Residents who live near the Maples of Picton were in for a shock when they got their Gazette a couple of weeks ago.
That was the first they heard that the longstanding retirement home just outside town would soon be a transitional housing project managed jointly between the County; Prince Edward, Lennox, and Addington Social Services (PELASS); and the partners at Base31.
Cassandra Buckley, who has relatives who live near the Maples, said they were “shocked and upset that we had to hear the news from an article in the Picton Gazette circulated on social media.”
“As opposed to having somebody knock on the door, or send a letter in the mail, or invite the neighbours to a conversation.”
It was hard to tell, listening to the two residents who spoke at Council last week, what was more upsetting, getting the news that the quiet retirement home would soon be no more, or that they simply had not been informed of the plan, never mind invited to a conversation about the changes in store.
“We want to feel just as valued as the community members this project hopes to serve,” Ms. Buckley concluded eloquently.
Donna Joyce, whose property borders the property, noted, “I certainly understand the need and responsibility of our community to develop transitional housing, but our greatest disappointment was that we did not learn about it from Council. There was no communication whatsoever apart from the Picton Gazette.”
Both residents suggested a public meeting was in order to inform neighbours of the project and to discuss what it would look like moving forward. Ms. Buckley noted there was shared concern about “property values, sense of personal security, and enjoyment of property.”
Councillors, for their part, were disturbed that residents had not been informed. Lamenting the procedural oversight, they considered delaying the project to carry out proper consultation.
CAO Marcia Wallace took full responsibility for the mistake.
“On behalf of staff I want to apologize for the oversight in not consulting with the neighbours before we got to this point,” she said. “Clearly we need to do a much better job of public engagement around this project.”
“I apologize to residents for the lack of communication. We want to be good neighbours, and we believe this project in and of itself does not need to be devalue property or cause other concerns.”
Council had been preparing to approve the commitments endorsed by the Committee of the Whole in January when they received a detailed letter of complaint from Ms. Buckley, followed up by her deputation at Council along with that of Ms. Joyce.
“Should Council pass the COTW motion we would move forward with the lease agreements with the private sector consortium and MOUs with PELASS, which include funding for staff positions, but we would also most certainly engage with residents in the area and anyone else who wanted to be involved,” said Ms. Wallace.
“This is a hands-on project to actively rehabilitate and help people, with two full-time staff supports and a 24/7 maintenance person onsite as part of the project. There will always be somebody acting as a project manager on the site.”
After extensive discussion, Councillors decided the project must move forward, noting any delay risked a full year of funding from PELASS, which has made a three-year commitment.
As Ms. Wallace noted, even if Council approved the project, it is still very preliminary. “There is no language yet around how it operates,” said Ms. Wallace. “We need to develop procedures and we will do that in consultation with the neighbours.”
“There is an opportunity for conversation with adjacent landowners to make sure their concerns are addressed as we move forward,” noted Mayor Ferguson.
“I do apologize for the way this has transpired,” he continued. “This was a rare opportunity for us to look after the needs of some of our residents. We had a motivated vendor, a partner, and funding. But in our haste we overlooked the adjacent landowners.”
Council directed staff to consult with neighbours and other interested persons as soon as possible, and approved the bylaws required to usher in the new Leeward House.