POST-VIEW: What Happened at the City Council Meeting on October 21?

In a special third Monday meeting, that also happened to take place on Election Day, city council decided about taking the next steps to building a combined operations campus on Dunlop Road. It’s okay, it’s only a $200 million decision! You can read the Politico preview for this meeting here, see the amended agenda here, and you can read the complete recap below.

IDE-2019-103 Real Estate Assets Information

Staff presented a report on eight under-performing real estate assets that the City owns, and what the plan is to make them more functional. Going through the presentation property-by-property…

65 Delhi Street – This building is presently occupied by Emergency Services in the north half of the property. The City is presently looking at doing a renovation on the building in 2021, which will be “built to form” for Emergency Services in the south half, with the renovated north end then being used for another City service.

72 Farquhar Street (Drill Hall) – This property is currently unoccupied, and it needs a “complete revitalization.” There’s a rough idea of how much that’s going to cost because it needs obvious things like all new windows and electrical, but the City has $2 million in the capital budget for stabilization costs. Presently there’s no plan for the future use of property, and Antti Vilkko, General Manager of Facilities Management, says no request for proposals (RFP) will be sent out in the near future of the site either. In response to a question from Councillor Mike Salisbury, staff added that the situation is more complicated than just putting it up for sale (if the City even wants to unload the property).

Mayor Cam Guthrie told council that it is within their prerogative to put forward a motion to have staff come back with a plan for a given property, or to use the City’s civic accelerator option to get community feedback on under-performing assets.

341 Forestell Road – This is part of the Hanlon Creek Business Park lands, and the one heritage building on the property would need about $1.3 million to renovate and preserve the old house. The building could be incorporated into a water-pumping station, but most of this land, which is 100 acres in total, will be sold as part of phase 3 of the HCBP. The direction for the site won’t be known until early 2020 in a separate report.

Councillor Leanne Piper voice her frustration that there’s been so much work done with research into what to do with these properties, and council needs to give a clear direction if they want to avoid losing more buildings via ‘demolition by neglect’. Piper added that she would support a motion along the lines that Salisbury suggested.

Chief Administrative Officer Scott Stewart also advised that it might be a good idea for council to refer to staff direction to bring forward more information about the possible directions for these under-used properties.

880 Victoria Road South (Carter Farm) – Under the farmhouse, and the property, this is a big source of Guelph’s drinking water. The farmhouse on the property has been given some improvements, but there’s still a lot of work to do. Will it get done? Staff is recommending that nothing be done with the property so as to protect the water, which makes the house rather useless. Staff will work with Puslinch to see if it can be re-located.

Piper said that it was her recollection that it was originally the intention to have the property returned to residential use once it was connected to utilities on the developed Victoria Road South as it would “put eyes” on the property. Vilkko explained that there’s a concern of contamination since it’s a shallow water source. Deputy CAO Kealy Dedman said there’s been an enhanced review over the years with the suggestion that vehicles and other uses might present a risk to the water table.

14 Edinburgh Road South – This building is currently home to the City’s Parks and Rec pottery programming, and it will maintain that use until the grade separation at the railroad tracks there is ready to proceed. There were no questions on this file.

106 Beaumont Crescent – This is vacant land that’s about one acre in size, and separated into 10-residential lots. It was bought in the 70s for the realignment of Cityview Drive, but there’s presently no plan for the site, though a land use plan is underway and due to come back in 2020. There were no questions on this file .

McQuillan’s Bridge on Stone Road East – It’s on a trail for pedestrian use, and regularly inspected, but the last time the bridge was inspected was in June 2018, and it was determined to be in poor condition. The City is planning on remediating the bridge with an initial Environmental Assessment to begin in 2020. Piper asked for clarification if it’s the concrete that’s in poor condition, not the structure, but Vilkko confirmed that if the rebar on the bridge is exposed then that’s the definition of poor condition. Piper asked if there are temporary measures that can be taken to preserve the bridge between now and the schedule work plan of 2024, and Vilkko said that staff can look at that.

