This Month at Council: Planning Workshop, Planning Issues, and Heritage Plans

January usually starts pretty slow at city council, but there was a lot on the frontburner when you consider the ongoing issues of the pandemic, planning concerns, board vacancies to fill, and a multifaceted discussion about the Cultural Heritage Master Plan and how it lead to a schism between City staff and Heritage Guelph volunteers. Let’s recap the month at city council.

Committee of the Whole – January 11

City council got back to work on Monday with the first Committee of the Whole meeting of 2021. The four-hour long meeting was anchored by a discussion with Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health about the vaccine rollout, and a debate about the merits of the Cultural Heritage Action Plan.

Director of Health Protection Christopher Beveridge came back to council to review the Province’s framework for distributing the vaccine, and how our local public health authority is rolling it out after receiving the first batch of shots last week. Beveridge explained how Public Health is expecting to run out of vaccine today, and how they should be getting a follow-up shipment on Wednesday. Beveridge also assured council that every dose is going into an arm, and so long as the vaccine shipments keep up, they will be on track to start vaccinating the general public sometime later this summer.

After that, CAO Scott Stewart presented his five objectives for 2021. The first is pretty straightforward, which is to continue to guide the City of Guelph through the pandemic and the post-pandemic recovery. Stewart especially highlighted transit as an area that needs some budget rehab, but good fiscal stewardship going forward is generally another one of his goals for the year, as is the business review of the consolidating operations campus, and an update on the goals of the Strategic Plan. Both those items will come back to council sometime in the second quarter.

After approving the sign bylaw variances for two properties on Westwood Road and another on Willow, committee got into the main event, which was the Cultural Heritage Action Plan. Controversy about the CHAP was established well in advance of the meeting when Heritage Guelph unanimously rejected it in December.

After a brief staff presentation, committee heard from six delegates. Almost all of them mentioned the lack of engagement with Indigenous communities as an area of concern, but they also mentioned a lack of concrete measures, and the need for immediate protections of at-risk areas as other reasons to reject the CHAP as it stands right now. Concerns about the downtown core and the Guelph Correctional lands were mentioned explicitly as cultural areas at risk that don’t have adequate protections in the CHAP.

When the debate returned to committee, Councillor Cathy Downer moved the two recommendations from staff and moved an additional recommendation to consider cultural landscapes that have value as identified by members of the Indigenous community. Downer also sought assurance that City staff will be doing direct appeals to get Indigenous feedback while exploring the Ward West heritage district since the connection point between the two rivers is considered a very important location in First Nations’ traditions.

Other councillors expressed concern about the backlog in heritage designations on individual properties, work that was stymied in 2020 because of the pandemic, and making sure that the necessary costs for this heritage work is properly reflected in the 2022 budget. Councillor Leanne Caron said that she had misgivings about the CHAP but was willing to work with it so long as it meant that the City was carrying on this important work.

Enter Councillor Bob Bell who put a motion to refer the CHAP on the floor saying that the problem with protecting heritage is money and this plan doesn’t address that; from the City’s lack of funding for assets owned by the corporation, to the increased costs to private homeowners when their properties are designated. Bell added that a heritage designation is a burden for the homeowner, and he was speaking from personal experience. Councillor Dan Gibson seconded the motion saying that the Ward West area was one of the last affordable areas in the city, and the effect of gentrification coming out of declaring the area a heritage district would change that. The referral failed 4-9.

All three recommendations, including an amendment that explicitly asked staff to hire a consultant who specializes in consultation with Indigenous people for the Ward West Cultural Heritage Landscape study, passed 10-3. Council also passed an additional motion to identify heritage resources for consideration in the 2022 budget by a vote of 11-2.

Then this happened:

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Workshop Meeting of City Council – January 18

City council took part in what was the first of many meetings on planning topics promised by staff for 2021 on Monday night. This workshop was meant to cover three topics that are regularly coming up in council’s deliberations on planning projects: parking, affordable housing, and community energy.

First, there’s going to be a dedicated workshop in April that’s exclusively going to deal with parking regulations and bylaws, and general manager of planning and building services Krista Walkey promised it would be a “hot topic.”

