Edmonton’s Boyle Street Community Services continues work after permits revoked

“We will do what we need to get there,” says senior communication person 

Location for the new King Thunderbird Centre. Photo: Chris Stewart

Boyle Street Community Services (BSCS) says it has until Dec. 25 to decide what to do next after permits for a new location were revoked by a city tribunal. 

Hoping to get out of its broken down building that was once a banana ripening warehouse, the BSCS wanted to create a one-stop-shop social agency called the King Thunderbird Centre located in Edmonton’s inner-city. 

The BSCS downtown location serves about 7000 people a year. 

There are many steps in getting approvals for a property like the one selected by the BSCS.

Two of the major ones are the development permit and the construction permit.

Once permits are submitted there is an appeal process where the community has an opportunity to weigh in on any concerns that they may have about the new development.

The Subdivision and Development Appeal Board (SDAB) heard an appeal on the development permit and the proposed change of use and decided that the current zoning of the new centre does not allow for the new centre.

The hearing happened on Nov. 10, and according to the hearing agenda and index, 15 different appellants advised the SDAB about their opposition to the new Boyle Street location. 

APTN reached out to the Chinatown and Area Business Association, and Chinese Benevolent Association of Edmonton but did not hear back. 

The new building, constructed in 1968, was a paintball facility and is classified by the city as a general business zone. 

BSCS requested a change from an indoor recreation facility to professional, financial, and office support service that also has meal preparation and health services.

But local businesses were having none of it. 

In the decision released by the SDAB Janice Agrios, the lawyer representing the two Chinatown-based groups said that the issues being raised are not about the important work the BSCS does, but about concerns that the land in the area is being used properly.

“Unfortunately, there has been no consideration for the impact of the proposed development on Chinatown.” Agrios told the tribunal.

Holly Mah, a representative for the Chinatown and Area Business Association said that the pandemic and other issues have contributed to the decline of Chinatown, but that crime is also an issue. 

“The last two businesses that left the area were led by women and they did not feel safe working alone,” said Mah. 

“Having to keep your doors locked during business hours is not normal. Broken windows are a common occurrence for businesses in the area and can represent a week or more of pay for a Mom-and-Pop business.” 

A parent’s group for the nearby Victoria School of the Arts started a petition that gathered 899 signatures opposed to the new development. 

“There is very little that a shelter operator can do to ensure the safety of community members in the surrounding area, and they cannot be held legally responsible for any harm caused by those they serve,” said the petition. 

Alice Kos, speaking for the McCauley neighbourhood community league told the tribunal that she has lived in McCauley for 12 years. She said that it felt more like a neighbourhood than anywhere else she has lived,

“The lack of genuine consultation with the host community ahead of the announcement of this development has set the stage for an us versus them battle, which has been demoralizing for all involved,” said Kos.

Flooding and a leaky roof 

Seven years ago the BSCS bought the building where they currently work out of to provide meals, financial health services, and other support to people experiencing homelessness. 

But it floods – and the roof needs repair and Tanti said the building is crumbling.

So the centre started looking for a new home that would offer more services. 

“We talk about the shopping mall approach or interdisciplinary approach. Our [current] building is designed with a food court and drop in and surrounded by different services people need.

“We found that people with complex needs require a much more holistic approach to their well-being. This storefront approach is a barrier to some,” said Tanti.

Tanti said the barriers are a person having to make multiple appointments and revisit painful experiences with several service providers. 

Navigating the system of social services is not easy for everyone.

“One of the biggest barriers is people have to re-tell their story and talk about their trauma and no one likes having to do that over and over again to multiple service providers,” said Tanti.

Models for success for an all-in-one service provider

Ambrose Place in Edmonton was developed with a similar model to what Tanti has said Boyle Street Community Services would like to move to. Ambrose place uses a housing first approach and focuses on offering Indigenous programming for those who are experiencing homelessness.

It’s named for Ambrose Daniels, an Indigenous man who died from pneumonia when living on the streets of Edmonton.

The 42-unit apartment building faced similar opposition and uncertainty in 2012 when Court of Appeal Justice Frans Slatter rebuked the city for not notifying the McCauley Community League and other neighbours of the plans for the property.

Two years after the supportive housing facility opened in 2014, Alberta Health Services (AHS) released a report finding that residents had decreased their in-patient hospital days by 81 per cent.

APTN reached out to AHS for updated numbers, but did not hear back. 

Issues in Chinatown

According to the police community safety portal there have been more than 8,000 incidents of crime in the last 180 days in Ward O-day’min. The majority of the crimes have been theft and property crimes. 

CTV Edmonton has also reported that businesses are closing due to crime and disorder, including a bakery that was burned to the ground. 

This summer, Justin Bone, a 36-year-old Indigenous man was accused of killing two people in Edmonton’s Chinatown. Bone has been charged with second-degree murder in the deaths of Hung Trang, 64, and Ban Phuc Hoang, 61.

Both the RCMP and the Edmonton Police Service have said Bone was dropped off in Edmonton after being kicked out of the home he had been living in west of the city.

The two men’s deaths led to renewed cries for funding the police and city council voted to allocate $10.3 million for Edmonton Police to increase patrols.

The decision to revoke the permits

The news about the permits being revoked comes at a time when Edmonton is seeing an increase in people who are homeless. 

The SDAB is made up of 24 members who hold meetings twice a week. Members usually have a background in law, city administration or construction and architecture backgrounds. 

As a quasi-judicial body the members have a code of ethics that state that members should approach every issue with an open mind, and that they cannot use their position for private gain.

After hearing from 15 appellants about their concerns regarding the new Boyle Street Community services building, the SDAB agreed that the proposed development does not meet the current zoning.

They believe that the correct zoning would be for community recreation services. 

APTN previously reported on the executive director for Boyle Street, Jordan Reiniger disagreeing with the characterization of their new building as promising mostly recreational activities.

The chair of the SDAB, Rohit Handa who is both a registered architect and an active lawyer in the province of Alberta, wrote in the decision that while the proposed application had health, professional and office support uses, that was not all the new building would do. 

“There is something more occurring within the development that is not accessory to those other two uses,” said Handa. 

The decision notes that clients at Boyle Street Community Services  may be on site for other purposes, including recreational, social, and arts and may not use the other services the social agency provides. 

Next steps for Boyle Street Community Services

“We have been doing community engagement with stakeholders from 2017-2020,” said Tanti. 

Based on work with partners, Boyle Street created a list of 12 things they needed for a new building. These things range from being environmentally conscious, close to the old centre, and also accessible for people with disabilities.

“Using that criteria, we began looking for buildings. We explored two different redevelopment options in our current facility … but it was challenging to do that without service delivery interruptions for the people we serve,” said Tanti.

Tanti said that the new building, named King Thunderbird House in ceremony with local Cree elders met all their criteria and also provided office space.

“It literally checked every box,” said Tanti.

Tanti said at that point the organization reached out to the Oilers Entertainment Group, who had expressed interest in purchasing their current building. They agreed to buy the building for $5 million and provide a $10 million donation.

After the ruling that revoked the permits for the King Thunderbird House, Boyle Street Community Services is left weighing their options for how to proceed. 

The SDAB decisions are final and cannot be overturned by city council.

The next step for appeal would be to the provincial court but those appeals can only focus on errors in law or jurisdiction.

The other option is to revise the development application to see how the new centre can fit into the current zoning.

“We are still committed to that location and that new space. What we have said from the beginning is that is going to be Boyle Streets new home,

“We are encouraging people to work with us to help us get there in a way that works for everyone,” said Tanti.



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