606 Massey Road – This is an industrial property, landlocked and mostly vacant, through Metrolinx does have a communications tower on the 11-acre site. It was bought in 1973 for the possible extension of Campbell Road, but the extension of that road, Massey Road and Independence Place is not in the Official Plan. Staff are taking steps to create road access to the land, but between 9 to 10 acres will be prepared for sell-off. That eventuality is not in the work plan yet, but it can be initiated “in short order,” according to Vilkko. Dedman added that the timeline could be two-years, one year for design, and another year for construction.

In summery, staff have completed the review and outlined the issues associated with these key sites. Councillor Phil Allt asked if there’s any baseline for how Guelph is dealing with under-utilized sites, DCAO Trevor Lee said he wasn’t sure off-hand, but he could do that research.

Councillor Rodrigo Goller and Allt moved to receive the report.

Salisbury asked staff what next steps need to occur from this report. Dedman said that next steps have been identified for each property, and staff will move according to those plans.

Councillor Dan Gibson asked how long it will take to move forward with the grade separation on Edinburgh Road, Dedman said Metrolinx is reviewing the tracks along the corridor in preparation for two-way, all-day GO, so the separation will likely be coming sooner rather than later. Gibson asked if there was a better use for that property than pottery programming, and DCAO Colleen Clack explained that there was a business case done at the time, and this was the best option. Clack added that turning it back into a rental property doesn’t make sense in the short-term, and that the City was making revenue from the well-used pottery programs and other activities run out of the building.

Piper said that she was eager to offer an amendment to give direction to staff to start the process of engagement and moving forward on some of the recommendations. Stewart assured that there will be work done on that, likely starting in the first quarter of 2020. Guthrie said that he hopes to see movement in the next 12 months.

Vote to receive the report passes 11-0.

Goller offered his own motion that staff be directed to look at using the 106 Beaumont Crescent property as a site for harm reduction housing by the November 4 Committee of the Whole meeting. Goller said that he would like to see some more investigation into whether this land could be used for this function since previous investigations have proved inconclusive that there was an appropriate site.

Stewart said analytical work like this can’t be done so quickly, and the Country of Wellington has also recently done some work on this, which makes sense since they are the housing provider. Clack added the City was contacted by the County just the last week on this matter with a due date for information in January. Clack suggested that the Committee meeting in January would be a better time, since it would align with the County as well.

Councillor Bob Bell moved an amendment that would have staff report back at January’s Committee of the Whole meeting, and Mayor Guthrie said he would vote ‘yes’ to that, but wanted it noted on the record that he wanted it to be sooner. The amendment passed 10-1 with Gibson voting against.

Gibson said that there are two ways to look at this motion. The first is that this is a request for some information that would only take an hour of staff time and could be received in an email, and the other is the appearance that council has decided to put harm reduction housing on Beaumont, and had asked staff what hurdles have to be overcome to make it happen. Gibson said he applauded the effort, but more research should have been done before bringing this to council.

Stewart listed a great number logistical issues the motion, and a number of partners aside from the Country that have to be engaged in a two-week period on this motion. Guthrie said he’d love to push yes on this motion, but agreed with Stewart that there’s still a lot of work to do before proceeding. Goller removed the motion, but there’s an imperative to move on this issue. Guthrie said that’s not lost on anyone.

IDE-2019-102 City Operations Facilities Needs Assessment

After a 10-minute break, the meeting returned, but without Councillors Mark MacKinnon and Christine Billings. Guthrie said he asked staff is this presentation could be moved to Wednesday, since four members of council were absent, and this project has a substantial price tag.

Allt moved to refer this to Wednesday and said it was imperative to have a stronger compliment of councillors to make this decision. Hofland asked for a poll of which councillors were going to miss Wednesday’s meeting, which was the presentation of the Capital Budget. Hofland also noted that Councillors Dominique O’Rourke and Cathy Downer were always not going to be at this meeting because they were working the election.

The vote to defer failed in a 4-5 tie.

Clack began the presentation saying that this project is about making sure that the City’s most essential, frontline staff have the space and resources to be able to do their jobs safely and efficiently. Vilkko then proceeded with the presentation.

The problem is that City departments like Transit, Parks and Rec, and other City operations are outgrowing their currently spaces, which are inadequate and/or inefficient. For instance, the current Transit garage has no set-up for being able to charge electric buses. Many of the buildings in question were constructed in the 1960s, and they are currently reaching the end of their useful life, plus they can’t be physically expanded because of the limited real estate.