Affordability was top of mind as councillors had questions about inclusionary zoning, which can only be used under some very specific situations, but it’s also an option that’s not yet available to Guelph and will have to be incorporated in the next Official Plan review. Councillor Bob Bell asked if the IMICo site might be an opportunity to use an inclusionary zone, but staff said no because the IMICo site is far outside the proposed major transit system area, which would be around Guelph Central Station.

Staff were also asked about Ministerial Zoning Orders, or MZOs, a controversial new device where the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing can override the typical city planning processes. Walkey said that neither the Corporation, nor any developer in Guelph, has asked for an MZO yet, but assured council that if there was a request for an MZO it could come forward to council for debate first. There’s also no legal action presently in progress against the Government of Ontario for enacting an MZO… yet.

Council also asked about being able to hold developers to account for what they promise in a planning meeting, how Guelph’s red hot housing market might be affecting our perception of what affordability looks like, and how council ideology could be grounds for appeal at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. Staff said that the feedback from council will help inform them about how to guide the review of the Official Plan and the Comprehensive Bylaw Review through the rest of the year.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Regular Meeting of City Council – January 25

The meeting began on time, but it ended hours later and after council had to put the whole thing on pause to pursue the planning meeting agenda. Shortly after 5:30 pm, council went into closed session, and they did not come out of it again until 6:45, at which point Mayor Cam Guthrie recessed the regular meeting and proceeded with the planning meeting.

The regular meeting began again just after 9:30 with disclosure that council had finished discussing two out of three of the issues on the agenda from the closed session. Guthrie said council received information about the LPAT appeal of 361 Whitelaw Road, and council ratified the three new appointees to the Downtown Guelph Business Association Board of Management.

After that, council quickly passed the consent agenda, and ratified all items from this month’s Committee of the Whole meeting with one notable exception (see below). Council also voted for Councillor Cathy Downer to succeed Councillor Rodrigo Goller as one of the City’s two representatives on the Grand River Conservation Authority Board of Directors.

After that, council went back into closed session to discuss the sale of 65 Delhi Street, and finally emerged again just before 11 pm to say that direction was given to staff on the matter.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Planning Meeting of City Council – January 25

When the completion of the regular meeting was postponed, the planning meeting started with the controversial proposed development at 77 Victoria Road North. The plan calls for 24 stacked townhouses that are all three storeys, but there were four people that delegated against the project who were concerned that this is too much density for the property, that the traffic along Victoria Road is already too busy, and that the parking planned for the site may not be adequate for the number of people that might be moving in.

Parking was a primary concern for a couple of councillors since there are 28 spaces in total, five of them are for visitors, which means that there are 23 spaces for 24 units. In other deal breakers both of the Ward 1 councillors, in whose area this development lies, drew a red line on having 24 units on the property and suggested that it should be 16 units, which would reduce the burden on traffic and parking at the development. The report was received unanimously by council.

Next was the decision report on the additional fifth storey of affordable housing on the development at 120 Huron Street. A couple of delegates decided to focus on the need to continue to develop active transportation options in the area as a way to dissuade people from bringing their cars with them when they move in. The decision report to allow the application to proceed was passed unanimously by council, while an additional motion asking the developer to add a ramp to the basement in the site plan to allow for easy of access for bicycles passed 11-1.

The final item for debate at the meeting was the Cultural Heritage Action Plan. The one delegate on the matter said that this file represented a challenge for city council and staff because members of the community have lost faith that their leaders are listening to them.

That was one of the things the Councillor Cathy Downer hoped to address with a series of six additional motions subsequent to the four motions passed earlier this month at Committee of the Whole. The motions expressed gratitude to the work of Heritage Guelph, encouraged dialogue with local leaders of the Catholic Church about their plans for the current underused buildings on Catholic Hill, directed staff to hire a facilitator to improve relations between City staff and members of Heritage Guelph, and asked staff to bring forward a financial incentive program.

There was some skepticism among a few members of council about the facilitator, or coming up with all new and very specific directions after staff had presented the completed CHAP. Despite those reservations, much of the rest of council voted to proceed with all 10 of the recommendations, including a formal approval of the CHAP.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Next Month’s Meetings:

Committee of the Whole – Monday February 1, 2 pm
Planning Meeting of City Council – Monday February 8, 6:30 pm
Workshop Meeting of City Council – Wednesday February 17, 6 pm
Regular Meeting of City Council – Monday February 22, 6:30 pm

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