By Jeff Gard/Today’s Northumberland
Cobourg Mayor Lucas Cleveland didn’t mince words at council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting Monday evening when explaining why he wouldn’t support the Northumberland Sleeping Cabin Collective.
That’s despite working closely with the group at the beginning of his mandate as mayor, he said, but a lot has changed in recent weeks related to unsanctioned overdose prevention sites in town.
The NSCC has been seeking authorization from council to use municipally-owned land at 206 Furnace Street to set up 12 sleeping cabins as part of a six-month pilot project.
“We had meetings early on about best ways forward and it was under my direction or at least my recommendation that this was the path forward to take. I was very, very supportive of the group and have been up until very recently,” Mayor Cleveland said.
“I think the group has done an exemplary amount of work and unfortunately as the great philosopher Aesop says we are judged by the company we keep. I think that is important when we look at this particular issue. The community around the Northumberland Sleeping Cabin Collective was making great progress. They were moving this community in the right direction towards support – they were winning the public battle. That has changed drastically in the last two-and-a-half to three weeks and unfortunately that has to do with the illegal consumption sites that are currently popping up in and around Cobourg. These sites have been, with or without cause, linked to members of the Green Wood Coalition and have been linked to members of the Sleeping Cabin Collective. Unfortunately, the great amount of work that has been done by the Sleeping Cabin Collective is being tarnished by the decision of a few…”
The mayor’s words trailed off as a group in the gallery got up to leave and one woman (Missy Mclean) started shouting at the council. Another women stated to council, “shame on all of you.”
Mclean stood by the exit door and told Cleveland to finish his statement, but Cleveland called for a 10-minute recess.
Shortly after Mclean sat down and was then asked by Cleveland, “Ms. Mclean are you going to follow the rules of decorum or are you going to keep interrupting?”
Mclean said, “I’m going to continue to hold you and the rest of council accountable for the way your dismissing residents in this community.”
It was at that point that Mclean got the boot from council and was asked to leave.
“I’m going to officially ask you to leave.”
Mclean got up, and said she was “happy too,” before stating it was “embarrassing” and walked out of the room.
Another woman with the group stopped and stated to one woman who opposed the cabins, “I’d just like to just say shame on you,” before Cleveland said, “thank you very much. This isn’t a place to lecture.”
The woman started to leave, but turned around at the doorway before a person yelled from the gallery, “you can leave,” and the woman turned and left.
When they reconvened, Mayor Cleveland said he still recommends “the individuals behind this initiative who want to see housing for our community members, the most vulnerable, those who want to see a change in the policy, to look to agencies and organizations that are willing to follow the procedure as well as willing to follow the formal processes that are in place. As I had said, unfortunately when I see groups failing to follow the processes to which we are all held to account, and those groups are associated with other groups, it is hard for me to support any initiative when those individuals have shown blatantly that they choose not to respect the rule of law and the rules that have been passed and set forth in this council. That would be why I will not be supporting the Sleeping Cabin Collective while yet I still support the idea behind it.”
Cobourg council did not authorize the use of land at 206 Furnace Street beside the Cobourg Memorial Arena for the Sleeping Cabin Pilot Initiative. Instead, council voted to receive a staff report on the proposed pilot initiative for information purposes and supported an amended motion to reach out to Northumberland County to explore its interest in the property.
On the agenda under a memo from the Director of Legislative Services/Municipal Clerk, council had two options to consider regarding the Northumberland Sleeping Cabin Collective’s proposal – authorize use of the land for multiple temporary residential facilities for a six-month trial period or not permit.
Councillor Miriam Mutton suggested putting the second option – to not permit – forward on the floor first to open it up for discussion as she anticipated more information coming forward.
Councillor Aaron Burchat put forward an amendment to the motion that proposed an alternative site for the pilot initiative at 700 D’Arcy Street in the area located south of Building 18 and east of Building 19 around where Rebound Child & Youth Services and the Northumberland Fare Share Food Bank are based.
The proposed motion would authorize staff to draft a licensing agreement to be presented to Green Wood Coalition to provide for the temporary use of the land for 12 sleeping cabins, a bathroom and kitchen facility. The motion also called for Green Wood through the NSCC group provide staff with a detailed operation plan which provides for a safe and functional facility while ensuring program participants are supported with programming and services with a view towards achieving independence with a relationship with the County of Northumberland Social Services, Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit and any other partnering agencies.
Mayor Cleveland commended Burchat for including the social services and the health unit, but wondered why council wouldn’t have the group work with Northumberland County and then come back to council in partnership with the County.
“The County doesn’t have lands that they can provide to this group so what we’re doing right now is saying ‘here’s the use of the land’ and then essentially from there you would go to any kind of development agreement,” Burchat said. “For example, if this was a traditional development, they would already have obtained the lands and then they would be going to planning…and then starting that process. I think a lot of the stuff we have already pushed the group to do was kind of putting the cart before the horse, to be honest.
“I think a lot of these issues could’ve been hashed out if we had done the licensing piece and said ‘the Town of Cobourg’s on board with this project, now let’s get the community partners and the County involved and have those conversations’ because…the County can’t really say we want to commit to this because what if they come back and well then we don’t want to give them the land or we don’t want to do this.”
Mayor Cleveland said the County has experience as a developer and has worked with the town on affordable housing projects within Cobourg so he again wondered why council would be deciding on land authorization when the group doesn’t have a partner whose mandate is social housing.
“I believe they said that during their delegation that they weren’t ready to have those conversations until we figured out where they were going so if we don’t figure out where they’re going first it’s kind of difficult to have those conversations,” Burchat said. “I’m just looking at it as far as what can the Town of Cobourg do at this moment and what we can do is provide the licensing agreement and the potential land for that and then let the County take it from there.”
