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The Kettle Society hopes to reach new heights

Tower a contentious issue in Citizens’ Assembly debates

The Kettle Society’s years-old dream to expand its services in Grandview-Woodland is still in limbo while work on the neighbourhood’s community plan continues. Proponents of the expansion remain optimistic their vision will one day be realized.

The non-profit society, whose main site is in Grandview-Woodland at 1725 Venables St., provides housing and support to people with mental illness. The Venables site needs to expand because it lacks enough private space for patient counselling, sufficient room for clients’ meals and overall space to provide other services and support.

Although the Kettle Society owns its building, it couldn’t get money from higher levels of government to expand, so it formed an arrangement with developer Boffo Properties.

The developer owns buildings on either side of The Kettle — the former Astorino’s location and the dry cleaning site at the southwest corner. The city owns the parking lot to the north. Boffo has had discussions with the city to amalgamate the parking lot with the redevelopment.

The proposal for the site envisions 12-to-15 storeys at its highest and five to seven storeys at its lowest. It would include a mix of market housing, supported housing for The Kettle to own and operate and a larger space for the society’s other services, particularly its drop-in.

These are preliminary sketches of the initial concept for the Kettle renewal proposal. It was included in the presentation to the Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly. An official proposal hasn’t been submitted to the city.

But Grandview-Woodland residents are divided on what height is appropriate on the site. It was a contentious subject in citizens’ assembly discussions, according to the group’s executive director Rachel Magnusson.

Ultimately, the 48-member assembly couldn’t reach consensus on that point in its recently released report.

“The Kettle height was a very sticky issue for assembly members, which I think reflects the difference of opinion in the community itself,” Magnusson told the Courier late last month. “There’s a lot of common ground there as well — it very quickly became clear that assembly members were in favour of supporting the Kettle’s work and the idea of supported housing in Grandview-Woodland. That was never a point of contention.”

A “minority report” signed by 16 assembly members is included in their final report, which states the Kettle-Boffo partnership is “an appropriate way to address the needs of people who are most easily forgotten by markets and voters alike” and it calls on the city to do everything in its power “to advance the Kettle-Boffo project speedily.”

Nancy Keough, executive director of The Kettle Society, said the non-profit has tried to work alongside the community plan and citizens’ assembly processes.

“I’m still hopeful that it will happen. I think it’s a really important project and I think it’s a really good project that will fit into this community and that it will meet the needs of many of the community’s members,” she said, adding the need for expansion is high. “It’s what we’ve been saying for the last four years. Our building is inadequate for the number of people we’re currently serving, so the quality of our services [is affected]. It’s very hard when people are crowded together in a space to offer the depth of service that we would like to offer to some of our most vulnerable folks in Grandview-Woodland. And the housing — every new unit of affordable housing is a gift. It’s really needed.”

Keough doesn’t think the project would work with a lower height.

“According to everyone, including the city, it doesn’t work out financially with lower height unless there’s some other monies that come forward. And we’ve certainly looked at all kinds of avenues over the years and this seems like the most realistic [plan] and it’s a very positive partnership that could make this happen.”

Daniel Boffo of Boffo Properties told the Courier he was encouraged by many points made in the citizens’ assembly report and that many of the themes matched those the redevelopment project is trying to achieve in terms of housing and social services support, in particular mental health support.

“Although there are many that may speak against the height, there are also many that are supportive of the project as a whole even if that requires more height and density to be allowed to achieve the model and the program that we’re proposing,” he said.

Boffo noted that in their 15-minute presentation to the citizens’ assembly, they indicated they’re prepared to make the project work with a 12-storey maximum height based on current assumptions, although that can be adjusted up to 15 storeys if circumstances change.

City council accepted the citizens’ assembly report June 24 and referred it back to staff for review. The final plan likely won’t go back to council before next spring.