Costs of court battle to close homeless shelter climb 40 percent

Sarnia will shell out a lot more than expected to close a homeless shelter.

The legal costs to enforce a zoning bylaw and close down the River City Vineyard’s homeless shelter have jumped 40 percent.

In 2012, city council decided not to renew River City Vineyard’s temporary zoning which allowed the church to operate a homeless shelter. There had been pressure to close the shelter down from some neighbours who complained they no longer felt secure in their homes, citing increased break-ins and police calls to the area.

While the statistics didn’t support the neighbours’ concerns, the city ordered it closed July 31. But the church says under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms the church should be allowed to keep the shelter open because serving others is part of their religious beliefs.

That’s forced the city to head to court to enforce its bylaw.

Initially, city staff estimated it would cost between $30,000 and $40,000 to hire lawyers to defend the bylaw but that number is climbing.

“Due to the volume of materials that was necessary to be reviewed, the complexity of the issues, the cost to draft the application material and the costs of the external land use planner’s expert report, the projected fees to be incurred will likely now be in the $60,000 to $70,000 range,” writes City Solicitor/Clerk Brian Knott. The city has hired the firm Cohen Highley to act on the city’s behalf.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, who has consistently voted to keep the shelter open, is not surprised by the increasing costs. He notes the new estimate only includes the first hearing, scheduled for three days in October. Officials at River City Vineyard have said in the past they are prepared to appeal the decision if a court rule the shelter should close.

Currently, fewer than 10 people are using Harbour Inn in the former YMCA building.

– Heather Wright