This Month at Council Part 1: Trails Master Plan and the Reformatory Lands

The first two city council meetings of the month covered a lot of ground. At Committee of the Whole there were complex debates about the Trails Master Plan and executing the goals of infrastructure renewal, and then, at the planning meeting, it was all about saving the old Guelph Reformatory lands. Here’s the first half of the monthly recap of council business for this sixth month of the year 2021.

Committee of the Whole Meeting – June 7

This month’s Committee of the Whole was an eight-hour affair, so let’s recap it as quickly and simply as we can.

A presentation from the Medical Officer of Health and the Chief Administrative Officer about the ongoing effects of COVID-19 on the community dovetailed nicely with the announcement that phase one of the provincial re-opening starts Friday. Dr. Nicola Mercer affirmed that it was good news and reminded everyone that it’s only four people per patio table to begin with and warned that the region was gong to need more vaccine doses if we’re going to get to phase two numbers.

Getting into the Public Services agenda, which was the lion’s share of the agenda for the whole meeting, started with the presentation of the Guelph Trails Master Plan. There were seven delegates who spoke about the plan, and many of them were from user groups like the Hiking Club and the Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation. These were mostly enthusiastic endorsements of the plan, but there were a few doubters concerned about the background work done by staff.

When the debate came back to council, Ward 4 representative Christine Billings offered an amendment to make construction of a trail from the skate park to the water treatment plant a higher priority than #12 on the list, making a case for trail equity and the lack of connections to the west end. Although there were some grumblings about cherry picking projects, the vast majority of council did endorse the amendment by a vote of 11-2.

Councillor Bob Bell later opened a can of worms saying that there’s a “systematic problem” with staff’s visions for the plan, and the fact that council had to pass Billings’ amendment was proof that staff were rejecting public input. Staff explained later that they felt that they had captured the public expectations for a trail system in the finished plan, and it was passed by committee in another 11-2 vote.

After a relatively quick confirmation of a plan for the City to hold on to the Sports Dome and repurpose it as a multiuse indoor sports facility, committee considered a motion from Councillor June Hofland to instruct staff to investigate a pilot program for a new Transit pass subsidy program in 2022, and it passed unanimously.

One last matter in Public Services involved using the County of Wellington to manage the distribution of funds from the Affordable Housing Reserve, and some in committee were having second thoughts about giving up this authority. Staff reminded committee though that the City of Guelph presently doesn’t have a formal policy on how to judge projects and allocate funds from the Affordable Housing Reserve and going it alone means the City would have to create one. The recommendations passed unanimously.

At this point, the committee meeting was brushing up against 8 pm and needed a motion to continue beyond. It was then time for the Audit Committee agenda, and the results of the external audit. After the presentation from KPMG, council received the report quite swiftly.

That only left the Corporate Services agenda, starting with passage of an amendment to add some language of clarity to the Budget Policy Update so that no one is talking about a Motion to Reconsider if the multi-year budget is changed in year two or three. The last item though, the Capital Program Resourcing Strategy, was a source of much controversy and friction.

The controversy was not about the point of the report, which was staff’s need to create more stability in the capital constriction department due to high turnover because of an overreliance on temp positions. Councillor Gibson was concerned about the reallocation of funds meant to cover the cost of infrastructure now being used to cover the cost of staff to manage that infrastructure, while Mayor Cam Guthrie wanted to refer the whole thing to the September committee meeting because the service rationalization review from KPMG is expected to come back in July and it might have ideas about staffing, and funding staffing.

Guthrie’s motion even split committee 6-6, and any tie vote at council is considered an automatic fail. In lieu of not proceeding with any option at all, the majority of council seemed convinced that it was better to proceed with staff’s plan than no plan at all, and the recommendation was adapted 9-3.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Planning Meeting of City Council – June 14

Although there were three items on the agenda for this month’s planning meeting, only one of them promised any real debate, but in the end, it seemed like everyone was on the same page after all.

Council quickly settled the Heritage Permit for new construction on Mary Street, and the Statutory Public Meeting for the rezoning of a duplex on Fountain Street and got right into the Notice of Intention to Designate the Ontario Reformatory lands with a part IV designation. The Province, which owns the biggest portion of the OR lands, asked for a part IV as they negotiate the sale of the property, but a part IV designation did not go far enough for Heritage Guelph or, it seems, for the community.

There were 30 delegates on this matter, and it took council nearly three hours to hear them all with a couple of breaks along the way. But no matter how many speakers there were, they all had one message: the reformatory lands are important to the city, they have a unique place in Guelph’s history, they’re a primary meeting place for members of the community, and they are a rare and complex natural space that’s open and multifaceted. There was also some praise for planning staff for their engagement with the community on this this file, while Heritage Guelph chair P. Brian Skerrett downplayed any schism between staff and his committee.

By the time the matter returned to council shortly after the 10 pm hour there wasn’t much of anything left to discuss or ask questions about, and they swiftly passed the original recommendation of staff.

After that, Councillor Cathy Downer with wardmate Councillor Leanne Caron proposed two more motions, one to direct staff to put the Ward West heritage district study on hold until the completion of the second part of their motion, a part V heritage district study of the Ontario Reformatory lands. The part V study is what nearly all the delegates were pushing for in addition to the part IV fore more holistic protection of the site. Downer agreed saying that there’s a lot more worth protecting on the property outside the old reformatory complex, and these aspects should be thoroughly vetted before the lands are sold.

Caron added that while council was backing the part V designation, it did not mean that the lands were going to stay frozen as they are now, or that there might still be public access once the property is sold. However, Caron added, the part V designation will ensure that the City does its due diligence and ensure that the property is used in the best way possible to achieve Guelph’s goals and vision. The motion was passed unanimously.

Mayor Cam Guthrie suggested an additional motion to send notice to the Government of Ontario that the City of Guelph is interested in a disposition of the lands in such a way that they’re preserved for potential public access in the future. This motion was also passed unanimously.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

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