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Holistic health centre application denied

A rezoning application to accommodate the future development of a holistic healthcare centre in Airdrie was voted down by City council Oct. 21, after it faced opposition from residents.

“I’m still of the mind that this property and the residents around it, they’re just not ready for this redevelopment, and the entire area is struggling,” Coun. Candice Kolson said.

The health centre would have been constructed in a house in The Village neighbourhood, and the application requested three lots be rezoned from residential to mixed-use.

The intent of the proposed business, according to the application, would be to offer alternative and complementary care – such as acupuncture and massage therapy – to Airdrie residents, along with birth suites for low-risk expectant mothers to give birth closer to home.

“Because Airdrie doesn’t have a hospital here, we tend to have people who are rushing into the hospital to have their babies,” said co-applicant Mary Landsiedel, a registered midwife who has worked in Airdrie for the past 15 years. “We thought that a birth centre would help to serve Airdrie and our outlying area, where we have lots of people living on farms.”

She added the applicants picked the house, located at 516 2 Ave. N.E., because, “It’s close to Edmonton Trail and has easy access, and because of the commercial properties that are around it.”

While the general direction of the area’s redevelopment plan suggests the neighbourhood should be maintained as predominantly residential, according to City planner Felix Ochieng, many buildings on the edges of the plan area are adjacent to the existing commercial district. The plan supports the conversion of these buildings to commercial uses as long as they maintain the heritage character intended for the community, he added.

“Appropriate repurposing of the existing house for commercial use that is compatible with low-density residential context would create the incentive for reinvestment in the property, with associated job creation, new neighbourhood amenities and a contribution towards improvement of the non-residential assessment ratio,” Ochieng said in his Oct. 7 presentation to council.

Additionally, he noted, council approved a land use redesignation in April 2018 to accommodate a massage clinic on a parcel one block south of the proposed health centre.

More than a dozen people attended the Oct. 7 public hearing – which continued at the Oct. 21 regular council meeting – with several people speaking against the proposal.

With the potential for at least three practitioners working out of the facility – and a likely need for support staff, as well – area resident Judy Bussey said she was worried the proposed eight-stall parking lot would be inadequate and result in a negative impact on nearby homeowners.

“In most cases, the people simply have no place else to park, because lots are already full,” she said. “Or in winter, there are piles of snow taking up one, two or three of the designated stalls.”

Bussey, and other opponents, suggested other vacant spaces within the community would be better suited to house a medical facility.

“I would like to go on record that I have no objection at all to this business – I think it’s a wonderful thing – but we have many vacant properties between Edmonton Trail and Allen Street,” Bussey said. “I don’t know why one of those wouldn’t be satisfactory.”

While the majority of those who spoke at the public hearing were against the application, Cher Higgin, a midwife with Briarhill Midwives, who has lived in Airdrie for the past year, said the birth centre would decrease the number of babies born en route to the hospital.

“There are a lot of rural folks who don’t have choices of birth place, unless they want to drive to Calgary,” she said.

“The centre would provide care to families, and for some people, seeking healthcare can be very anxiety-provoking. We feel having a place they can get care that is homey, safe and makes them feel less vulnerable…could actually increase community health.”

Council ultimately voted down the application 5-2, with Couns. Ron Chapman and Kelly Hegg voting in favour. Some councillors stated the business would be a good fit for the city, but the applicants should seek an alternative location.