So the decision was made that a new campus that would be be ideal as it would help keep down cost and promote efficiencies, and building it on land that the City owns will also keep costs for the project itself down. The property at 110 Dunlop Street is already zoned for this purpose, and its location next to the Waste Innovation Centre will also be able to accommodate shared services. The old buildings and lands can be sold to help offset the cost of the new campus.

The first phase of the project will be the construction of the new Transit Operations facility, which will cost $86.8 million. The more immediate cost is $5.5 million for site prep and planning, but the total cost of the project is $197.4 million.

Bell asked if the plan allows for the expansion of the composting facility. Vilkko said that solid waste operations will be kept to within in the north end of the property and should accommodate the need for future growth, although there’s no money for expansion in the 10-Year Capital Budget at this time.

Goller observed that there’s a lot of money being spent on capital projects at one time between this, the new library, and the South End Community Centre, and asked if there were cheaper options. Vilkko said that this is the best option, though they did look at other possibilities. Goller asked if the City can wait? Dedman said pushing things off would mean investing in facilities that aren’t going to meeting Guelph’s needs in the meantime?

Gibson asked if there’s been some analysis as to the efficiencies on operating costs by going to one facility instead of several. Staff said that these questions will be answered in the design and planning process in 2022. The numbers being presented right now are placeholders, and staff will bring forward an operational plan for each new building. Gibson expressed skepticism about the numbers.

Guthrie noted that the recommendation is that staff proceed with the design and planning for the facility, and before anything is constructed, staff will come back for approval of each individual piece. The mayor suggested that as part of that work staff could be directed to bring back a more detailed plan about the proposed efficiencies before each project. Dedman said that is the intent of staff.

Stewart said that they have to know what the design is before they know what the exact efficiencies are, he called it another “chicken and egg” moment. Gibson said he might add some language to the motion that would make the decision conditional on the approval of a business case. Dedman said staff would be fine with such a amendment.

Gibson and Allt put the recommendation on the floor.

Hofland asked if staff has received the Investing in Canada Infrastructure: Public Transit Stream funding yet, and staff says that they have not, but after the results of the election perhaps the phone will start ringing.

Salisbury asked about the implications of approving this recommendation, because site prep also sounds like shovels in the ground. Vilkko says there are things like the demolishing the old SUBBOR building on the site that has to happen, and some other things that must be done. Salisbury said that to him it sounded like approving the recommendation was council taking the first step to enacting thw whole plan, but staff repeated that most of the cost for prep was the demolition of the SUBBOR building, which is something the City has to do since it’s a hazard.

The Ward 4 councillor said that he was also concerned about proceeding without a more detailed business case, and wondered what it would cost the City if they delayed until they received that information. Vilkko said efficiency was the driver, and staff are struggling now in their current locations. Salisbury noted that because of the inefficiencies in the present buildings there is a cost to that, and he wondered how that compared. General Manager of Finance Tara Baker said there was a timing to the ICIP grant, and required staff to move faster then they originally thought.

Goller asked about the cost of developing a business case, is it staff time, or is it hiring a consultant? Staff said it’s comprehensive, it will be staff lead, but there will be some consultation in terms of what kind of new transit vehicles the City should buy. There’s also the cost of an Environmental Assessment, which is a pretty substantial part of the initial $10 million budget.

Bell said that he’s happy to support the money for the demolition of the SUBBOR building, but he added that he’s not pleased with the overall plan. DCAO Trevor Lee said that the power requirements of the present Transit garage can’t handle the charging of one bus let alone the charging of multiple EV buses. Bell said he disagrees, there’s more than enough room in the front of the yard to install a new transformer.

Councillor James Gordon asked for messaging tips in terms of how this decision can be sold to constituents, or even a final figure in terms of what all this might cost. Baker said that they don’t have that exact figure.

Piper said that that she didn’t feel like she had enough information to vote, there were too many unanswered questions.

Guthrie expressed concern about the 70 acres for this development as opposed to the full 145 acres recommended by the consultant, was 70 going to be good enough for the next 25 years? Lee said that the 145 acres was the consultant’s “idealized” plan with all the “bells and whistles” and the reality is that Guelph doesn’t have the 145 acres. Guthrie asked if it’s staff’s recommendation that the City will be good for up to a population of 191,00, and Lee said that was the case.

