This Month at Council: Procedural Changes, Libraries Saved, and Pool Mourning

City Council came back from the summer break with a very busy agenda that included the long-awaited Strategic Plan, some controversial changes to the Procedural Bylaw, and the early closure of the pool at Centennial C.V.I. And there was one more thing, what was that? Oh yeah, the Baker District Redevelopment and the new main library!

Committee of the Whole – September 3

The six-hour long meeting covered a lot of ground.

Procedural Bylaw Update – Three delegate came out to speak about their shock and surprise that council might be considering limits to people delegating and infringing on the right to free expression. There was a lot of probing about what would define “new information” and how much public consultation was done before making this decision. Alternative solutions like estimated discussion times, and electronic message boards were also discussed. In the end, Committee voted 10-2 in favour of passing the administrative changes (incl. definitions, renumbering, and new meeting deadline), while the more controversial changes about delegating will be discussed at the next review of the Procedural Bylaw sometime in 2020/21.

Five-Year Strategic Plan – Committee was mostly pleased with the document and suggested some wordsmithing. No changes were made as staff reminded Committee that his supposed to be a living document and it’s meant to change as opportunities are seized or new challenges arise.

Cancellation of the Brant Community Hub – Danna Evans, General Manager of Culture, Tourism, and Community Investment, told Committee that the plan is to turn the land purchased for the hub into a new city park, and it will be rezoned when the park comes up for renovation, which will be in 2024.

Closure of the Centennial Pool – Ward 5 Councillor Cathy Downer made a heroic attempt to save the pool saying that the City was creating a “donut effect” by having recreation facilities around the parameter and getting rid of ones in the city’s interior. She also said that the $1.2 million to bring the pool up to code is a small price to pay compared to building a whole new facility. Parks and Rec GM Heather Flaherty said that the $1.2 million might be the tip of the proverbial iceberg of needed improvements, and already rentals have been looking elsewhere for pool facilities while all City programs can be managed out of the West End and Victoria Road Rec Centres. Committee voted to close the pool 7-4.

Moving Locomotive #6167 – Evans said that the plan her department presented is the most cost-effective way of moving the train, as it would be too dangerous to move the train along the track. The report was presented as a way for Committee to ask technical questions as the cost of moving the train will have to be approved with the Capital Budget in November.

Planning Meeting – September 9

There were a couple of matters that generated a lot of discussion at this month’s planning meeting.

Statutory Planning Meeting for Proposed Zoning Bylaw Amendment for 167 Alice St. – The application is looking to rezone a property to allow for the construction of two other single-detached dwellings on the site. Potential contamination on the property coming from an old Esso site just to the south must be dealt with too, but the only neighbourhood delegate to come to council gave the project his approval. Ward 1 Councillor Bob Bell asked that the project limit height on the new buildings to two-storeys to match the character of the area.

Statutory Public Meeting to Initiate an Official Planning Amendment for the Commercial Policy Review. – This will initiate the process of creating an OPA to cover the goals of the review, in which there are a number of changes to accelerate commercial development at key nodes, and ensure that the city has enough retail space to meet future needs. Much of the discussion focused on the proposed cap to initiate a site review of commercial space. The planning consultant for the owners of the plaza at Willow and Dawson are concerned that the OPA will affect their plans to redevelop that site, and the consultant doing the redevelopment of Stone Road Mall warned that any mall or plaza that just loses an anchor tenant like Sears or Target could trigger the 25 per cent cap. Another issue was Loblaw, who warned that the proposed minimum floor space was too big for their business plan, but Mayor Cam Guthrie said that if Loblaw thinks a new east end supermarket will be under-utilized, then they should see his inbox.

Brownfield Redevelopment Financial Incentives for 71 Wyndham St S and Redevelopment Incentive Grant for 120 Huron Street – Councillor Dominique O’Rourke and Mayor Guthrie got some clarity on how these grants work, and what the effect on the bottom line will be.

Special Council Meeting – September 16

The night started with a presentation by staff and a dozen delegates, and then came the fireworks.

