This Month at Council: A Growth Workshop, Supportive Housing, and a New Library

It was a very busy October at City Council, and front loaded with one of the biggest, most controversial debates of our time: the approval of the new main library. That took a lot of time and energy around the virtual horseshoe, but there was also a lot of ground covered on updating the City’s growth projections, setting aside funds for supportive housing, and, as always, a couple of controversial zoning amendments.

Committee of the Whole Meeting – October 5

It was a marathon meeting of Committee of the Whole, and it ended with a pretty big “to be continued…” sign as council adjourned to Wednesday to have a formal debate about the new plan for the Baker District Redevelopment including the new main library project.

The meeting got off to a good start by beginning 20 minutes late due to an overly long in-camera session. Mayor Cam Guthrie seemed to imply that there would be a motion coming out of the closed meeting that committee would be asked to refer to Wednesday meeting, but it was never explained what that motion was, or if it was passed at the end of the meeting.

Consent items were quickly dispatched including the appointment of KPMG as the external auditor for another five-year term, a sign bylaw variance for a west end business, and committee’s endorsement of staff’s pursuit of local road funding. There were also two staff recognitions for professional achievements by zoning inspector Bill Bond, and members of the stormwater management staff.

Getting into the meat of the meeting, Bond presented the proposed changes to the Sign Bylaw, which is an update that’s been 20 years in the making. The biggest source of agitation in the plan seems to be mobile signs. While the draft bylaw loosens up some of the restrictions on their proliferation, like allowing businesses four signs per year as opposed to giving properties more generally four signs per year, many councillors were worried about an outbreak of tacky marketing in certain corners of the city.

Bond explained that the explosion of mobile signs is something that had not been accounted for when the sign bylaw was last written, and they have become a very cheap and popular way for people to attract business in the last 20 years. Bond said he was trying to balance demand for the signs with concerns about their appearance and assurances were made that staff will try and strike a better balance. That apparently wasn’t enough to convince Councillor Mike Salisbury to vote in favour of referring the bylaw back to staff as is for refinement, but the rest of committee voted to proceed with adjusting the current draft.

Next up was the South End Community Centre. Staff went over the plans for the project, some artist renderings of how it might look, and the plan for how the City will pay for it. Three of the four delegates didn’t want to talk about that though; one delegate was concerned that the site was going to be underserviced for parking, another delegate expressed concern about putting all of Guelph’s DCs for rec facilities in one basket, and the third didn’t like the idea of proceeding with construction without a completed Parks and Recreation Master Plan.

When it was council’s turn for questions, they were concerned about aspects of the project that were abandoned, and yes, about whether or not the City was undercutting the expected demand for parking at the new rec centre. DCAO Colleen Clack-Bush offered assurances that consultants had done their due diligence to make sure that there would be enough parking in the area even if there were a confluence of events at the community centre, the park, and Bishop Mac school all at the same time, but Councillor Christine Billings was still skeptical.

In the end, council expressed more enthusiasm for the project than, but there was one final note that caused a ripple in all the good vibes. Councillor Dominique O’Rourke asked for an amendment to pull the line item for $400,000 in public art and attach it to the 2023 capital forecast instead to see if it can be covered by the Community Benefit bylaw when it comes back next year. Some on council saw that as penny pinching a small but vital portion of the project, but the amendment passed by a slim 7-6 vote.

The complete motion for the South End Community Centre passed in a vote of 12-1 with Councillor Bob Bell being the only dark cloud in the pale blue sky of bipartisanship.

After a brief dinner break, committee reconvened at 5:30 to begin the long four-and-a-half-hour discussion on the Baker Street Project. The history of the development, and the updated plans were discussed, as well the budget savings and the cost breakdowns of the alternative plans for the project. Scott Butler, the chair of the Guelph Library Board, was the first to delegate on the project and instantaneously ignited controversy when we invoked the Procedural Bylaw to ask for more time. Council voted 7-6 to give Butler a couple of extra minutes to talk.

The rest of the delegations proceeded as expected with almost universal endorsement of proceeding with the new plan, but there were a few worries. Marty Williams of the Downtown Guelph Business Association raised concerns about losing parking spaces at Baker Street, while two others wanted the project to be postponed until an Urban Development Master Plan can be complete. Councillor Dan Gibson sailed into contentious waters when he tried to fact check a couple of delegates, which forced Guthrie to repeatedly ask for council to stick to questions.