The mayor then asked if it’s been taken into account the fact that an electrified fleet will require less maintenance. Lee said there’s a clear demand to meet the needs of today and evolve to meet the needs of the future, and those details will be hashed out with the detailed design element. Guthrie asked if any other municipality has recently undertaken a project like this, but Lee wasn’t aware of one.

Gibson’s amendment was then presented to council, and it said that the final decision on the campus be presented after a detailed business case and staging plan is brought for approval.  Salisbury seconded the amendment, but there was some confusion since the amendment was presented as an additional clause. Gibson made it clear that this as an amendment, and not a second clause.

Salisbury said that this an improvement on the main motion, but he still did not support the main motion. He would still like to see the full business case before proceeding with even the initial measures.

Hofland asked Gibson if he was good investing the $10 million for the initial steps outlined in the report, and Gibson said that it was five per cent of the total cost of the project was a pretty good bargain, and it was his intent to put in further safeguards to make sure that council is getting all information, and all options, about the project. He’ll likely vote ‘Yes’ for the project, but he would more comfortable with more information.

Piper said she was going to vote against the whole motion, because she would like to be able to look at options, best practices in other municipalities, and see the business cases because other capital projects have come back with more than just the one potentiality before moving forward with design. Dedman said that a consultant has done that work, and has come to the conclusion with staff that this was the best option. Piper said that the needs analysis was not in this report, and while she’s aware there’s one, this project brought council into the process later than what’s typical.

Before the vote, Guthrie noted that if this motion fails, the one proposed by Salisbury and Piper is so similar to the one amended by the Gibson motion that it could be out of order. Guthrie then asked staff is there’s been enough conversation that perhaps it would be better to refer the motion to the Capital Budget, and bring a memo to council with some of the requested information. Stewart said there are some answers that staff can give, Barrie and Simcoe, for example, are building campuses for their Emergency Services, but there are a lot of answers that they will only be able to answer with the business case.

Salisbury said he believes the motion he’s submitted is fundamentally different and it will be up to the Clerk to make that determination. Guthrie said it’s unfair because he knows the wording and the rest of council doesn’t, so he wanted to read the wording, but a couple of councillors said there was a motion on the floor and the mayor would be out of order reading the second motion into the record. Guthrie decided he was in order, but council demanded a vote. By a vote of 7-2 with Allt and Hofland voting against, council found the mayor in order.

The Salisbury motion said that staff should be directed to develop a business case, and provide options for location, phasing, scope and financing. Salisbury asked if the motion was in order after all, and Guthrie said that he will make that determination after the vote on the amendment.

Gibson asked staff about the complications of developing a business case without the design process. Dedman said that the wording of the Salisbury motion is problematic because they need to know what they’re preparing a business case for. Guthrie cut her off since it was addressing a motion that was not on the floor, and suggested that Gibson could re-ask the question in the context of the motion that was on the floor.

So the Ward 1 Councillor instead asked if there could be a business case for the expansion of police headquarters without the proposed design? Dedman said that none of the staff involved with that process were in attendance to answer that question. Gibson then asked if staff can bring forward a business and staging plan without a detailed design of the site. Dedman said no.

Hofland said for the record she’s uncomfortable with this process having two motions on the record at the same time, but a campus makes a lot of sense, and that the strategic plan talks about being future ready, which this does.

Vote on the Gibson amendment: Passes 8-1 with Bell voting against.

Vote on the amended recommendation: Passes 6-3 with Bell, Piper and Salisbury voting against.

Guthrie said it was a good debate and good questions, and thanks staff for all the work presented in both reports, and the meeting was adjourned.

2 thoughts on “POST-VIEW: What Happened at the City Council Meeting on October 21?

  1. I am not concerned about the $200 million campus being built on Dunlop rd. However, I am very concerned about governments making such decisions when we have SOOOOOO many homeless living on the streets. To me there is no real reason why this happens. There is plenty of physical room in city property and private businesses, not to mention that clearly there is money available.
    Sounds like governments just don’t care!

    Like

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