Councillors tested staff on the numbers, about the change in price tag from the original $50 million, to the proposed cut to $34 million in July, and then the new $67.1 million amount quoted. Staff was poked and prodded about their numbers, and their fiscal prudence, but they seemed unshaken from their report that although the project may push the City up its debt ceiling, it would not break through the tile with proper management.

A marathon in-camera session was called, where council talked to the City solicitor for 25 minutes. What all was discussed is unknown due to the confidentiality of in-camera, but Councillor Bob Bell asked about what mechanisms the City could use to stall the project, and the City’s co-developer Windmill, until after it’s revealed if the City is getting Federal infrastructure money. From the tone of CAO Scott Stewart, it seems like this was asked and answered in-camera.

Councillor Mike Salisbury tried to broker peace with a proposal to approve a $50 million cap on the project with an option to approve another $17 million, but the measure failed 4-9.

The other attempt to amend was Councillor Mark MacKinnon’s motion to just straight up cap the project at $50 million in total. His argument was that there were too many known unknowns with the project: What will the regulations be about the Community Benefit Charge? What will the caps be? What happens to other projects if the City has to reshuffle? Councillor Dan Gibson joined him in skepticism, while Councillor Cathy Downer made a passionate argument that the main library has had to jump through more hoops than any other project.

The last word came to Mayor Cam Guthrie, who said that he was against the new main library before he was for it, and he’s done his best to bring other member of council along. Guthrie said that all he was looking for was a reprieve of a couple of weeks while council and staff looked at the options and get some extra assurances before he then invoked the late Mayor Joe Young, who was against building the River Run Centre in that final vote, but in the end was a champion for the facility.

History repeated itself. All but Guthrie, Gibson, MacKinnon, and Bell voted in favour of proceeding with the main library and the Baker District Redevelopment. Next stop: the application for infrastructure funds due on November 12, and the October 23 presentation of the Capital Budget.

Regular Council Meeting – September 23

It was a straightforward meeting where a couple of key items were discussed.

Procedural Bylaw – Councillor Mark MacKinnon brought forward an amendment to the recommendation coming out of Committee of the Whole to bar electronic devices for closed meetings. MacKinnon’s amendment undid that directive so that electronic devices will be allowed because of the implementation of the electronic agenda management system that council and staff will be using in the new year. Councillor Phil Allt voiced security concerns, because while the City’s encryption might be tight, there’s no way that the same can be said for all the personal devices of councillors and staff. Eventually, the MacKinnon amendment passed 8-4.

Councillor Cathy Downer then brought forth an amendment to go back to the current version of the board appointment process where the agenda leaves the names blank in advance of the meeting where appointments were made. That one was passed 11-1.

Another motion from Councillor Mark Salisbury then directed the Clerk’s Office to make looking at the Notice of Motion policy a priority for the midterm review of the Procedural Bylaw. Salisbury, as well as Mayor Cam Guthrie, noted that the current process is long, and cumbersome, and that it stops councillors from being as responsive as they need to be to constituent concerns, like in the case of restoring service to route #3 on Guelph Transit last year, which took six months to reach council for a vote. Salisbury’s motion passed 11-1.

Centennial Pool Closure – Councillor Leanne Piper wanted to express her disappointment about the situation, and how this was the closure of a pool in a centralized location, without an updated Parks and Recreation Master Plan, and leaving Guelph with one less public pool. Guthrie asked council to go in-camera for some legal advice on the lease agreement with the Upper Grand District School Board, and afterward council voted 7-5 to close the pool in the new year. Downer made a motion to direct the Parks and Rec staff to look at the equitable distribution of assets as part of the master plan, which passed unanimously.

Strategic Plan – Staff laid out the final version of the plan, which aside from some wordsmithing, hadn’t changed too much from Committee of the Whole. They also laid out the next phase of the project, which is to come up with action plans on how to achieve the objectives in the strat plan, which will be coming back to council sometime later next year. Councillor Bob Bell was the only wet blanket on the reveal saying that he was going to vote against the strat plan because there was too much input from staff and not enough from council, plus the plan wasn’t as focused as he would have liked. Council endorsed the plan 11-1.

Note: There’s no council meeting on Monday as it’s a rare fifth Monday of the month.

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