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Detox debate central to General Hospital rezoning

demolition of Sarnia General Hospital

Demolition of Sarnia General Hospital is on schedule and will be completed by August.

For some 50 residents who showed up at a public meeting last month that was the good news.

The bad, or potentially bad centered on a “mixed use” rezoning application that would include a detox center along with commercial and residential uses for the 7.5 acre abandoned hospital site.

The proponents, a group of local businessmen operating a company called GFive are demolishing the abandoned hospital at a cost of more than $5.4 million.

GFive, represented by Mark Lumley and real estate developer Kenn Poore brought in planning consultant Monteith Brown to maximize usage of the soon to be cleared property.

Jay McGuffin of Monteith Brown told the audience it is too early to make guarantees about what will fill the former hospital space but “rezoning needs to be in place in order to market the area”.

Until Sarnia City Council approves the rezoning and official plan amendment GFive can’t proceed, explained McGruffin.

The mixed use is seen as important to maximize property value for the developers.

Under mixed use GFive is proposing eight residential lots on Essex Street and three potential building sites for Habitat for Humanity on Bright Street.

But a majority of residents indicated concern about discussions with Bluewater Health that could lead to development of a detox center in a mostly residential neighbourhood.

What ensued was a classic case of NIMBY (not in my backyard) among those in attendance.

While acknowledging a need for the facility, several spoke against the location.

Others spoke in favour including area residents Mike Kent and Greg Jones. They were passionate about the need and the lack of understanding about addiction.

“If you actually talk to some of these people,” says Kent, “you know, say hello to them on the street, you’ll see they are people just like us. One guy actually hugged me just because I stopped and talked to him and treated him like a neighbour. The people who are experiencing these issues want to get help and want to feel welcome. They grew up here too”.

Jones says people have a tendency to misunderstand the purpose of a detox center. “This isn’t a place where people go to do drugs,” he explained adding, “this is a place where people go for individualized care to better their lives”.

Jones, a citizen advocate created a Facebook group called “Take Back Our City from Meth, Fentanyl and Pills” and has been hosting meetings to educate himself and others about drug addiction. While he says there are valid points about having a facility closer to Bluewater Health the problem is that it is years away.

A decision on the proposed official plan amendment and rezoning application will come before Council later this month.

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