'You belong here': City reissues permit for new Boyle Street building

“We’re going to create the most beautiful building in our city to make sure that you see that.”

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Boyle Street Community Services is celebrating after the City of Edmonton reissued a permit — previously revoked — for plans to relocate programs and services to a nearby building.

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About 200 people gathered Tuesday in a parking lot outside okimaw peyesew kamik, Cree for King Thunderbird Centre, on 101 Street and 107A Avenue. Dozens held signs supporting the project, joining others who cheered, blew bubbles and whipped pompoms to mark the organization’s receipt of a class A development permit to continue with the project.

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But the victory is less about the building and more about Boyle Street Community Services clients, executive director Jordan Reiniger told the crowd.

“It’s been about, first and foremost, the people that Boyle Street has the privilege of walking alongside, who so often in our city feel like they’re trespassers, who feel like they’re unwanted and who are often put down,” he said. “This building is a statement that says, ‘We love you, you belong here, and we’re going to create the most beautiful building in our city to make sure that you see that.’”

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Permit previously revoked

The relocation will see Boyle Street Community Services, which serves vulnerable people including those experiencing poverty and homelessness, move a few blocks northeast from its current location on 105 Avenue and 101 Street.

A city tribunal known as the subdivision and development appeal board (SDAB) decided to revoke the project’s development permit in November after hearing complaints from more than a dozen people and organizations who opposed the project.

Appellants at the hearing had argued the building would be used for community recreation while the area was zoned for business activity, and the board’s decision said the development didn’t comply with land use rules for the area described in the city’s zoning bylaw.

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“The proper characterization of the activities that will occur on the site include recreational, social, arts, and other multi-purpose cultural activities intended for local community purposes,” the decision said.

‘We’re not going to let go’

Opponents of the development include Edmonton’s Chinatown and Area Business Association as well as the Chinese Benevolent Association of Edmonton, represented by legal counsel Janice Agrios.

While vulnerable people, including those experiencing homelessness, require support and assistance, core communities including Chinatown, McCauley and Central McDougall are already home to large shelters, supervised drug consumption services and many other social agencies, a statement Agrios supplied on behalf the appellants said.

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“The class A development permit issued today is a contravention of the City of Edmonton’s promise to deconcentrate social services in Chinatown,” the statement said. “Trust is broken.”

About 75 per cent of Boyle Street Community Services clients are of Indigenous heritage and the building’s original design included space where elders could perform ceremonies with people experiencing trauma and reconnect those clients with their culture, Reiniger told media after the announcement.

“That has had to be removed,” Reiniger said of the plans for cultural and ceremonials space. “We’re working with the city to explore how we address that because we find that to be a very troubling aspect of the decision, and something that we’re not going to let go.”

In a Tuesday statement, the city said it reviewed a new application for the project and determined the proposed uses complied with the Edmonton zoning bylaw.

Boyle Street Community Services also announced that it has raised 80 per cent of its capital campaign goal for $28.5 million for the project, and Reiniger said the organization anticipates phasing entry into the new building toward summer or fall of 2024

— With files from Postmedia

hissawi@postmedia.com

@hamdiissawi

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