This Month at Council Part 1: Committee of the Whole and Grace Gardens Approved

Due to the exceptionally busy council calendar this past month, we’ve had to split April’s recap into two parts. In part one, we will recap what happened at a very busy and complex committee meeting, and then at the planning there was a somewhat confusing matter about the Naming Committee and the final approval of a long-gestating housing project.

Committee of the Whole Meeting – April 6

For the first time in over a year, a council meeting was chaired by someone who wasn’t Mayor Cam Guthrie.

Councillor Rodrigo Goller led committee through the relatively brief corporate services agenda. On the approval of debentures, some on council were concerned about the potential effect on the City’s AA+ credit rating, but finance staff offered assurances that they’ve done the homework and have stress-tested the effect of the added debt on the City’s bottom line. The recommendations were passed unanimously.

On the second item, the 2022 budget plan, Guthrie had some questions about whether the time is right to start multi-year budgeting with all the uncertainty around COVID, and whether the possible recommendations of the service rationalization will be captured in a multi-year budget plan. On the former, staff said that the uncertainty makes this the perfect time to test the flexibility on the new policy, and on the latter, DCAO Trevor Lee said that the rationalization report will come back in July, so there will be lots of time to take any options into account for next year’s budget.

After that, Councillor Dominique O’Rourke took over the chair with the Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise Services agenda.

The most engagement heavy subject of the meeting was the City’s response to the Government of Ontario’s request for feedback about the expansion of the Greenbelt. The five delegates all seemed to take exception with City staff’s very focused response to the limited scope of the expansion and encouraged them to push for more wetland protections beyond the proposed maps. Staff confirmed after delegations that they were stuck with the limited dimensions and limited timeline of this request for comment.

In an additional motion tabled by Councillor Cathy Downer, council asked the Provincial government to consider policy changes to the Greenbelt plan to allow official plan policies to supersede provincial rules when the municipal plan has stronger protections for water resources. That motion, and the original recommendation, passed unanimously.

The final piece on the agenda involved an information report that Councillor Mark MacKinnon asked to be pulled for discussion at committee. The report was the Transportation Engineering Program for 2021, a series of traffic calming measures proposed to be completed in the 2021 construction season.

MacKinnon’s issue was that a council motion passed in 2019 deferred a final decision on measures in the area of Downey and Niska until after the Niska Road bridge re-opened and updated traffic flow data could be collected. In the report, staff was proposing direction on the next phases of traffic calming without first coming back to council for input, and MacKinnon felt they had missed a step, so he offered a motion to direct staff to bring details and recommendations on traffic calming at Downey and Ptarmigan back to council in a separate report.

Although staff were satisfied to wait a couple of months to get MacKinnon the assurances he wanted – they even helped craft the motion – the committee debate descended into a question of whether or not council was proposing to micromanage staff on this issue. Not helping things was the impression that current traffic calming in the south end isn’t working and that the City needs to do more immediately.

Although there was widespread agreement that the original motion from 2019 should have been clearer with its direction, MacKinnon only got three other people to support his motion, and it failed.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Planning Meeting of City Council – April 12

This month’s planning meeting was not going to be as busy in terms of the number of items, but there were a couple of highly consequential items, including a decision on a very controversial zoning application.

The first item was the Municipal Property and Building Commemorative Naming report. One of the recommendations was to name the new Poppy Drive park the Courtney, Goines and Mallott Park after three Black men from Guelph who had to fight racism and discrimination in order to serve in the army during World War I, but Guelph’s Heritage Minister (not an actual title) Councillor Leanne Caron had a suggestion.

With clearance from Guelph Black Heritage and the Guelph Historical Society, Caron proposed naming the park No. 2 Construction Battalion Park instead after Courtney, Goines and Mallott’s unit. She then suggested that the names of the soldiers could be added to the list of potential street names since typically street names are where veterans receive individual honour, but that process is not open for public consultation like the naming committee.

There was general agreement from council that these were friendly amendments, but they also wanted to get approval from the person that submitted the original nomination to the naming committee before voting. Final approval for the new names was deferred to the regular council meeting at the end of the month so that staff could work through the naming committee to get that approval.

Next, council heard a few delegates about the final decision on 166-178 College Avenue West where it’s proposed that College Place will be replaced by a six-storey, 110-unit rental building with a seniors’ centre or daycare on main floor.

Council followed up with the site planner Hugh Handy on a couple of questions and then heard from area resident Joshua Redwood, who was concerned about the fate of the residents currently at College Place. Councillor Rodrigo Goller shared that concern, but it was a subject tackled in the staff report, and outside the scope of the planning process. Councillors were also concerned about whether this was putting too much density on the site, and if Guelph Transit was contacted about installing some bus bays on the very busy, two-lane College Avenue.

With those notes, council approved the recommendations unanimously.

Then it was time for the big one, the approval of the rezoning for 721 Woolwich Street, aka: the Grace Gardens, aka: the Parkview supportive housing project. There were nine delegates on this item, and Mayor Cam Guthrie reminded everyone that they were there to talk about zoning, and not about the people that might be moving in, or any discriminating talk about those people.

Surprisingly, all delegates were upbeat and positive about the project, from the area residents to partner groups and the Drop In Centre’s own consultants. Sister Christine Leyser, who founded the Drop In Centre and ran it for years, even phoned in to off her own words of support.

Only Councillor Goller had a few follow up questions about environmental design and last week’s announcement about the formal sale of the Parkview to the Drop In Centre, but council seemed to have their minds made up and were ready for final comments. Almost everyone acknowledged the highly polarized debate, many remarked on the desperate need for this project, and some thanked Goller and wardmate James Gordon for managing engagement on the file.

Council approved the application unanimously, which means that Grace Gardens is one step closer to fruition.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

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