Councillor Adam Bureau said while he appreciated the amended motion from Burchat and the work Green Wood Coalition and the NSCC has done, he believes the proper process would start at the County level and its staff would then approach Cobourg council for land.
“They’ve come to us in the past…that is their specialty. They have staff that are specialists that go through this kind of stuff. Do I want to see anybody that’s unsheltered or on the streets? Absolutely not, but there has to be a process in the way it goes.”
Bureau said the province should also be involved and he wouldn’t be supporting the amended motion or the NSCC.
“I wish that everybody who came today would go to the County and ask the County for this kind of help because it’s putting us in a very bad spot, I think, and we’re trying but I just think that there’s a proper process.”
Deputy Mayor Nicole Beatty acknowledged the essential role the County plays in being the service manager for the region and the delivery of social services, but the land use falls to the mandate of the municipality. She thought Burchat’s motion was a way to get conversations started with County officials.
“I do understand the rationale of having an approved site with the underscore to the community that a licensing agreement at the end of the day would achieve these operations as well as council would again have the opportunity to approve what happens on that land. Our role is to look at land use and to treat an application through that lens.”
Councillor Mutton said she wouldn’t support the amendment for a number of reasons, but didn’t elaborate.
Beatty said, if not this, then what role does the municipality play in supporting social services and the County in addressing the need that the Cobourg community is facing.
“I wish I had that answer, but I can appreciate that we’re trying to support some creative solutions,” the deputy mayor said. “We heard that we don’t want it in a residential area so we’re trying to look at it as a temporary use on town lands that will take some time to be created.”
Beatty asked council members in opposition to the amended motion what other options do they have as elected leaders at the local level that have tools in the municipal toolbox to support social services.
“It’s not our core mandate – I’m very aware of the lane we drive in, but we can carpool in those lanes and I’m just trying to understand if it’s not this, to borrow the question we’ve heard in delegations on both sides, if it’s not this then what is it?”
Councillor Brian Darling said he also wished he had the answer, but suggested both the County and province need to step up.
“I’m not in support of the sleeping cabins for many reasons, (same) as Councillor Mutton mentioned. My thing is it’s a band-aid solution and it does help in the short term but what it does is give the County and the province more time to drag their feet because now there’s something in place,” Darling said. “If we keep giving the province and the County time to drag their feet, nothing will happen.”
Following Councillor Darling’s comment is when the mayor made his feelings on the subject known related to the NSCC and its link to the unsanctioned overdose prevention sites.
Councillor Randy Barber said he wanted to let the people in the audience and fellow councillors know where he stood on the issue. He was concerned about liability to the town as the property owner and also believed the 30 to 40 per cent of individuals who responded negatively to the proposed pilot initiative deserved to be heard as well.
“The only way that they can be heard, as far as I’m concerned, through Randy Barber is to vote against this particular amendment.”
Burchat’s amended motion was defeated.
Deputy Mayor Beatty prepared her own amended motion for council’s consideration.
“This was in anticipation of the project possibly not being endorsed by council this evening,” she said, noting she did share it with council members ahead of time to give them an opportunity to digest and review it.
Mayor Cleveland added “I also want to let everyone on council know that not only did deputy mayor speak to all of us, but she’s also done her due diligence and spoken to members at the County and ensured that the County is also on board with this motion. I just want to commend you on that work.”
Beatty thanked the mayor and also Director of Planning Anne Taylor Scott for helping to understand the file. She said in the fall of 2022, a resolution was passed to identify the parcel of land at 206 Furnace Street to be looked at for a long-term permanent housing plans.
“This was a result of an extensive municipal land inventory review exercise that the last term of council undertook, which results in an outcome of our Community Improvement Plan and in that plan…enabled the municipality to donate or to sell land so that another entity whether the County, non-profit or for-profit builder could build housing so not asking for the town to build,” Beatty said.
“I didn’t want to lose sight of the momentum around that and so working with staff and also speaking with CAO (Jennifer) Moore at the County, really this motion achieves four goals: first to stay focused on this site as a way that we can continue to leverage the CIP program; declaring it surplus doesn’t mean it’s going to be built tomorrow, but by declaring it surplus tonight what I’m really trying to do is to get as many efficiencies in this motion as possible so that staff can just have the runway to do the work that they need to do, obviously keeping in mind due process, coming back to council, public engagements, so I acknowledge all of those essential steps of the planning process.
“My understanding is that the County is always looking for potential land to help achieve their housing goals.”
Councillor Mutton made a request to divide for a separate vote on the part of the deputy mayor’s amended motion that stated “further that council direct staff to declare the southwest portion of the parking lot (23.5m vs 44m) at 206 Furnace Street as surplus land.”
Mutton believed the discussion with the County could continue without declaring the land as surplus. Darling sought clarity that declaring the land surplus wouldn’t take any ownership rights away from the town. Clerk Brent Larmer said it’s just a step that would be required anyway before selling or donating the land.
Mutton wanted clarification on if there needed to be public input before declaring the land surplus. Larmer said that’s correct and would be done before the by-law is passed.
The motion to divide passed.
Beatty’s amended motion, minus the section that was separated, passed.
It reads “That Council receive this staff report on the proposed Sleeping Cabin Pilot Initiative for information purposes; and
Further that Council direct staff to reach out to Northumberland County to explore their interest in the property and consideration of possible options for how the site could be used to achieve their affordable housing targets; and
Further that Council direct staff to proceed with a formal Request for Proposal process for the disposal of the lands for the purpose of affordable housing should Northumberland County not pursue this site; and
Further that Council direct staff to conduct public engagement with the surrounding neighbourhood on any options that may materialize.
The separate motion to declare the southwest portion of the parking lot as surplus land also passed.