Next Tuesday’s Fort Saskatchewan City Council agenda was released today, and an interesting item is a letter concerning the fate of the old Dr. Turner Lodge, which many Fort Saskatchewan residents have been asking about.
The Bite obtained a draft of the letter and some additional information via a Freedom of Information (FOIP) request that was fulfilled last week, regarding the fate of the Old Turner Lodge and the development of a new affordable housing building on a portion of the Old Hospital Lands. The Bite has decided to publish the relevant pages of this FOIP request; you can see them by clicking here.
Of note is that the old Lodge has set empty for over two years, and as we understand it, was kept heated and maintained during that time. However, according to this new information, the province’s plan is now to demolish the site. Based on the agenda item put forward, Administration evidently supports this proposal, but it is still up to Council to approve a draft letter in support.
It’s revealing to take a look back at the history of this letter, however.
As reported in the Fort Record in 2014, the Old Turner Lodge building was nearing its end of life, so the proposal to demolish it is not particularly surprising.
However, here’s a big question — and it still seems unclear despite the additional information we have obtained via the FOIP requests: Why did it take so long for a decision to be made to demolish the old lodge?
Here are the facts:
- The new lodge, meant to house the old Lodge’s (and subsequent) residents, had its funding announced over five years ago.
- Over three years ago (June 2014), again according to the Fort Record article cited above, the Province closed their request for submissions on what to do with the old Lodge.
- Residents moved into the new Lodge over two years ago.
Despite this, as revealed in our FOIP request, it appears it was only a month and a half ago, on June 23, 2017, that Heartland Housing Chair and Fort Saskatchewan City Councillor Stew Hennig obtained information from the Government of Alberta as to who should receive the letter now being considered this week by Council.
And, it wasn’t until nearly two weeks later, on July 5th, that Councillor Hennig requested City Manager Troy Fleming “do a letter,” adding “I’m sure someone can make this sound good.”
Here’s the bottom line, in our opinion. We’re more than five years into deciding the destiny of the Old Turner Lodge. And, only now, if Council so decides next week, is a letter expressing the City’s desires going to the provincial government.
Who dropped the ball? Why did this decision take so long? Could these decisions not have been made years ago, clearing the way for much-needed affordable housing development in our City on that site?
The answer to the last question, in our view, is obviously “yes.”
And, who will eventually be housed on the Old Turner Lodge site? Some seniors we have spoken to think it will be another development specifically for seniors, but the reality we suspect is that no firm plans have been made since the province still has control over the site.
Yet, more questions arise, like: will this turn into a multi-million dollar loss because of how long it has taken to decide the fate of the old Turner Lodge?
After all, had the Old Turner Lodge issue been decided expediently, could we not have told the Province we have two proposed affordable housing projects, rather than one — one on the Old Hospital Lands and one on the Old Turner Lodge site — build ready, when they announced $1.2 billion in affordable housing funding? Would the City and Heartland Housing Foundation be in a better position to receive more funding if the land had already been cleared on the Old Turner Lodge site, and control of the land been transferred to the Heartland Housing Foundation?
We note all of this comes with a background of residential need. We have an aging population. There are extensive waitlists for existing Heartland Foundation buildings. There is high demand for affordable housing besides seniors housing. And, in addition, we know of some cases where couples, together for decades, have had no choice but to separate in order to obtain affordable housing from existing stock.
In our view, the disappointment here results from a lack of leadership — on the part of Gale Katchur, who has known about these issues for years, and on the part of MLA Littlewood who apparently couldn’t inspire her government to move faster. That said, it’s neither Katchur nor Littlewood who suffer the consequences of delayed affordable housing in our community.