Everything was proceeding normally for this month at council. We had the Committee of the Whole, we had the planning meeting, and then we had COVID, and all the best laid plans fell apart. Since at this point it seems unlikely that we’ll get another council meeting before May, this might be the monthly recap of council you will get for a while.
Committee of the Whole – March 2
After a series of presentations, staff recognitions, and an update on implementing award-winning plan from the Smart Cities Challenge, Committee got down to a three-hour long discussion of the open space design for the Clair-Maltby Secondary Plan. This portion of the plan identified sites for community and neighbourhood parks, plus a potential trail system and a special feature called the “Moraine Ribbon.” For the community park, Senior Policy Planner Stacey Laughlin said that having a single 10-hectare community park edged out the desire for two 5-hectare parks after all the public feedback was collected.
Staff were recommending option #2 for the placement of the community park, which would have placed it right in the middle of Clair-Maltby (more or less) and would have eaten up a piece of the Marcolongo Farm property, on which plans are in motion to build several units of housing with particular financing to make them affordable. Many of the delegates came out to speak on behalf of the Marcolongos, and their dedication to community building. Mike Marcolongo himself spoke of his plan to gift a portion of the farm to the city, as was his father’s intention.
After the delegations, and some initial questions from Committee about process, Councillor Mike Salisbury made a motion to choose option #1 instead of option #2, which would put the 10-hectare park on the north side of the Marcolongo Farm, and allow easier access to Hall’s Pond, which many delegates mentioned as an amenity that should be exploited in any future park design. Staff mentioned that there will be some ripple effects from changing the placement of the community park, a couple of the neighbourhood parks may end up finding new homes, but there would be no need to redesign the whole thing going with option #1.
Although there was some ambivalence by some on Committee about endorsing one big community park over two smaller community parks, the amendment passed 7-4. An additional amendment by Councillor Christine Billings asked that any final parkland recommendations by based on a financial impact statement for the entire Clair-Maltby area. This amendment passed 10-1.
The amended recommendation for the open spaces plan for Clair-Maltby then passed 8-3.
The rest of the meeting saw Committee accept the plans to close the Dolime Quarry and move forward with its incorporation into the City of Guelph and the redevelopment of the quarry site. Potential controversy was raised by regular council delegate Dr. High Whiteley who suggested that the deal might need a motion to reconsider since council passed a bylaw requiring to manage growth without expropriating new lands. Fair point, but City staff said that the primary reason for incorporating the quarry, which is now technically part of the Township of Guelph-Eramosa, is to protect Guelph’s water resources, and not increase the population.
Planning Meeting of Council – March 9
Aside from a vote to approve an application for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Sustainable Communities Award, the majority of the meeting had to do with the Statutory Public Meeting for 35, 40 and 55 Silvercreek Parkway North Proposed Draft Plan of Subdivision, aka: the plan for the Lafarge site. The plan calls for 772 units including 572 apartments and 200 townhouses, plus 6,500 square metres of commercial floor space and 4.86 hectares of open space, and council mostly seemed encouraged by the plans presented.
There were some concerns voiced about on-street parking, implementing net zero measures, and the construction of the underpass to reconnect Silvercreek Parkway, and there was also some discussion about the original settlement in 2010, and what implications there might be for this new plan. Primary among the provisos in that 2010 agreement is that two acres on the site can be set aside for the City to build affordable housing, and a couple of city councillors are wondering if they can still collect. The report was received by a vote of 11-0.
Emergency Meeting of Council – March 23
On Friday afternoon, Mayor Cam Guthrie called an emergency meeting of city council. As outlined in this Politico article, new powers from the Provincial government has allowed municipal council to hold meetings remotely in an emergency, and while Guthrie, the executive team, the City Clerk and his staff all met in the council chamber, the 12 city councillors joined remotely via teleconference. The meeting was live-steamed on the City’s website, but the meeting was closed to the public and there were no public delegations.
After opening comments from Guthrie and Chief Administrative Officer Scott Stewart, in which they thanked City staff, frontline healthcare workers, and regular citizens and business, the semi-virtual council meeting got down to business. First, there were changes to the Procedural Bylaw to allow for emergency meetings to take place with members of council appearing via telepresence. The changes passed unanimously.
Next, council approved three items from this month’s Committee of the Whole: The Smart Cities Challenge Update, the Dolime Community Engagement Results, and Water Services’ Annual and Summary Report. Approval of the Clair-Maltby Open Spaces strategy and the Motion to Reconsider that was supposed to come forward at next week’s cancelled council meeting will be postponed to a future meeting. The Committee items were approved unanimously.
Council then delegated procurement authority to the CAO “for the period of the global COVID-19 pandemic as determined by the World Health Organization or the emergency period as declared by the Province of Ontario.” The Purchasing Bylaw gives the CAO this authority in an emergency, to procure goods and services in “the most expedient and economical means possible.” Stewart will also have to prepare a report outlining all expenditures once the emergency is over. The motion passed unanimously.
And finally, council explored some fiscal stimulus efforts including a move to waive parking permit and transit fees for the month of April, as well as offering property tax relief to businesses and residents in April, including a waiver of interest and penalties until May 1, a waiver of NSF charges to April 30, ceasing all progressive taxation activities until April 30, waiving tax statement fees related to mortgage requirements, and an option to defer monthly pre-authorized debit plans.
Councillor June Hofland asked for confirmation that people will still have to pay their property taxes, and general manager of finance Tara Baker said that yes, people will still have to pay their next tax bill at the end of April, but they won’t incur penalties if they’re late to make a payment.
Councillor Phil Allt asked if there’s any room for the City to run a deficit, especially since this stimulus will cost between $4 and $6 million. Baker said that the City can run a deficit, but it must have a plan to pay it off by year’s end.
Finally, Councillor Dan Gibson asked about the value of keeping so many Guelph Transit buses on the road when the Province is actively encouraging people to stay at home. DCAO Colleen Clack said that the City is monitoring the situation, and while ridership has gone way down in the last week, transit is still needed to get people to work, and to get mobility customers to their medical appointments. The City will try and maintain at least a skeletal transit system as the pandemic continues. The motion was approved unanimously.