Alberni city council refuses to endorse homeless initiative’s location

The Kuu-us Crisis Society is set to spearhead transitional housing out of the Johnston Road armoury but not with city council's endorsement.

Disagreements about location and freezing out city council’s involvement have thrown a wrench into the Kuu-us Crisis Society’s plans for a homeless initiative at the former Johnston Road armoury.

The issue arose during Kuu-us executive director Elia Nicholson-Nave’s presentation to council about the project at their Monday meeting.

Kuu-us is set to assume tenancy on the federal property after winning a bid for it through a federal surplus property process last year.

The organization’s intention was to utilize the property’s existing buildings for administrative, program deliver and four transitional housing units.

The area already contains residential housing, Nicholson-Nave said.

Councillors listened pensively before not supporting the project’s location.

“The issue I have is ‘what is the best use for that property’,” Mayor Ken McRae said.

The surplus property process might have been federal but the building is still located within the municipality.

“When does the federal government have a say over planning in my community,” McRae said.

“We have the final decision on that property.”

The land is located in a prime commercial location along a major tourism corridor, something several Valley businesses have privately expressed concerns about, McRae said.

“But they don’t want to say anything (publicly) because it will hurt their businesses,” he said.

Three groups under the yolk of the Community Stakeholders Initiative to End Homelessness (CSI) put in bids during the surplus process.

Council had discussions with one group, even talking about a possible land swap, but the group never made it to the final stage of the process.

Coun. Cindy Solda spoke against the project being run out of the Johnston Road property, and asked if some other federal property could have been used instead.

Kuu-us officials looked at two other properties including for former post office building on Argyle Street but didn’t find them suitable, Nicholson-Nave said.

It was unclear what role if any council played in the process.

“It’s unfortunate that we weren’t involved,” Coun. John Douglas said.

The Kuu-us presentation to council was verbal only and nothing was voted on by councillors.

However, councillors subsequently wouldn’t endorse a federal request for a letter of support for the initiative.

McRae held the line about the viability of the property after the meeting.

“There’s better use for the property and they need to work with us.”