At around 10 pm, all available delegates had finally been heard from, and it was time for council to make a decision: open the floor to questions or save all debate for Wednesday night. Given the late hour, Guthrie was inclined to call it a day, but some on council wanted to work out a procedure for Wednesday’s meeting, and Guthrie agreed that hearing council questions before delegates was the way to go.

Recommendations concerning the South End Community Centre and the Baker District plan were held over to be ratified at as special meeting of council just 48 hours later.

To see the full recap on Guelph Politico, click here.

Special Meeting of City Council – October 7

In one meeting, council approved the plans for the South End Community Centre and the updated Baker Street Project. This is how we got there.

On the South End Community Centre, there was only one delegate, and it was Susan Watson, who tried to use a bit of satire to draw a distinction between the way that the community centre was sailing through council approval while the fate of the Baker project is still up in the air. Cueing up the library debate to come, Councillor Dan Gibson tried to draw the needs versus wants argument by pointing out that there’s no additional levy for the SECC because the community centre meets the requirements of the DC study, and not a separate business case.

The motion quickly moved to a vote with the amended recommendation from Committee of the Whole. That request to separate the public art component for future funding was the only recommendation that failed inverting the close 7-6 vote that got the amendment added to committee in the first place. The South End Community Centre itself was passed handily.

Then it was Baker time. The subject started with a round of questions from council that it was too late to ask on Monday covering concerns about the City’s debt ceiling, the cost per square foot, the differences in costs to other library projects in Canada, and the possibility that funds might come down from upper levels of government in the future. There were also some renewed concerns about parking, whether the building was costed to meet the City’s renewable energy targets, and Gibson again tried to prosecute his point that the DC Study made the case for a smaller library to suit our needs while the business case was making an argument for extravagance.

There were 11 delegates in total, and they were from the same class that appeared to support the Baker project on Monday night. Downtown Guelph Business Association executive director Marty Williams was again tested on his comments about parking, and delegate Tom Deligiannis was tested on his comments that there was really no silent majority that was against the project. After more than an hour, the Wednesday round of delegates wrapped having not exactly broken any new ground on the issue.

When the delegations wrapped, Mayor Cam Guthrie called a 10-minute break and then it was down to business. Councillor Cathy Downer presented three amendments, one that phased in the 0.39 per cent tax levy over three years, one that requested the Library Board report back to council with a detailed design and capital forecast, and a new recommendation to ask the Library Board to seek out alternative funding to minimize the impact of the levy. Council passed all three amendments.

Councillor Bob Bell then brought forward a motion to change recommendation #3 to a library building with a maximum budget of $43 million. Councillor Phil Allt asked to move in camera to get solicitor’s advice, and council moved to closed session for about 15 minutes. When council returned to open session, Guthrie decided that Bell’s amendment was in order, but Downer challenged on the basis that council had supposed a certain standard for the building after DCAO Kealy Dedman had qualified that the City could build a 88,000 square foot public library for $43 million, but it would not necessarily be a well-made library. Council ruled against Guthrie 7-6 that Bell’s motion was out of order.

Having exhausted questions and amendments on the main motion, it was time for a round of comments on the project and final arguments. All eyes were on Councillors Rodrigo Goller, Christine Billings, and Dominique O’Rourke who had all previous disclosed to Guelph Today that they were undecided. Just one of them had to side with the pre-destined yay-votes, but all of them together could join the nays and sink the project. O’Rourke and Goller came out in favour, while Billings said no.

Each of the eight recommendations was separated and voted on separately. This is the amended recommendation, and below is how the vote broke down:

  • #1: passed 8-5 (Guthrie, Gibson, Bell, MacKinnon, and Billings against)
  • #2: passed 9-4 (Guthrie, Gibson, Bell, Billings against)
  • #3: passed 8-5 (Guthrie, Gibson, Bell, MacKinnon, and Billings against)
  • #4: passed 12-1 (Bell against)
  • #5: passed 8-5 (Guthrie, Gibson, Bell, MacKinnon, and Billings against)
  • #6-8: passed unanimously

Council then unanimously passed an additional recommendation from Councillor June Hofland that directed staff to co-ordinate with downtown business owners and landowners, and the Downtown Guelph Business Association to get their feedback directly on the project. A special resolution coming out the closed session before committee on Monday that directed staff to include an additional $1.5 million from the capital budget for planning, site design, and professional fees for the Baker project was also passed unanimously.

To see the full recap on Guelph Politico, click here.

The monthly recap continues on the next page…

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