Care homes side by side, to dismay of neighbours
Bylaw changes allow St. Vital project to proceed without consultation
ITY hall’s commitment to community consultations is being questioned by a group of St. Vital residents who say they are surprised by the construction of two personal-care homes, side by side on their street.
The residents say they thought the construction of the two homes next to each other represented a violation of the city’s zoning bylaw — but that portion of the bylaw was changed in January. It was one of 76 zoning amendments approved on the same day by council; no prior consultation was carried out with residence groups to explain why the change was being made, nor were homeowners asked by city officials how they felt the change might affect them.
“Any neighbourhood in the entire city of Winnipeg could have this happen to them and the neighbours don’t need to know,” said Janice Klassen, whose family home on Hindley Avenue is across the street from the project.
The two five-bed personal care homes are under construction at 228 and 230 Hindley Ave., east of St. Anne’s Road, where the street ends at the Seine River. Civic records show the homes will be single-family bungalows, each with a front porch and adjoining carports. The builder told the Free Press the homes will be wheelchair-accessible, with roof lines similar to those of their neighbours. They’ll be set the same distance back from the street as the other homes, in an effort to better blend into the neighbourhood.
Before that January meeting when council approved the zoning bylaw amendments, the city had minimum distance separation requirements for personal-care homes. Homes with accommodations for up to six individuals could not be constructed within 330 feet of each other, while a care home for more than six residents had to have a minimum separation of 990 feet from another care home or similar facility. The larger care home was designated as only a conditional use — and that required a public hearing before the board of adjustment, whose decision could be appealed to a committee of council.
When those conditions were removed, that meant an unlimited number of
Ccare homes and similar facilities could be constructed in the same neighbourhood — in all residential neighbourhoods across the city — as long at the design of the facilities do not alter the character of the neighbourhood.
An administrative report to council supporting the 76 bylaw amendments identified what it called 11 “major” and 65 “minor” amendments. The changes affecting the personal-care homes were among the major amendments, but the focus of the report really was on the changes that would facilitate the development of micro-breweries, distilleries and wineries.
Ward Coun. Brian Mayes said he recalled the attention devoted to the micro-brewery provisions but could not recall the amendments affecting care homes — even though he voted for them at the Jan. 18 meeting of executive policy committee and then again at the Jan. 25 meeting of council.
“I certainly didn’t catch (the removal of the minimum distance separation requirements) and I have no memory of discussing it,” Mayes said.
The administrative report said there was an extensive community consultation process carried out for all 76 amendments during the preceding summer and fall.
The appendix of the document reveals, however, that for the personalcare home changes, the only stakeholders contacted were care-home providers who were unanimous in their support of the changes and wanted the city to make even more in their favour.
The administrative report shows no groups representing homeowners were part of the consultations on the carehome changes.
The broader community consultations for all 76 amendments did include a neighbourhood group which was told of unrelated changes to parking regulations near the Health Sciences Centre, but the report did not indicate that group had been told about the changes to the personal care home provisions.
Mayes said civic planning staff have since told him the personal-care home changes were done at the request of the city’s legal staff. Court challenges had struck down municipal provisions restricting the number of such facilities in the same neighbourhood, concluding those were discriminatory and in violation of federal human rights legislation.
However, the administrative report makes no mention of the court rulings.
Mayes said city staff should have tried to publicize the looming changes to the personal-care home provisions — as well as why they were made and how they could affect all single-family neighbourhoods — during the consultation process.
“There should have been some publicity that that (minimum separation) provision is no longer in effect,” Mayes said.
Klassen said the city’s decision to allow an unlimited number of care homes into the same neighbourhood will alter the nature of that neighbourhood dramatically.
“Something of this magnitude, that affects every single homeowner in this city, should have been brought to our attention,” Klassen said.
Klassen said once city hall decided to remove the minimum separation provisions, the amendments should have provided requirements for the applicants or property owners to disclose what type of clients the homes are intended to serve.
She added she and her neighbours don’t know if the two homes are being built for individuals with physical or intellectual challenges or the houses are transitional housing for incarcerated adults or teenagers.
Klassen said neighbours believe the two personal-care homes are owned by a group of investors from Brandon. She said the builder told neighbours the two homes will be used for Workers Compensation claimants but she doesn’t believe that.
A spokesman for the Manitoba Workers Compensation Board said while the WCB does provide rehabilitation services in a group setting, it has no agreements with any agency or for-profit corporation to house claimants within a group-home setting.
Derek Thorsteinson, the owner of care-homes builder Parkhill Homes, denied telling neighbours the two homes will be used for WCB clients exclusively. He said his clients will decide who lives in the homes.
Thorsteinson would not identify the owners.
Janice Klassen was surprised to learn two personal-care homes were allowed to be built side by side, on her street.