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City council approves zoning amendment to allow for new shelter to be built on Queen Street

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

The Lighthouse Soup Kitchen and Men's Shelter is pictured.

PACKET & TIMES FILES The Lighthouse Soup Kitchen and Men's Shelter is pictured.

The prayers of the Lighthouse Soup Kitchen and Shelter have been answered.

City council approved a zoning-bylaw amendment Friday to allow a shelter to be built at 75 Queen St. In the process, it cemented its $450,000 loan to the Lighthouse for the purchase of the property, the future home of the shelter at the centre of the Building Hope campaign.

In a recorded vote, council approved the application 8-0, with Coun. Ralph Cipolla removed from the discussion due to a conflict of interest. Lighthouse board chair Glenn Wagner was happy to get that unanimous support in the end despite “frustrations along the way,” which included another hour of debate during Friday’s special council meeting.

“It comes back to their socially conscious nature,” Wagner said. “It’s another milestone.”

Support for Building Hope — and the work the Lighthouse currently does at its Peter Street location — was never in doubt, as Mayor Steve Clarke pointed out at the outset of debate. If there wasn’t unanimous support, there was significant support around the table. But for councillors to make a decision on the zoning matter, they needed a greater level of comfort.

“It was an issue that council truly saw both sides of,” Clarke said. “Many members of council spent a lot of time on this the last couple of weeks.”

Clarke, who said he fought with the decision until just prior to Friday’s meeting, noted he and Coun. Pat Hehn held a meeting with the local OPP detachment to try to get a better sense of when the police service would be building new headquarters, as to have the current OPP station again become a candidate for Building Hope. That decision is still too far off to pinpoint an exact date, Clarke told his colleagues.

The concerns of the neighbours were heard loud and clear by councillors during the meetings, Clarke said, but the application made sense in the eyes of the city’s planning department. Clarke warned his colleagues if they denied the application for a non-zoning matter, the case could end up at the Ontario Municipal Board.

That doesn’t mean the neighbours will be shut out of future discussions on what the shelter will look like, as the design and site-plan stages proceed. After Coun. Tim Lauer opined those behind Building Hope would be amenable to a sort of building committee comprised of area neighbours, Coun. Ted Emond wondered if such a decree could be codified in the zoning-bylaw amendment.

Once councillors were told that wouldn’t be procedurally possible, a second motion on the subject was drafted, calling on the Lighthouse to work with businesses within 120 metres of 75 Queen St. during the design and site-plan processes.

Wagner said his group was more than happy to collaborate with the neighbours but the council directive was unnecessary.

“The second motion, quite frankly, didn’t need to be passed,” he said. “We plan ... (on doing) our utmost to make sure those businesses are profitable and we are part of the community with them. We look forward to that.”

Now that it has the money and the zoning necessary to secure the property, the Lighthouse enters the next stage of the Building Hope initiative: building the shelter. Wagner hopes to see shovels in the ground in the next couple of years, thanks to support — financial and in-kind — from multiple levels of government, private donors and area businesses.

“We’ll be a couple of years in a major capital campaign,” Wagner said. “But these times have proven us resilient. The people that we serve are resilient and our community is resilient. I believe they’ll step forward in this.”

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