Neighbours 'okay' with seniors housing

On Monday, Coquitlam city council gave second and third readings to OCP and rezoning changes to a Marmont Street property for a seniors
On Monday, Coquitlam city council gave second and third readings to OCP and rezoning changes to a Marmont Street property for a seniors' housing complex
— image credit: TRi-CITY NEWS

Neighbours of a Coquitlam duplex slated to be converted into an affordable seniors' housing complex say they support the project now that they know what it's all about.

At a two-hour public hearing Monday, council listened as supporters and opponents spoke about the pros and the cons of the development planned for 352 Marmont St.

The Bulgarian Home Society wants to turn an existing duplex into seven self-contained, one-bedroom suites for people aged 65 and over, and their caregivers or spouses.

Neighbours said when the application first came forward this spring, they had little or inaccurate information from the society and city staff. And because the previous duplex tenants had caused problems in the area, they rejected a redevelopment for new renters.

As a result, their written comments to city hall in May were taken out of context when their forms came before city council six months later. Last month, some council members took offence that neighbours would overwhelmingly petition against a housing project for seniors.

The story garnered local, provincial and national media attention.

"I feel upset and angry about the comments," Katherine Wong told council, waving a newspaper in her hand. "They make us look like we are a mean neighbourhood."

In past years, Wong said, Coquitlam RCMP regularly visited to the duplex, which has two illegal suites and is now owned by the Bulgarian Home Society. "For 10 years, we haven't had a peaceful environment and it's all because of that house," Wong said at the public hearing.

Coun. Terry O'Neill said some of council's reactions — and the coverage that reported from them — were "an unfortunate occurrence."

Wong and neighbour William Lee told council their fears have been alleviated for the most part, and they're willing to see the BC Housing-funded project move forward.

The project is being championed by Share and the Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Group, whose members Sandy Burpee, Chris Wilson and Marilyn Craig told council the housing complex is needed for low-income seniors who struggle to make ends meet.

Burpee cited other social community projects such as the cold/wet weather mat program at churches for the homeless and the YWCA's building for single mothers and their children that have also drawn neighbourhood criticism; however, since they started, there haven't been any problems reported by police or other authorities, he said.

"I'm confident that once the senior tenants move in... that they will quickly become part of the neighbourhood," Burpee said.

Meanwhile, Coun. Mae Reid told city staff she isn't happy the seniors' complex bid came forward as an OCP and rezoning change versus a Housing Choices application.

Housing Choices was a policy council adopted last year in a move to densify larger lots in southwest Coquitlam and Burquitlam, and has tight controls for land use.

Reid said allowing the duplex to be converted and not torn down for redevelopment — as required under Housing Choices — "is setting a terrible precedent" for owners wanting to infill.

Later that evening, council granted second and third bylaw readings, with Reid opposing.


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