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Weather shelter concerns expressed to Powell River City Council

Dentist whose office is adjacent to overnight facility outlines damages and breaches of permit
PROTECTING PREMISES: Dr. Ashok Varma appeared before City of Powell River’s committee of the whole to express his concerns about a new temporary use permit being sought by Lift Community Services to use the Community Resource Centre as an emergency weather shelter.

Concerns were raised to City of Powell River councillors about a new temporary use permit application to allow for an emergency weather shelter at the Community Resource Centre (CRC). At the December 5 committee of the whole meeting, Dr. Ashok Varma, whose dental office is adjacent to the existing overnight shelter adjacent to the CRC, said he recognizes the need to provide shelter for those who have a need.

“One of the challenges we’ve had is the current location is less than ideal,” said Varma. “I expressed some concerns and reservations when I appeared before city council in 2021, and I took solace and comfort in the temporary use permit that was granted at that time because it stated certain terms and conditions that needed to be adhered to in order for that permit to remain. The language states that if any of the terms were breached, then the permit could be revoked.”

Varma said in order to protect his premises, his staff and patients, he’s had to install about $15,000 worth of surveillance equipment and alarm systems. He said that hundreds of hours of video footage has been compiled, showing the breaches and the challenges the dental operation faces. He said he took the liberty of sending to city councillors a three-and-a-half minute compilation of those videos, which show the breaches that are going on.

Varma said some of the challenges on an ongoing basis include people loitering on the business’s porch, people consuming drugs in the middle of the day, people urinating and defecating on his property, and that is clearly illustrated in the video he sent to councillors.

“Those are all breaches and violations of the terms and conditions,” said Varma. “People are carrying on in a way to make it unsafe for my staff to leave the premises and it makes it awkward for some of my patients to come in. I have spoken to the managers at Lift Community Services. Unfortunately, we have not received a whole lot of support for the concerns we have raised over the years.”

Varma said he has tried to get a meeting with the Lift board to express his concerns. He said it finally happened about a week and a half ago, and at that time, he was not aware that Lift was applying for a second temporary use permit for providing overnight shelter in extreme weather conditions.

“Things are a little bit better, but is it because Lift wants to get another permit?” asked Varma.

He said there needs to be vigilant security in place and he has not seen evidence of that.

“We do not see Lift carrying out the terms and conditions of the permit,” said Varma. “We’ve had instances of patients and staff not being able to leave my parking lot with people laying on the roadway because they were too incapacitated to get up and go.”

Varma said in the past two weeks there have been two break-ins at his office, resulting in about $2,500 in damage. Varma’s insurance deductible is $10,000, and he asked who is going to pay that $2,500?

Varma said if a temporary use permit is issued by the city and the terms and conditions are not met, he assumes there are consequences, but he has not seen anything done.

“My bottom line is if council wants to consider granting another temporary use permit, I’d like to know who is going to look after me as a taxpayer and as a person who employs 11 people and serves 5,000. When the damage occurs, do I come to council? Who do I go to?

Director of planning services Jason Gow said the terms and conditions in the temporary use permit are there through city council initiative. He said city staff have been engaging with Varma on this issue for quite some time. Staff have reached out to Lift and have been engaging for the last month and a half quite extensively, and senior staff have met with Lift and the goal is to have the permit conditions adhered to, he added.

“All I’m asking for is the terms and conditions of the documents be enforced,” said Varma.

Mayor Ron Woznow said that when the proposal for the second temporary use permit came before council, he made the stipulation that there be 24-hour security detail.

“Unfortunately, it appears that the province doesn’t see this as a requirement and doesn’t look at funding this,” said Woznow. “To me, somebody has to go back to the province and say this is not going to happen in Powell River unless you put up the money to ensure security to protect everybody.”

Councillor Rob Southcott made a motion that council recommend that staff engage in conversation with Varma to seek solutions for this specific complaint. The motion was amended to include Lift in the conversation. The amended motion carried.

The temporary use permit for the CRC will be up for debate at the December 7 city council meeting.

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