This Month at Council Part 1: Operations Campus Update and a Contentious Planning Meeting

Jam-packed meetings started the month of May with a committee meeting that covered a lot of different money matters, both immediate and long-term, and then with a planning meeting that featured four controversial planning proposals. In part one of the monthly council recap, we will go from a COVID update from public health, to concerns about over-protecting local heritage in the city’s east end.

Committee of the Whole Meeting – May 3

This month’s Committee of the Whole meeting started with an early appearance by the WDG Public Health Director of Health Protection Christopher Beveridge, who ran down the numbers of the third wave, and the vaccine distribution. On the subject of the latter, Beveridge said that public health clinics aren’t even close to capacity because of supply issues, so there’s still room to grow, and that the best vaccine to get is the first one you can get.

Getting into the Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise agenda, a slight change to the Additional Residential Unit Registration Bylaw and the Policy Directions for the Official Plan Review were approved without much objection or controversy.

The big-ticket item this meeting was the business case and staging plan for the City Operations Campus. Gestating since the Fall of 2019, DCAO Stephen O’Brien explained that staff’s findings show that the campus will achieve four out of five Strategic Plan priorities and remains the cheapest of three alternatives including the repair and expansion of current buildings and building new facilities at various decentralized locations.

Many of council’s previous concerns about the project seemed to be resolved by this process including the new location at Watson and Stone Road East, and the piecemeal way the project will be built over multiple years starting with the new transit facility, which comes with $34 million in Federal infrastructure funding. Some on council also want to create some new reporting mechanisms for this project to stay on top of it beyond the annual capital budget approval. Only Councillor Bob Bell was unconvinced and voted ‘no’ on the project.

On the Corporate Services agenda, council debated an amendment from Mayor Cam Guthrie to spend $700,000 of the left-over Safe Restart funding that did not cover the City’s deficit spending from 2020 to fund additional grants meant for tourism groups and community benefit organizations.

Guthrie’s point was that the City had received over $3 million in requests for the original $700,000 in funding offered for these programs after the 2021 budget was passed, and that these groups desperately need the extra help after getting hit by the third wave shortly after the end of the second. Some on council were concerned about spending money so soon after passing the budget, or wanted to wait until the end of year to see what money’s left over, but committee still endorsed Guthrie’s amendments by a vote of 8 to 5.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Planning Meeting of City Council – May 10

This month’s planning meeting went right up to the 11th hour. Actually, it went way past the 11th hour and somehow ended with a few seconds to spare before midnight.

About half the meeting was taken up with the statutory planning meeting to turn 65 Delphi Street into transitional housing. Appreciating the unique circumstances and conditions of this proposal, the confusing nature of the application was often mentioned. After all, this was a project in the City of Guelph, initiated by the County of Wellington, and while Guelph approved the zoning, the County is overseeing operations.

There was a rich mix of observations in the 10 different delegations. Some were concerned about the cost of restoring the building to make it liveable, some were concerned about the lack of affordable housing that people can transition to at the end of their stay, and others were in favour of moving ahead with another new project that will help battle local homelessness.

Yes, there were some NIMBYs. Some people, despite Mayor Cam Guthrie’s warnings at the beginning of the evening, were eager to express concern about the people that would be staying at the transitional housing project, and the effect on the neighbourhood. One man summed things up thusly, he wasn’t saying “Not In My BackYard”, he was saying, “Not *This* In My BackYard”.

Guthrie interrupted delegates at least twice, once when someone started talking about the potential residents of the housing project, and once when a delegate started to testify that the money would be better spent building a medical detox facility.

After giving staff some notes, the report was received unanimously.

The second statutory meeting gained significantly less attention, but it was still a fairly major project.

The plan was for a mixed-use retirement community in the south end, over 200 units to meet the needs for various groups of seniors, plus amenities like a gym, a pool, a library, and dining facilities. The planner was very excited about the project obviously, but council had concerns about parking limitations, increased traffic volumes, and the shadow studies offered for the project. Council received the report unanimously.

Next, council heard the decision report on 85 and 89 Willow Road, the proposed supportive housing project from the Kindle Communities and SkyDev. Councillors Leanne Caron and Dominque O’Rourke had to sit out this debate because of family connections to the project, but the rest of council proceeded with hearing 10 delegations on the project.

Those delegations, for the most part, were positive about moving forward with the project, and the majority were area residents eager to welcome the new edition. There were a few people though that still had doubts and noted that the pandemic made it hard to interact with the developers and engage about the project. After a few congratulatory comments, council passed the recommendation unanimously.

This brought the council meeting right up to the 11 o’clock hour, so Guthrie asked for a motion to proceed to midnight. It passed 11-2, and there was a feeling that no one wanted to go past midnight.

The final item was the York Road/Elizabeth Road land use study. There was agreement on the vast, vast, vast majority of the report, but the big sticking point was the second recommendation, that a list of 81 properties identified in the study be added to the Municipal Register or Cultural Heritage Properties. Some on council tried to argue that it was no big thing to be included on the register, and that the only thing it really stopped you from doing was demolishing your property on a whim. Others on council though felt just listing the properties put an undo burden on the homeowners.

The recommendations were separated, and while #1 and #3 passed easily, council debated on who was right about the degree of obligation that being on the heritage list presented, almost right up to the chimes at midnight. Ultimately, on that second recommendation, council passed it by a slim vote of 7-6.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

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