door ... and they bulldozed your neighbours' houses and they put a shelter in, do you think that would help your property value? Or if you had a business on Montreal Road by a shelter and you wanted your customers to walk down the street and feel comfortable coming into your shop to buy your goods, do you think it would help your business?" asked Dobson, who also heads SOS Vanier, the group opposed to the shelter.

'Cautiously optimistic'

The facility was initially intended to include a 140-bed emergency shelter, an emergency medical clinic and space for other programming aimed at vulnerable clients.

But last June, the Salvation Army said it was open to reconsidering the scope of the project, potentially reducing the number of emergency beds to as few as 70. The charity would also add supportive housing, but keep its addictions treatment centre in the ByWard Market.

Kimberley Molina/CBC

The Salvation Army said it has been listening to residents' concerns.

"Certainly, it is important to continue working with people, to listen to the concerns, which we are and will continue to," said Marc Provost, executive director of the Salvation Army Ottawa Booth Centre on George Street.

"It will be an ongoing dialogue, and that's the focus, is really to listen to each other, and I think each time we meet and talk there's more understanding on both sides, and I think that's very positive."

Provost said he remains "cautiously optimistic" and trusts the process. 

The hearings are expected to last three weeks, but a decision may not come for several months.