By ROY WOOD
What could have been a grumpy clash between townsfolk and Osoyoos council on Monday turned into more of a preview of what might happen when someone tries to open a drug rehab house in the town.
More than 40 people jammed the council chamber for a public hearing on a so-called “house-keeping matter” that would define the town’s ability to allow “supportive recovery housing” in residential neighbourhoods.
But the issue that drew the crowd wasn’t an esoteric zoning bylaw change, but rather a perceived threat to a peaceful, well-to-do lakeside neighbourhood.
Reports began circulating several weeks ago about a supportive recovery program for people with substance abuse issues operating in a home on Bayview Crescent. The timing of the supportive housing zoning amendment led to fears the facility would become a permanent reality.
Reams of letters and emails were received by the town ahead of the hearing, mostly from residents in the Bayview area and almost universally opposed to a supportive recovery residence.
At an afternoon council meeting, about two hours ahead of the public hearing, town chief administrative officer Barry Romanko announced that, as a result of action by the town, any plans for a supportive recovery program have been abandoned.
At the opening of the 4 p.m. public hearing, Romanko cautioned participants to restrict comments to the zoning amendments and to stay away from discussions of any specific proposal, real or imagined.
Eight of the people present spoke to council. Most of the discussion focused not on the merits of supportive recovery programs, but rather on the presence in the neighbourhood of recovering and possibly relapsing drug users.
Barry Demerest highlighted the threat of a supportive recovery facility on the town’s tourism industry, the “safe, hospitable and non-threatening” family environment, and the safety of the town’s children.
Appearing as a spokesman for the strata council of Casa Del Mila Oro Resort, Demerest urged restrictions on such facilities to keep them at last 250 metres from resort communities, beaches, parks and the lakefront.
He further suggested that locating a recovery facility near a resort, where drinking and “boisterous behaviour” are common, would not be suitable for rehab clients recovering from substance abuse.
Lyle Warmington, a Bayview Crescent resident, urged council to delay any changes to regulations until after the province releases expected “broad changes … to regulations on unlicensed treatment.”
He said changes made ahead of expected provincial regulatory changes could turn out to be a waste of time. In an emotional plea to council about the role of drug recovery programs, Warmington said: “It’s very important. We can’t screw it up.”
A retired registered nurse told the hearing that, at the risk of the ire of others in the room, “There is a place for recovery homes (in our communities). … We shouldn’t be all NIMBY (not in my back yard) about this.”
She added that, contrary to Demerest’s argument, clients going through treatment “should be learning how to cope with the cope with the party next door.”
At a couple of points during the session, a councillor and members of senior staff pointed out that the facilities in question are unlicensed by the province and are limited to six beds.
Larger facilities that are licensed by the province under the Community Care Licensing Act are immune from local zoning laws.
“If they comply with the provincial licensing and are granted a provincial licence,” said planning director Gina MacKay, “they can locate on any residential zone on any property in British Columbia.”
Council took no action following the hearing. The issue is scheduled to return to a council meeting in May.