March 20, 2019

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Recovery centre clear to proceed after appeal rejected

Todd Williston presents his appeal of the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre at city hall on Thursday.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Todd Williston presents his appeal of the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre at city hall on Thursday.

Supporters of a St. James-area addiction recovery centre scored another victory at city hall Thursday after an appeal committee unanimously rejected a last-ditch effort by area residents to stop the project.

Councillors on the appeal committee voted 4-0 to reject the appeal against an earlier decision which would allow the 50-bed Bruce Oake Recovery Centre be set up on the site of the old Vimy Arena.

The committee’s decision removed the last hurdle at city hall for the project but there is still a possibility the residents could mount a court challenge.

“This is over,” said Keith Haien, one of 10 Crestview neighbourhood residents who unsuccessfully urged the councillors to block the project.

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Supporters of a St. James-area addiction recovery centre scored another victory at city hall Thursday after an appeal committee unanimously rejected a last-ditch effort by area residents to stop the project.

Councillors on the appeal committee voted 4-0 to reject the appeal against an earlier decision which would allow the 50-bed Bruce Oake Recovery Centre be set up on the site of the old Vimy Arena.

The committee’s decision removed the last hurdle at city hall for the project but there is still a possibility the residents could mount a court challenge.

"This is over," said Keith Haien, one of 10 Crestview neighbourhood residents who unsuccessfully urged the councillors to block the project.

Television sportscaster Scott Oake, whose family is driving the project in honour of their son Bruce, who died in 2011 at the age of 25 of a drug overdose, had earlier told reporters that his team now would ramp up its efforts to move the project along.

"The next very public step would be our capital fundraising campaign, which we hope to launch soon," Oake said. "If it all works out we can start construction in August. Hopefully we’ll turn the sod on August 22, which would be our son’s 34th birthday."

The Oake family wants to build a 50-bed, long-term addictions facility for men on a three-acre parcel of land on the banks of the Sturgeon Creek, where the old Vimy Arena now sits.

The project has been controversial from the start, as provincial and city officials worked behind the scenes to identify the property for the facility before going public with the project.

Council approved the sale a year ago for $1 to the province, which in turn plans to lease the land to the Oake family foundation.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The sale was contingent on city hall approving the rezoning of the property and approving a subdivision plan, which council did unanimously at its meeting last month.

While 170 letters of appeal were filed against the project, the outcome at the hearing was never really in doubt. All four members of the committee — chairwoman Sherri Rollins, John Orlikow, Ross Eadie and Vivian Santos — supported the rezoning and subdivision plans at council in January. It would have been an extraordinary move on anyone’s part to vote against the project at the public hearing, given their previous support.

Haien and 10 other individuals spoke at the hearing against the project, citing their concerns that the facility is too big and did not belong in a residential neighbourhood; that the recovering addicts would pose a threat to the area; and the project would result in a devaluing of their properties.

Haien, who worked as an alcohol and drug counsellor at the Headingley Jail and later as a probation officer before retiring, said the project was over-ambitious and he feared the Oakes would eventually ask city hall and the provincial government for a bailout to keep the operation running.

An angry-sounding Oake denounced the arguments made by the residents when it was his turn to speak, telling the committee that while he respected the residents’ concerns, they were fuelled by "misinformation and outright fear-mongering."

Oake disputed claims that the project will devalue area homes or that the residents will pose a threat.

"We have done our level best to educate residents as to the difference between active addiction and recovery," Oake said. "Active addiction is ugly and our family knows it as well as anyone. Recovery is beautiful. The men of the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre will be good neighbours and focused on their sobriety.

"The fear-mongering campaign will have you believe addicts in cuffs will be dropped off by police at the front door of the recovery centre. This could not be further from the truth," Oake said. "All clients must be clean on arrival and will be there of their own free will. Anything else area residents have heard is simply untrue and an attempt to exploit fear."

Oake said the family foundation only settled on the arena site because civic officials had ruled the arena could not be saved.

"The mission of our foundation does not include taking away any facilities from neighbourhoods that benefit those neighbourhoods," Oake said, adding that the proposal will see half-an-acre of the site returned to the city as parkland.

Oake said the proposal will also include allowing public access to the gym that will be built as part of the new facility, with a separate public entrance and separate change rooms and washrooms.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Aldo Santin

Aldo Santin
Reporter

Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.

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History

Updated on Thursday, February 21, 2019 at 10:32 AM CST: Previous stories related.

February 22, 2019 at 11:11 AM: Updated Thursday at 6:51.

February 25, 2019 at 2:04 PM: Clarifies previous voting record of committee members.

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