Asides from the terrorist, there are few character types that invoke more fear than the drug addict.
And yet, Squamish council unanimously saw through the stereotype this week, giving the Paradise Valley Centre for Change proposal third reading after an epic and emotional public hearing that saw chambers packed beyond capacity with residents, health care workers and recovering addicts.
“Confrontation isn’t always bad,” said Dale Harry of Squamish Nation band council. “It makes you come up with a more clearly defined decision.”
Though a development permit has yet to be issued, the for-profit centre is likely to have 48 patient beds looked after by 30 full time and 30 part time staff. It is not a detox venue. The proponent is Nirmala Raniga, an established drug therapist from Burnaby. Treatment will cost approximately $15,000 for four to five weeks. However, Squamish residents will be subsidized to the tune of 80 patient weeks a year once the centre is running at full capacity.
Despite the unanimous third reading, a number of councilors noted the facility is at odds with district planning strategies, which would not ordinarily allow a rural property to be rezoned for such a purpose. However, the social value presented by the facility was enough to permit the exception.
“The size and business of this property facility devalues my property,” said Tammy Woods, who, along with her husband, vociferously opposed the project. “The OCP (Official Community Plan) was a promise to me, a statement of intent that guarantees my property will continue to be rural.”
Together, the Woods, who have property next to the site, rattled off a litany of concerns, ranging from flood hazards to buffer zones, parking to facility design.
Mary-Anne Wilson, the realtor in charge of the facility’s property, insisted surrounding properties would not be devalued by the presence of recovering drug users.
“Addicts are scary,” acknowledged Kevin Carriere, a Squamish resident who works as a nurse at St. Paul’s Hospital. “Untreated addicts are even scarier. You may not live next to one, but that doesn’t mean one isn’t coming at you on the highway from the other direction. You probably have some sort of interface with an addict everyday.
“At the end of the day, if this goes in, this is a legacy project for this council.”
Jim Julien agreed. An erstwhile addict and alcoholic, he admitted to an unruly lifestyle that took years to overcome. “I was your worst nightmare. I had to go to Vancouver to get treatment because there was nothing in this town.”
Throughout the nearly three hours of public comment, a parade of like comments were expressed. Recovering addicts from as far away as Mission took to the podium. The spirit of disclosure proved catching, with Councilor Raj Kahlon relating the substance abuse-related deaths of his brother and cousin.
While opposition was most seated among immediate neighbours, not all were opposed. One resident even sold some of his property to the proponent.
Council brushed off much of the opposition — including a comment that addicts be transported to an island and serviced there. However, concerns expressed by the Woods did get recognition, and Mayor Ian Sutherland tried to assuage their anxiety.
“It’s a very important issue to the community, and I hope we can resolve this at the end of the day,” he said, adding that he would still be in support if the proposal called for a facility in his own neighbourhood.
In an effort to address some issues, council moved to have the proponent develop some kind of trail system that would keep residents safe from increased traffic.
“If we’re not being served well by the proponent, we will not go for adoption,” Sutherland added.