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

Planning Meeting of City Council – October 13

To start Tuesday’s busy planning meeting, a last-minute item listed on the consent agenda got a surprisingly lengthy debate. The item called “Pandemic Response – Bylaw Exemption” would allow for industrial or commercial developments, or redevelopments, to be exempt from parkland dedication fees if they’re building to expand physical distancing, add space for COVID screening and testing, or creating new production lines to manufacture PPE or other urgently needed safety equipment.

Councillor Mark MacKinnon asked to pull the item for questions and wondered what would happen theoretically if a business expanded to make masks now, and then transitioned to making hats later. DCAO Colleen Clack-Bush offered assurances that this was meant to streamline the process and allow businesses to be nimble in responding to the pandemic. If that company did transition that extra space to make hats, they would be retroactively required to pay those parkland dedication fees once the pandemic is concluded.

Councillor Cathy Downer voiced concerns about council delegating authority without knowing how popular such an exemption would be, or the expected loss in immediate revenue, and other councillors agreed that this initially sounds like council is delegating a lot of authority on waving development fees. Downer moved an amendment that asked staff for quarterly reports on the exemptions approved, which was passed by a majority 10-2 vote.

A probing line of questioning from Councillor Mike Salisbury tried to get to the reasons behind this proposal. Salisbury noted that parkland dedication is a bit of trigger in Guelph, and questioned Clack-Bush about why that fee was the one staff was proposing to waver. Clack-Bush said that there were very limited options in terms of development fees that could be waived by the delegated authority of staff. There was also the additional note that there are industrial and commercial areas in Guelph that were built before the Parkland Dedication Bylaw was first enacted, and those property owners will be slammed with retroactive fees if they want to expand. It’s something that staff is currently looking at as part of the zoning bylaw review.

Before the vote, Mayor Cam Guthrie said that this was a necessary initiative to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic, and that Guelph City Council doesn’t want to be known as a political body that’s not responsive to an emergency. The motion passed 9-4 with Councillors Caron, Salisbury, Phil Allt and James Gordon voting against.

Next, council formally got into the planning potion of the meeting with the Public Meeting for a proposal to build a 22-unit apartment building at 66 Duke Street in the Ward. A handful of delegates were concerned about the footprint of the development, but they were especially concerned about the limited parking on the property. The agent for the developer seemed to not have a satisfactory answer for councillors concerned about the unbundling of parking spaces for the units, and what might happen when a hypothetical young couple that moves in carless suddenly needs a car when they start a family. The report was still received unanimously.

The next item was the Statutory Public Meeting Report for 520 Speedvale Avenue East, and there were eight delegates for this item. Although parking for this project wasn’t an issue, just about every other detail was as the list of exemptions filled up three different slides in the staff presentation. The prospect of the proposed 64 stacked townhouses had area residents concerned about increased traffic, loss of trees on the current property, and the character of the existing neighbourhood which is mostly single detached homes.

Council probed some of those concerns when it was their turn for comments. Many councillors expressed their intention to vote against this proposal if it comes back to council for a decision without substantive changes, including a commitment to build fewer than the 64 proposed units. Mayor Guthrie proposed that the developer and the neighbourhood should find a way to meet and hash out their differences before this comes back to council to see if the two groups can reach some kind of accommodation. The report was received unanimously.

One final item, the Recommended Cultural Heritage Action Plan, was referred to a future Committee of the Whole meeting due to the late hour, and to allow for further consultation with community groups and stakeholders, including Heritage Guelph. Councillor Caron, who made the motion to refer, said that it would seem weird to proceed with the Heritage Action Plan without comment from Heritage Guelph, and that this was more of a policy matter than a planning matter hence referral to Committee. The referral was passed unanimously.

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

Special Meeting of City Council – October 19

Guelph city council got together for a rare third Monday meeting, but with a laid-back feel. A workshop was convened to get council’s feedback on residential intensification within the built-up areas of the city. That means where we should build, how much we should build, and how high we should build it over the next couple of decades.

Guelph must file a new Official Plan Amendment with the Government of Ontario before July 1, 2022, and the plan needs to figure out how to accommodate 203,000 people and 116,000 jobs by 2051. We’re still early in the process of this task, and along with their own ideas on the subject, council heard feedback from public engagement that’s been done in the last month on exactly where growth should go.

Council first reviewed what the last 40 years of development looked like, and asked some general questions about the growth strategy, and the background research done so far. For instance, the potential expansion of Guelph to include the current site of the Dolime Quarry is not a factor in the deliberations, at least not yet. If the expropriation of the quarry land is approved after the deadline for the OPA, then it will have to be the subject of its own separate planning amendment.

