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‘Folks want to have a say’: N.S. community battling over where pallet shelters should go

Some residents in Kentville, N.S., say the site chosen for a tiny village of pallet shelters is unsuitable

Nova Scotia’s Minister of Community Services announced on Oct. 10, that Kentville was one of the municipalities with pallet shelters earmarked for the community.

Town staff learned about the details in late October, with a municipal agenda noting that “15 tiny homes will be erected on the parcel of land near the Court house/entrance to Miner’s Marsh.”

“This was the first I heard the details of this project,” said Coun. Andrew Zebian during an Oct. 30 meeting.

The shelters are constructed with access to electricity, washrooms, laundry and on-site support, while each unit has bed frames, mattresses and desks.

But, the project was met with heavy opposition at the time and a petition garnered over 100 signatures.

The Town of Kentville argued that it has no jurisdiction over the proposed site selection, as it’s on provincially-owned land under a provincially-owned project, but lawyers disagree.

According to a letter obtained by Global News addressed to the town council, Taylor MacLellan Cochrane Lawyers stated that the town does have control over where the shelters go and use of the land.

“If the Town is committed to maintaining its current number of professional services businesses in its downtown core, I respectfully encourage Council to consider whether the proposed development is consistent with its MPS (Municipal Planning Strategy) and LUB (Land Use By-Law) objectives,” the letter stated.

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“It is my respectful submission that, for the foregoing reasons, there is simply no authority for the development to be erected in the proposed location and, if that fact is ignored, the concerned citizens will have no choice but to ask the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia to intervene.”

The project was subsequently moved across the river to the Municipality of the County of Kings, where the project was met with heavy opposition within days.

One of those opposed, Fiona Van Wilgenburg, organized a town meeting for early next month and invited politicians from both levels of government — in hopes of getting answers on the project.

While not opposed to the project itself, she called the placement downtown a better fit for the project, saying she’s hoping the structures will be moved to a place that will have collaboration with the community.

“There were too many concerns for the downtown in an area where the vast majority only work from 8 to 5 or 9 to 5,” said Van Wilgenburg.

“They (the province) moved it to a residential area where people are 24/7 and a daycare across the street. They took the concerns of people downtown and found an even worse place to put it.”

Moving it just down the road from her home was a surprise for Van Wilgenburg, who only found out through a Facebook post from her MLA. She was expecting to hear some sort of consultation within the community.

The province argues it’s meeting with community members on all sites across Nova Scotia.

“As we progress with all Pallet villages across the province, the Department and service providers will ensure that people are informed about the Pallet villages, and will host community meetings to spread awareness and hear concerns,” Christina Deveau, a spokesperson with the Department of Community Services, wrote to Global News.

“The current location we’re proceeding with on Exhibition Street is the one that best met these standards during our initial evaluation.”

The Deputy Mayor of the County of Kings said some of her residents are trying to be a part of the process and are looking for community engagement.

Speaking from the municipal office on Tuesday, Deputy Mayor Emily Lutz said, “I think folks want to have a say; they want to have their voices heard.”

“They want to be engaged in a new development in their community. We have not seen anything like this in our community before,” she continued.

The need for the project was outlined by leaders in both municipalities of Kentville and County of Kings, who both say they’re seeing an increased number of unhoused individuals in their communities — especially this winter.

‘We all need to care’

That increased need is also felt by service providers in the area.

According to 2022 data from Homeless No More Annapolis Valley, 231 individuals experienced homelessness between West Hants and Digby, N.S., with nearly half of those believed to be sheltering in Kentville.

The organization believes there is an additional 124 children who are homeless.

In an interview with Global News on Wednesday, the executive director of support organization, Portal, outlined some of that need, saying the region is in need of housing solutions.

“To make sure everybody has a place to live, it’s going to mean some changes and some uncomfortable moments,” said Russ Sanche.

“We all need to care about these solutions, and we’re going to be uncomfortable for the next three to five years.”

Shelters are expected to be delivered to some areas of the province in the coming weeks.

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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