City council will make a decision tonight that could ultimately decide the fate of a proposed 30-bed residential women's therapeutic centre in the former Haldi Road elementary school.
But before a vote to give the amendments to the official community plan and rezoning third reading, the proponents, supporters and opponents of the Northern Supportive Recovery Centre for Women will plead their case during the public hearing beginning at 7 p.m. in council chambers.
Since the project first hit the books in 2011, the proposed women's centre has been a point of contention for neighbours of the 5877 Leslie Rd. property. With an amendment to the OCP now in the works, the interest in the application has grown beyond the rural neighbourhood's boundaries.
In addition to a decision on whether to allow spot zoning to allow a therapeutic community at the former school site, the official community plan would be changed to "permit affordable housing and/or special needs housing, at densities council considers appropriate, in all the residential area including rural areas."
Neighbourhood opponents, who count their number between 80 and 90 per cent of area residents, have loudly contested the application. They've cited a variety of objections, from the change the facility would make to the character of the neighbourhood to the unavailability of the water supply to the general unsuitability of the project for the area.
In the pages and pages of correspondence and comments the city has received in relation to the application, the detractors far outweigh those speaking in support.
But those in support feel they may actually be the silent majority.
A long-time area resident, who did not wish to be named, said he doesn't believe his household is alone in welcoming the proponent's plans.
"I'm very proud of Haldi Road. It's quiet, it's in the city... everything's nice about it. This whole thing is blown out of proportion," he said, adding opponents have resorted to scare tactics to get people on side. "When I was trying to go to a public hearing at the beginning of all this, I was met by a picket line by my angry neighbors... I'm not normally a shy person, I don't shy away from conflict, but I felt severely intimidated."
He was also put out by the new batch of lawn signs that popped up around the city urging Prince George to "say no to OCP amendments" because "neighbourhoods matter."
"And that's what made me mad. It's so hypocritical. These people are bigots and small minded and they're NIMBYs," he said. "Now they're saying neighborhoods matter. To me, my neighborhood would be much better if these people weren't living there."
Leslie Road resident Jennifer Pighin started a Facebook page (Haldi We Support Women's Recovery in Prince George) to counter the opposition and communicate with the proponent to get their message out to the neighbours.
"I don't feel like it's overwhelmingly opposition," she said, adding she appreciates that developments of any nature will have people who are for and against it.
"I think it's really important for people to be educated in knowing what exactly is happening, what these changes actually mean instead of the fear mongering that tends to happen," she said. "I think right now people are afraid that similar facilities - maybe not recovery centres - but they might be afraid that the OCP amendments will leave them as fair game to anything coming in their backyard."
Jack Nylund, a member of the Haldi Road Committee, a group of neighbours opposed to the application, said no one would say that a therapeutic women's treatment centre doesn't have value.
"It's about finding the right location and doing it in the right process and manner," said Nylund. The group maintains that the city is looking at bending the rules set out in the OCP to satisfy the financial needs of the developer, which doesn't bode well for long-term planning.
He said that while tensions are high as a result of the ongoing process, he doesn't agree that there is polarization in the neighbourhood but added the whole ordeal was "probably a classic case of what not to do."
There are people taking notes on the process - at least two classes at UNBC have used the Haldi Road situation as a case study.
While a political science class learned how to conduct a public opinion poll using support for the application as their focus, Prof. Scott Green's human ecology students have dived into the process as an example of how people interact with their environment.
One of the big lessons learned is the scope of what Green calls institutionalized dysfunction.
"These are all fine people wanting to do the right thing but there's been some really poor decisions and some really poor steps along the way that have really created a lot of distrust and animosity," he said. "And a lot of that is emerging in our awareness as being an institutionalized process that really makes it very hard to work through these complex issues in a way that's useful and builds buy-in and agreement in the process."
Where everyone can agree is that they are ready to see the issue put to bed.
Now in its second iteration after a successful legal challenge last summer by neighbours, the application has hovered over people's heads for nearly two years.
"It's going to be a relief to finally have some resolve because it's been going on for so long," Pighin said.
The entire saga has not done the neighbourhood - which has a "great community spirit" - any favours, said Nylund.
"Nobody gains from this," he said.