Next, council discussed the places in town that more residential intensification should and shouldn’t go. According to public feedback, the west end along Paisley Road west of Silvercreek looks good, but the Gordon corridor is maxed out people feel. In terms of council concerns there’s the protection of cultural heritage, the protection of commercial space in the east end, and making sure that accessory apartments will be easy to build and access.

Another topic of discussion was the potential for additional height allowed in nodes, and some on council warned that you can’t build more height without the requisite focus on making walkable communities and increasing transit. Councillor Leanne Caron warned about focusing too much on height and not enough on width, while her colleague in Ward 6 suggested that we need more high density near greenspaces, like the senior’s residence near Riverside Park that Councillor Dominique O’Rourke called “the best view in the city.”

That comment fit in well with council’s next discussion about increasing heights in corridors, which many councillors responded to by saying that they didn’t want to create canyons of high-rise buildings. For the downtown core, most councillors seemed fine with increasing the height limitations in some areas, and noted all-day, two-way GO service will make the core attractive for development when it arrives in the next few years.

Staff will start public engagement in November and December for the housing analysis portion of the plan, and in December and January for the employment lands strategy. Planning work will continue throughout 2021, with a draft Official Plan amendment expected to come back to council in late 2021.

You can read through the full recap of the meeting here.

Regular Meeting of City Council – October 26

After every consent item was quickly dispatched by council, all attention was paid to the one item for discussion on the agenda, which was the update on supportive and affordable housing, and there were over 20 people on the agenda eager to delegate about it.

Ostensibly, the recommendation from this report concerned the Habitat for Humanity project on Cityview Drive and whether council would allow them to pay for development charges in equal installments over six years. But the report also opened the door to a council debate with public delegations about the need for supportive and affordable housing in Guelph, and the currently limited financial and staffing resources for this problem at the City.

Before hearing from delegates, Deputy CAO Colleen Clack-Bush laid out the crux of the situation: there are several projects coming forward, a potential deficit in the affordable housing reserve, and the fact that staff has no expertise on hand to administer social housing, which is a responsibility handled by the County of Wellington. At the same time, Clack-Bush urged caution about endorsing certain projects because council can’t be seen offering funding for something like supportive housing at the Parkview Motel before that property has been rezoned through the proper process.

After that the delegations started, and they fell into one of two predictable camps. On the one hand, were the majority of people that wanted action on supportive housing, and on the other was a very vocal minority with some very traditional concerns about what the Marilyn Drive neighbour specifically might look like if Parkview becomes supportive housing. Many of the most pressing questions were reserved for Drop In Centre executive director Gail Hoekstra, who was also the target or some commentary about her supposed attempt to avoid public scrutiny for the Parkview project.

When it was council’s turn for comment and debate, they quickly passed the three recommendations that came with the report, allowing Councillors Dan Gibson and Dominique O’Rourke to sit out the vote due to spousal conflicts of interest.

Specific questions about the Kindle supportive housing project, a 30-unit project being developed in the Willow Road area, included queries about how quickly council could turn the project around once all the planning documents are submitted. Along those lines, Councillor June Hofland put forward a motion to direct staff to put resources into processing Kindle’s development application to meet the 90-day provincial-mandated timeline when it’s received, which passed unanimously. A second motion with similar wording for the Parkview Motel project also passed unanimously.

Mayor Cam Guthrie then brought forward his own motion that asked for $630,000 from the social housing contingency reserve and $370,000 from the tax rate operating reserve to be transferred into the affordable housing reserve, thus creating a $1 million pot for any potential projects in the future. Guthrie’s idea was to send a message, in advance of budget season, that the City of Guelph was taking housing needs seriously, and while many of his council colleagues appreciated the sentiment, they had mixed feelings about the process.

Some on council expressed reservations about making such a big financial move just before the budget, and there was also the additional concern that council was painting itself further into a corner by putting more money on the table for affordable housing while still having no formal way of deciding what projects get what amount of money and why. Councillor Phil Allt made a motion to defer Guthrie’s recommendation, and there seemed to be a lot of council support for that idea, but Councillor Mike Salisbury made an impassioned plea for council to get over the “analysis paralysis” that always seems to delay these measures for another long winter.

The vote to defer Guthrie’s motion failed 6-7, but then it ended up passing unanimously.

You can read through the full recap of the meeting here.

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