Gary and Joan McEwan have a vision.
“We are trying to make a completely inclusive building,” said Gary. “Because we have lived a life of inaccessibility in our town.”
The Kelowna couple’s 14-year-old son Ben is disabled and has a lot of special needs.
“Ben does not walk … he doesn’t talk, he doesn’t eat orally — he’s fed through a tube,” Gary told Global News. “He has multiple seizures on a daily basis. He has scoliosis.”
The couple has devoted their life to taking care of Ben but it’s a full-time job.
“You don’t know what it takes out of you as a person,” Joan McEwan said. “It’s hard work and I don’t want to get emotional but it is hard work, it’s tiring.”
With Ben requiring 24-7 care, the couple has little time for much else, including maintaining a home.
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They decided a while back they needed to downsize to an apartment to reduce house and yard work in order to have more time for their son, but finding an apartment that is fully wheelchair accessible proved impossible.
“There’s nothing available here in town,” Gary said.
He said with nearly 300 families similar to his living in the health region, the need for a fully accessible building is enormous.
So he’s proposing to build one on a lot he purchased in the Manhattan Point neighbourhood in the north end of downtown.
“We’ve deleted all of the hurdles such as curbs going out to decks, curbs going to showers, [created] wide hallways … that kind of thing,” he said.
The proposed housing complex includes a five-storey building with eight units, as well as two townhouses at the front of the building.
It would be situated on a half-acre lot in the 900-block of Manhattan Drive.
But the project requires the land to be re-zoned to allow for multi-unit housing and an amendment to the Official Community Plan, something many residents oppose.
“It’s so precedent-setting. I think it would definitely set a tone, a signal in the neighbourhood, that others can come in and consolidate and put up lots and apartment blocks,” said area resident Carmen Gray.
The neighbourhood consists of family homes, carriage houses and duplexes.
“It does not fit at all,” said Gray. “Clearly we’re not apartment buildings.”
Gray said a petition against the project has been sent to the city.
“Ninety per cent of the residents in this community — 63 households out of 70 — have said they are opposed. Not because they’re not willing to have more density or change in this neighbourhood, but because they don’t want to put an apartment block and that level of density on the street,” Gray said.
Gray said other concerns surrounding the project include an already narrow roadway and lack of sidewalks.
Gray said this type of housing belongs on a street with more infrastructure.
“It’s just the wrong location,” Gray said. “You would think … that they would want to put something like this on a street with more infrastructure, sidewalks, busing, even a place for a handicap bus to stop and park.”
The McEwans said they already have four families interested in moving into the building and feel disheartened at the reaction from some of the neighbours.
“You have push-back from a community that you want to live in, you want to live there for the rest of your life,” Joan McEwan said. “I was hoping that there will be more empathy for something like this.”
The proposal will go to a public hearing on Tuesday, July 13 at 4:30 p.m.
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