‘It’s heartbreaking’: Soup kitchen looking for new home after permit pulled
EDMONTON -- An Edmonton drop-in centre and soup kitchen says it will be temporarily closing after its permit to run out of the former Transit Hotel was revoked when appealed by a neighbourhood business association.
On July 17, the city's development authority gave a green light to The Gathering Place to operate a room at the former hotel as a restaurant.
The Gathering Place, known also as Mawacihitowin Otah, a NiGiNan Housing Ventures project, had been leasing the space from the hotel's owner to provide free meals between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. to community members. It also offered barber, phone and computer services, and helped people connect with other agencies.
The hotel space had previously been permitted as a bar and neighbourhood pub. When the hotel closed in 2017, its owner agreed to let NiGiNan use the space.
However, the July development permit approval was appealed on Aug. 8 by the Fort Road Business and Community Association, and revoked Sept. 19.
"We are deeply saddened to temporarily close down the Gathering Place. It’s our goal to limit the disruption to these crucial services, especially with winter just around the corner," reads a statement by NiGiNan CEO Carola Cunningham.
She added the not-for-profit organization has a proven track record from running a housing project in MCCauley called Ambrose Place.
"Unfortunately in this case, we were not provided the opportunity."
The Subdivision and Development Appeal Board found the drop-in centre did not match the criteria to be considered a restaurant, defined by Edmonton zoning bylaw as a development whose "primary purpose of the facility is the sale of prepared foods and beverages to the public for consumption."
The rule says such developments typically have a menu and fully equipped kitchen.
"The appeal by the Fort Road Business Association had nothing to do with the good work that The Gathering Place does in our community," said the association's legal counsel, Robert Noce.
"It's not about the programs they offer in the community. No one questions the value of their work in our community… The issue before the appeal was a very technical and legal issue."
Although the association presented information regarding neighbourhood crime, recent community changes, and complaints from community business owners and residents, Noce says the decision came down to only the technical.
"The inter play of businesses, the interplay of crime, the interplay of all of those issues, were raised just to give the board an understanding of what was happening in the community," he told CTV News Edmonton.
"We believe as an organization that the planning documents of the City of Edmonton should be followed and adhered to."
The Gathering Place cannot operate in the Transit Hotel building under a different kind of permit, as the city planning documents dictate the main floor of the building—and other businesses along Fort Road—are for commercial use.
NiGiNan said it would be working to find a space to continue offering the same services.
“Although this is a very important issue to be discussed in our city, what’s more important to us, is to get back on our feet and provide this service back to our community members that need it," said Dave Ward, Executive Director of NiGiNan Housing Ventures.
In August, The Gathering Place served meals to 474 people, less than a quarter of whom identified as homeless.
“We want to ensure everyone knows that not only homeless folks were accessing this service," said Ward.
“There was young families, low income families, and it’s a vital source for these community members to make it through the month.”
There are no hard feelings towards the Business Association, according to Ward.
“The challenge, I think for us, is just the lines of communication for ourselves and for them. We probably both could’ve done a lot a better job of connecting and working through some of this stuff, instead of it manifesting the way that it did.”