Riverview housing plan shows great lack of sensitivity

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007


One of Riverview Hospital’s magnificent trees frames its West Lawn Building. Photograph by : Arlen Redekop, The Province

The definition of a trial balloon is information sent out in order to observe the reaction of an audience. And if that was what Victoria was serving up last week with its shocking plan for 7,000 new homes on the site of the former Riverview psychiatric hospital, it certainly achieved its purpose.

The response, outlined last Friday by B.C.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman, was as strong as it was immediate. “Over my dead body” was the prevailing sentiment reported in the press.

Indeed, the proposal for a mix of private and public housing on the 98-hectare site appears to have struck local leaders like a low blow from Mike Tyson.

“It’s a slap in the face,” said irate Coun. Mae Reid, who heads Coquitlam’s Riverview Task Force.

“I think our residents are going to be quite alarmed,” noted Coquitlam Mayor Maxine Wilson.

And those residents who had hoped for the leafy site — showcasing a global tree collection — to retain its traditional “healing” ambience were clearly reeling.

In fact, one wonders why Coleman would entertain such a controversial scheme without fully canvassing local opinion.

Now, there are good arguments to be made for housing mentally ill people away from the Downtown Eastside drug ghetto — and for getting private developers to help pay for it. But the idea of turning the historic Riverview site into a housing estate seems, well, almost sacrilegious.

Certainly, this is one trial balloon that could have been floated with a great deal more sensitivity.


Only developers benefit from Riverview plan

Plans to turn the Riverview site into a mix of treatment facilities for the mentally ill, along with social and market housing, ignore a couple of realities.

The arboretum holds a world-class collection of rare and beautiful trees, and developing 7,000 housing units on the site will mean we will lose this irreplaceable natural wonder.

I can see the developer trying to sell luxury housing next door to facilities for the mentally ill.

Once preliminary approvals are in place and the site has been destroyed, expect a quick round of rezoning applications, because including treatment facilities will not be deemed economically viable.

I heard one government representative interviewed, and I was outraged by her arrogance. Her comment included the phrase: “It’s our land.” It is not your land. It belongs to the people of B.C., and the arboretum should be preserved for our children.

Sam Brownlee, Coquitlam

Great for developers

This Riverview proposal makes no sense, except to a real-estate developer. Riverview is a real estate “opportunity” just waiting to be exploited.

That this announcement focuses on using Riverview for predominantly private housing, with a bone thrown to social housing needs, is not lost on anyone.

Think Woodward’s project.

Riverview has been allowed to systematically go to wreck and ruin as a health-care facility; a process started under the NDP and refined by the Liberals.

Mental-health issues aren’t cured overnight; sometimes they are never cured at all. But in an appropriate facility, like Riverview, they can be properly treated.

For years, such people have been downloaded into “regular” society. Unfortunately, far too many are exploited daily by the same society, while they try to socially integrate. Sheer tragedy! We are bombarded daily with stories of women and men who can’t receive proper or timely treatment.

Meanwhile, Riverview is allowed to sit, wasting away.

Now the government has the audacity, short-sightedness and arrogance to propose it be used for real-estate development.

I guess health care and people’s lives are indeed a commodity of simple currency.

Matthew Stevenson, Coquitlam

Therapeutic sanctuary

B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman’s plan for a massive real- estate development is short-sighted. When he talks about thousands of housing units, it is as if he is talking about bare land.

Riverview is the antithesis of bare land. The grounds contain an exceptional collection of mature trees that have been allowed to grow freely to their natural mature size and form.

We need to retain what little green space we have left in the Lower Mainland.

The Tri-City area is already providing housing density in Coquitlam Town Centre, downtown Port Coquitlam and Port Moody’s north side.

The Riverview Horticultural Centre Society will always support the needs of the mentally ill at Riverview, but it is strongly opposed to market housing.

Riverview should be retained as it was originally planned: a therapeutic space and sanctuary for the mentally ill and the public.

Donna Crosby, President, Riverview Horticultural Centre Society

© The Vancouver Province 2007


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