By Christopher Cutler
Published September 30, 2013
The St. Leonard's Society of Hamilton was originally incorporated as a non-profit in 1972 under the name "The Astra Society of Hamilton and District". An eight-bed residence on Strathcona Avenue was purchased and a residential program for male offenders released to community parole began.
In 1975 this property was sold and two "century homes" on Emerald Street South were purchased to expand to a thirty bed program. In 1982 the society officially changed its name to the St. Leonard's Society of Hamilton.
In 1985, the two houses on Emerald Street South were joined together, creating more office and program space. In 1988 the property on Robert Street was purchase and opened in 1989 to provide an additional 20 beds for adult male offenders on conditional releases. In 2001, the Society began the GreenBYTE program to provide a self-sustaining employment service and computer technology program.
After 38 years in operation, it became obvious it was necessary to undertake renovations to the Residence at 22-24 Emerald Street South. The building now required upgrading to ensure accessibility for residents experiencing disabilities, in particular mobility issues, and fire safety.
As early as 2009, with the approval of the board of directors of the Society, an architect was engaged to draw up plans for renovations to the Residence.
In December of 2010, application was made to the Committee of Adjustment for a minor variance, having been advised that this would be the appropriate route to take. It should be noted that the application had been supported by the Planning and Economic Development Department but was denied by the Committee of Adjustment.
A committee meeting had been scheduled for February 15, 2011, but the Society chose instead to appeal directly to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). With an OMB hearing already scheduled for June 2011, City staff, in advising the Society on how best to proceed, acknowledged that an error had been made by the City.
City planners had classified the Residence on Emerald Street as a Residential Care Facility (yes the same classification that had led to the creation of the now failed Radial Separation Bylaw) rather than as a corrections facility. The Society would now apply for an institutionalial zoning, the same as that granted for institutions like hospitals.
Letters or expressions of support for the much needed renovations had been obtained from then Mayor Fred Eisenberger, then Hamilton Police Chief Brian Mullen, David Christopherson M.P. and M.P.P. Andrea Horwarth.
During the month of December 2010, four phone calls were made and a number of emails sent in a vain attempt to obtain a meeting with Ward 3 Councillor Bernie Morelli's office. To this day, he has refused to entertain any meeting with St Leonard's, and nor did he attend the community meeting held in January 2103.
On January 18, 2013 'A Notice of application to amend the Zoning By-Law' was submitted to the City. On August 13, 2013 St Leonard's staff and planner attend the meeting of the Planning Committee in anticipation of having an opportunity to appear and answer any questions council might have.
Instead, the matter was referred back to staff for a report. Council, having received a last minute email appeal from Ward 3 Councillor Bernie Morelli, chose to respect his wish that he be given further time to consult his constituents.
On September 4, 2013, St Leonard's Executive Director John Clinton and Consulting Planner Ed Fothergill appeared before the Planning Committee to answer a broad range of questions from its members. On October 1, 2013, the matter will come before council again.
Councillor Morelli has, on a number of occasions, suggested that the zoning amendment is an attempt to expand the Residence from its current 36 bed capacity or to change its uses. This is not the case. This will not change the capacity of, nor the fundamental programming delivered in this residence by St Leonard's.
What it will do is: (1) ensure that residents who experience disability are able to safely access the facility (2) that the facility will adequately ensure fire safety and (3) ensure the public safety by aiding these men who are transitioning into our community to do so with dignity, a roof over the head and the possibility of employment.
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