It’s been a hot-button issue on the Sunshine Coast for four years, but the July 28 public hearing on zoning and Official Community Plan (OCP) amendments for the Silverstone long-term care facility in Sechelt ended up being relatively short and uncontentious.
Some 27 people signed up to participate by Zoom or phone, and just more than 50 watched via YouTube, but only about a dozen chose to speak.
Mayor Darnelda Siegers said right off the top that the hearing was not going to be allowed to become a venue for debate of the issue that has made the proposal controversial since Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and Trellis Seniors Services first announced an agreement to build and operate the facility in 2016 – the replacement of the publicly owned and operated Shorncliffe and Totem Lodge with a privately owned facility run under contract with the health authority.
“This public hearing is not the avenue to discuss or debate public versus private,” she said, saying that was a matter people should take up with other levels of government.
Despite that reminder, some speakers, both for and against, did work in comments about care delivery, the business model and the issue of private versus public ownership and management.
Of those who did offer an opinion on the project itself, most were either fully in support or said they supported the project in general but had some concerns or questions.
Speakers supporting the proposal included Trellis president Mary McDougall, a representative of the BC Care Providers Association, and two local physicians including Dr. Jim Petzold who noted, as Sunshine Coast doctors have in the past, the pressing need for a new long-term care facility.
Petzold said one of the lessons coming out of the impact of the COVID pandemic is that the risks have been highest in older long-term care facilities with more than one resident per room, which he said pointed to the urgent need to replace Totem Lodge.
“Silverstone offers a fresh new building which is totally up to date in terms of standards of care,” he said.
Davy Sangara of Sawarne Lumber, the company that sold Trellis a Derby Road lot for Silverstone and plans to develop the surrounding properties, said he is “extremely supportive” of the project.
“This application and construction of the [Silverstone] project will be the nexus of future development in the area,” Sangara said.
The only speakers from the general public who raised issues directly related to land use spoke about the potential for increased traffic in the area. A resident of Cowrie Street said the recent completion of the Cowrie Street-Derby Road connection has already led to more traffic on what he described as “a narrow, winding road with poor sightlines.”
A group of current Shorncliffe residents also addressed the hearing to raise questions they said they haven’t been able to get answered by VCH or Trellis.
“Why were the residents who live here, the people who are going to be most impacted by the decision to move us [to Silverstone], not consulted?” asked Marg Penney.
When Siegers told the group the public hearing wasn’t the right forum to ask questions of VCH or Trellis, Shorncliffe resident Neil Frost said it’s been “impossible” to get their questions heard any other way.
“We’re getting concerned as time goes on that we’re not going to get answers at all,” said Lori Dixon, another of the group of Shorncliffe residents. “I’d like to make sure that you’re very well aware of the fact that we have not been consulted and we have not had a chance to be heard.”
With the public hearing complete, the zoning and OCP amendments can now go to council for third reading and possible adoption.
Silverstone is one of three facilities Trellis is under contract to build and operate for VCH, and the company has said it will likely take two years to complete construction once it has zoning approval.
Trellis’s Hamilton Village Care Centre in Richmond opened in mid-May and the Creekstone Care Centre in North Vancouver is scheduled to open later this year. Trellis also owns and operates the Brocklehurst Gemstone Care Centre in Kamloops.