A long and emotional public hearing on rezoning four pieces of city owned land to allow for affordable housing. In a nutshell, the provincial housing authority, BC Housing, is now asking communities to provide land on which affordable housing could be built. Kamloops city hall staff have been working to identify pieces of land already owned by the community for this purpose - wanting to avoid purchasing any new land.
All the land proposed is now being used as park space, or at the very least unmaintained recreation and wildlife space. One particular piece of land, on Cowan Street, has a lot of neighbourhood use and many people fought to keep the land zoned as is. Council, I feel, made the right choices in a difficult difficult process. Cowan Street keeps the park, and the three other areas get rezoned for affordable housing.
There was nothing pretty about this hearing. At its core, as many stated on the night, it pitted two groups of citizens against each other - those who supported park land and those who supported affordable housing. That's a pretty crude characterization. A lot of people support both, but the question on the night is what people wanted to do with these particular pieces of land. What's worse is that I know and respect and like many people on both sides. And, on the night, there was no real compromise to be had.
I am a huge advocate for affordable housing and I worry about the bad blood generated as we continue to work to end homelessness in Kamloops. Might it have been better if those who stood up on behalf of the plan, all of them who I respect and trust, conceded that the Cowan St plot should stay park? I am not sure, this is very much a question. I worry, though, about a reputation for balance and conciliation.
I've been at enough public hearings to know that homeowners rightly get very emotional when talking about a rezoning proposal they don't like. Some folks at this hearing got very heated and, in some cases, downright nasty. This really troubles me as well - especially the nastiness.
Solution? Well, that is a tough one. The one piece of land that got rezoned, at the top of 9th avenue at the corner of McMurdo Drive, caused a lot of community anxiety. I sincerely hope these folks will have their concerns adressed and, importantly, will over time feel good about any sacrifices they make. The vast majority concerns I heard at the public hearing, I believe can be addressed. Maybe, the future developers of the property should commit to sit down, one on one, with each person who raised concerns at the hearing. Perhaps, also, each person who expressed concern about any property decided upon should be personally invited to future forums on affordable housing.
The public hearing process in BC has a whole host of really bad problems in situations like this. Not sure what to suggest yet for potential solutions, but would like to put my head to this.