Posted on 13 June 2012 by Keith Lacey
Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) Chief Clarence Louie says you don’t always win when it comes to political issues, so he has accepted that fact and withdrawn the OIB’s application to open a halfway house for aboriginal offenders in Osoyoos.
While the halfway house proposal for this location won’t happen, Louie is adamant this project and proposal will happen and he and the OIB council are looking to secure another location in the coming weeks and months.
Bellstar Development Inc. teamed with the OIB Development Corporation to build Spirit Ridge Resort and Spa over the past decade. The project is marketed by Bellstar Realty, a wholly owned affiliate of Bellstar and a licensed brokerage firm in B.C. and Alberta.
“It all comes down to politics,” said Louie, one of the most respected First Nations leaders in the country, who didn’t hide his disappointment in making last week’s announcement to withdraw the OIB application to open the halfway house in a five-bedroom home owned by the OIB near the Spirit Ridge Resort and Spa.
“Bellstar management and the people who own Bellstar condos at Spirit Ridge have rallied against this proposal, so we had no choice but to back out. That’s politics and that’s the way it goes. You don’t win on every issue you take on in life and you don’t always win when it comes to politics.”
The OIB announced in January its plans to use a house it owns on OIB land near the Spirit Ridge development and only steps away from the Nk’Mip Cellars winery it operates in Spirit Ridge for a halfway house for aboriginal offenders.
While there was very little public objection in the first few months after the OIB announced its plans, several neighbours who owns homes and property adjacent to the proposed halfway house voiced their objections during a public hearing held two months ago.
Stan Kelliher, a retired Osoyoos secondary school teacher, was the most vocal of the neighbours, saying the quality of life he and his family have enjoyed for years would be negatively impacted if the halfway house were to open and his property value would drop significantly no matter how many safeguards and guarantees were made by the OIB and Corrections Canada staff.
To move ahead with renovations to the halfway house, the OIB had sought to change the current zoning of the land to the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.
During a meeting last month, the RDOS board voted to hold a second public hearing on this issue as numerous property owners in the Spirit Ridge development were not properly informed about the halfway house proposal or its location.
The second public hearing was scheduled for last Thursday evening at the Sonora Community Centre in Osoyoos, but that meeting was cancelled the day before following the OIB council’s decision to officially withdraw its rezoning application before the RDOS board.
Louie said this is a classic case of a community saying they want to be part of the solution to a recognized problem, but not being willing to take the necessary steps to make it happen.
“People say they’re in favour of supporting forestry and oil development, but not when it happens in their backyard,” he said. “They won’t support these industries in their backyard, but they all use wood products and oil every day of their lives.
“The people say they want to help offenders rehabilitate and become contributing members of society, but once again they won’t let it happen in their own backyards. But that’s politics. Sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t win and you have to look at alternatives and that’s what we’ll do here.”
Louie made it very clear the OIB fully intends on opening a halfway house for aboriginal offenders in this area.
“We’re going to explore all our options and certainly be looking at other sites,” he said. “We’re going to go back to council and start looking for another location in the next little while.”
While he tried to convince Bellstar management the halfway house would be run properly and safely and only those offenders who went through a rigorous selection process would be selected for the program, it became clearly evident there was very strong opposition to the proposal, said Louie.
“We had been involved in serious discussion for a couple of weeks,” he said. “At the end of the day we decided to withdraw our application and look at other sites.”
Kelliher said while he maintains the highest degree of respect for Louie and all the good work done in this region by the OIB, he admits he’s thrilled the halfway house won’t be operating only metres from his property line.
“It’s a very happy day for me and my family,” said Kelliher. “I don’t know what the final plans are, but I do believe this was a bad location and I’m glad I won’t have to lose any more sleep over it.”
Kelliher insists he supports the concept of a halfway house for aboriginal offenders, but says location is crucial in any such endeavour and the property owners at Spirit Ridge obviously agreed with him and let their collective feelings be known.
“I honestly thought it was going to open,” he said.
“But then there was a lot of media coverage and it became clear a lot of people in Spirit Ridge, who had spent an awful lot of money up there, didn’t know about this place or the location and a lot of them weren’t very happy about it.”
Kelliher said he strongly believes Louie’s sole intent was to try and assist aboriginal offenders in getting their lives back on track and he continues to support the proposal, but he remains steadfast in his belief having a halfway house located in a rural hillside near residential homeowners was not a good idea.
“I’m just glad the application has been withdrawn and I can move on with my life,” he said.