Council may have approved a controversial application to allow a residential women's therapeutic facility in the Haldi Road area, but that doesn't signal the end of the fight.
"The majority of the residents do feel that we should be seeking legal advice," said Haldi Road committee member Laura Jagodnik, who indicated the group would be meeting with lawyer Roy Stewart to discuss options.
In the very early minutes of Tuesday morning, council voted 8-1 in favour of third reading of a text amendment to the official community plan and rezoning bylaw in support of locating the proposed Northern Supportive Recovery Centre for Women at the former Haldi Road elementary school.
"See you back in court," called a disgruntled member of the gallery as they and others noisily made their way from council chambers following Monday night's marathon four-and-a-half hour public hearing.
Though the majority of councillors wanted to put off their debate and vote until Tuesday night, a unanimous decision was required. Mayor Shari Green and Coun. Brian Skakun wanted the matter settled.
"I've been deliberating in my mind all night," Skakun said. "We need to do this tonight while we have people here and have their attention."
Skakun ended up being the lone vote in opposition to the site specific zoning at 5877 Leslie Rd. to add a therapeutic community to its allowable uses and the OCP change to allow "temporary housing for vulnerable populations" in all residential - including rural -areas of the city.
"Is there a need for this sort of recovery centre? I believe there is, but this isn't the right location," Skakun said. "I think administration at the beginning could have told the proponent it isn't a fit. We learnt that from the judge, we lost in court, and I don't think it is a fit now."
Some of Skakun's council colleagues articulated a challenge to balance the land use decision with the city's need for a women's recovery centre.
"We, as councillors, are charged with this responsibility of making a decision that's in the best interest of our community. And our community is in total, it's not just in one particular area," said Coun. Frank Everitt.
Coun. Garth Frizzell said he heard similar concerns to the ones raised by opponents when he was living in the Millar Addition prior to the construction of the Friendship Lodge. "[Making a decision] doesn't give you categorical certainty about the future," he said. "Because if we knew with certainty there'd be no impacts, we'd likely all support it. If we knew with certainty there would be frightening impacts in the neighbourhood we'd all defeat it immediately."
For Coun. Cameron Stolz, the decision was more clear cut.
"Whether Haldi Road as a treatment facility is a good idea or a bad idea is, to be perfectly candid, is irrelevant. The question is, does the designation that's being proposed for this, is that relevant? Does that match what we're looking to do in the city of Prince George?"
The official community plan was never intended to be used as a force field to protect someone's lifestyle, according to Coun. Dave Wilbur.
"Rather, it's my view that the OCP is a living document which focuses on our future, all of our futures, which includes rural, transitional rural, urban, etc. I guess the question I'm faced with on reflection of the OCP is, is there room in that future for a recovery centre for women in a rural transition area? And in my view there is."
Haldi school neighbour Ian Gibson expressed concern over the financial cost to the neighbourhood of having such a facility move in. He said he considered putting his home up for sale, but had multiple real estate agents give him prices that were far below his property's assessed value.
After receiving his 2013 assessment, Gibson said he called BC Assessment to make an appointment for an appeal.
"In 10 minutes, the guy had dropped the value of my place $51,000. In a 10-minute phone call. And the only thing I mentioned was because of the Haldi Road recovery centre," said Gibson, who also said he would help fund legal action against the city if council gave an approving vote. "So don't tell me there's no financial cost on the neighbourhood."
Coun. Murry Krause disagreed with the project having that kind of long-term impact. "Certainly what the research indicates is that when the dust is settled, there is no impact on land values in [affected] areas and that's been shown across North America," he said. "Of course people have the right to feel concerned about what their property values might look like in the future but research indicates it's just not true."
Northern Supportive Recovery Centre for Women spokesperson Dr. Michelle Sutter said she was very pleased with the passing of third reading and that the application could move forward to the final stages.
She said they will be applying for building permits for renovations on the former elementary school as soon as the application has passed fourth reading - which may be as soon as the next council meeting.
"For us and the people we want to serve, the sooner the better," Sutter said.
The type of clientele the centre will cater to was also a topic of debate and confusion for those who weren't sure if the facility would be viable long term.
Sutter confirmed the plan has changed since the public meeting in January and that the centre is now aiming to be populated with women in the 35 to 60 years of age range who can afford to pay their own way.
"The majority of the beds will be a private pay system, but certainly there will be a few beds available for a public pay," said Sutter, adding it's not just Prince George the facility will draw from. "I anticipate that we will get applications from all over the province, as there is a desperate need throughout the province, but we hope that this will serve northerners well."