The quest to turn the former Haldi elementary school into an addiction treatment centre suffered a legal setback Friday when a Supreme Court Justice declared invalid a city zoning amendment that allowed the project to be located at the site.
Supreme Court Justice John Truscott found the bylaw was inconsistent with the city's official community plan (OCP) and therefore contrary to the Local Government Act.
"In my view, in order to authorize this recovery facility on this site, city council will be required to amend the OCP," Truscott wrote in a reasons for judgment.
Leslie Road resident Janice Sevin brought the case against the city after council adopted the bylaw in December 2011 to allow the creation of a 30-bed Northern Supportive Recovery Centre for Women at the now-closed school.
Residents had raised concerns about the impact the centre could have on the neighbourhood during the public hearing process leading up to council's decision.
Sevin's lawyer, Roy Stewart, said the ruling means the city will have to go through a process to amend the OCP, in which rural residential property owners can speak at a public hearing on whether therapeutic institutions holding dozens of people and staff are suitable in that setting.
"If rural residents feel strongly about it, just as the group at Haldi Road, city council will hear loudly and clearly that it's not acceptable and if you're going to build institutional therapeutic care facilities you must do so in areas that are truly remote as opposed to in an area which disrupts the lifestyle of people," Stewart said.
City manager Derek Bates said the consequence is that the zoning amendment council approved has no effect and the property is back to its previous zoning. Consequently, he said the city cannot issue building permits for the project.
The next steps will be determined once council has reviewed the ruling and received legal advice, Bates said.
Mayor Shari Green was away on vacation and could not be reached for comment.
Implications for other municipalities are limited in Stewart's opinion. Most such cases in which citizens argue a rezoning bylaw is inconsistent with an OCP are rebuffed.
"There has been a trend in the cases where effectively the courts tried to find any particular way in which the actions of city council can be supported," Stewart said. "In this case, the court wasn't persuaded that the bylaw was consistent as all, so it stands out as one of the few successful challenges."
During an October 2011 public hearing on the issue, Stewart warned council the amendment violated the OCP.
Recovery centre board chair Michelle Sutter said the issue is a legal and technical one between the city and the residents.
"We were not party to the case and have not yet reviewed the decision and so we look forward to reading the judgment and reviewing the options that are open to us."