City council is debating a proposed new location for the Whispers of Hope community kitchen. File photo

City council is debating a proposed new location for the Whispers of Hope community kitchen. File photo

Grand Forks city councillors debate proposed Whispers of Hope location

There are calls for a public forum and bylaw reform

As the new location for the Whispers of Hope community kitchen causes waves in the community and on social media, it is also drawing backlash from members of council, and sparking a dialogue about the city’s zoning and bylaws.

During Monday’s Committee of the Whole and regular council meetings on Monday, the issue of the Whispers of Hope location planned for Fifth Street to open this spring rose several times.

During the morning meeting, members of the public asked questions of council and read a statement into the record about their opposition to the project. Members of council and the public had questions about the zoning at the location, and the need (or lack thereof) for Whispers of Hope to carry a business licence.

According to staff, Whispers does not need a business licence because it is not for profit; by the same token, they fit the requirements to be located in a commercially zoned property as a “restaurant” because in the bylaw, restaurant is defined as a place that prepares food.

“Citizens for a Better Grand Forks would like to convey that we are opposed not only to the 5th Street location, but all locations in the downtown area,” said the statement read into the record by a member of the gallery.

During the evening meeting, councillors spoke strongly against the project, none moreso than Couns. Neil Krog and Christine Thompson who spoke against the project in both meetings.

“My concern is [that it will attract] the same clientele as they had on [Riverside]. I think what they want to do is fine but location is wrong, it is a slap in the face to downtown business community that they do not need,” she said. “The last thing we need is for some young child to pick up a spent needle that may or may not have fentanyl and be critically injured … quite frankly I want see everything done legally that council can do to prevent them from staying in that location.”

During discussion on some letters from citizens about the issue, received for information by council, Couns. Rod Zielinski and Chris Moslin challenged council and the community to participate in a discussion on the issue.

Zielinski made a call for a public meeting, citing the ongoing “talk” about the issue without productive discussion, while Moslin asked council to think about an ideal scenario.

“The challenge is to propose something that will work and somewhere for it to work. Not just to complain that Grand Forks is being built, but to build one,” he said. “So you don’t like it, okay what do you like? As one of the councillors once said about the BC Housing issue, ‘why don’t they just give us the money and we build what we want?’ Okay, what would we build? That is the challenge.”

During his councillor’s report, Moslin put forward a motion that staff amend the zoning bylaw to include definitions for supportive housing and community kitchens, and establish the zoning for each. This will be brought to council no later than September.