This Month at Council: Clair-Maltby, Townhouses, and an Emergency Demo

After a month off, Guelph’s city council got to work again around the virtual horseshoe and handled a lot of business, but September wasn’t as busy as some months this year. There wasn’t a lot of controversy either, but there was a lot of regular order type business taken care of including changes to payday loan businesses, a third-party trails agreement, some planning meetings, and a draft plan for Clair-Maltby. Here’s September at city council.

Committee of the Whole Meeting – September 7

Council returned from summer break with Committee of the Whole, and the quarterly update about the City’s COVID-19 and pandemic response. Much of the report was a victory lap about Guelph’s vaccination status, and Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer noted a noticeable uptick in new people getting their first shots over the last few weeks. According to Mercer, as of Friday, there were just over 12,000 people in Guelph who are eligible for vaccination but haven’t gotten even a shot yet.

Deputy CAO Colleen Clack-Bush then presented the corporate response by reviewing the City’s plan to have vaccine mandates for staff, the preparations to participate in Ontario’s vaccine certification program on September 22, and preparations to return have the majority of staff return to City Hall and hold in-person council meetings in January. Clack-Bush also said that staff will be monitoring transit usage over the next few weeks and will increase service as needed.

The discussion about the Third Party Trail Agreement with Guelph Hiking Trail Club managed to descend into a discussion about the purchase of Wellington Plaza per the Downtown Guelph Secondary Master Plan. There was also some debate about whether moving to have community groups do work that’s supposed to be done by City workers was a dereliction, but committee passed an additional motion to delegate approval for future agreements to the solicitor and the DCAO of Public Services.

The new business licensing rules for payday loan businesses passed rather swiftly, and so was the one item on the Audit Committee agenda for audit procedures reporting in the City’s agreement with the Elliott Community.

The final item was the annual report from Our Energy Guelph, and all the groundwork they’ve laid for the last two years to help Guelph reach net zero and 100 per cent renewable by 2050. It was a good news report, but committee had probing questions about whether the 2050 deadline is still soon enough to make a difference, and why local developers aren’t working harder to help accomplish City goals. Members of the committee were also curious about OEG’s financial future, but CEO Alex Chapman believes that they’ll be able to fund the office with service fees from the residential energy retrofit program.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Planning Meeting of City Council – September 13

The meeting started with a bit of good news not related to planning. Mayor Cam Guthrie reported that the City is close to a new deal with the employees of Guelph Transit who are part of ATU Local 1189. Staff are now in the process of finalizing the agreement and coming up with an execution plan.

After a quick vote on the consent agenda, council got down to hearing the first of three bylaw amendment proposals, all of them about townhouses.

On the first file, a plan for 96 townhouses and a new Beer Store on Woolwich, there wasn’t much controversy. Some on council expressed some concern about common amenity space and watching the treeline on the side of the property next to the cemetery. Opening up the property for more pedestrian access was also a consideration, as well as the flow for waste disposal trucks and other large vehicles. The report was received unanimously.

The second project was for 44 townhouses of varying size on a lot at the corner of Victoria and Cassino. One of the delegates expressed support for the project, but two others were concerned about increased traffic in the area, and increased street parking on Cassino. Council was also concerned about the lack of parking but received the report unanimously.

The third and final proposal had the virtue of being the most controversial, a plan to build a row of five townhouses on a Bristol Street property. A dozen delegates spoke out against the project, and their grievances were many. Some objected to the character and design of the development, others said it was too much density on the property, others were concerned about the potential toxicity of the land, and some were concerned about the fact this area is technically a flood plain. (A few also didn’t take kindly to the developer having 27 trees cut down before they filed their paperwork.)

There were many on council who took umbrage with the tree issue too, and though the developer didn’t technically do anything wrong, they wondered if this was a case of using the letter of the law to defeat the spirit of the law. Many on council also reached the conclusion that the project was probably too tall, too dense, and was unlikely to offer any real affordable housing options as promised. In his last word, Guthrie said that the developer has a problem with this one and should look to work with staff to make something more palatable before it comes back to council for a decision. The report was received unanimously.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Special Meeting of City Council – September 22

In a special Wednesday meeting, staff presented the draft secondary plan for Clair-Maltby, a highly consequential 1,300-page document that will determine how at least 16,000 people will make this new area home over the next 30 years.

After the staff presentation, there were five delegations that presented an even mix of opinions about the plan as presented. A couple of the delegates thought that there were still some big concerns about public space and the protection of the sensitive environment. Others thought that the plan took reasonable pro-active steps to protect cultural heritage. Even the one representative of an area developer said that with a few notable exceptions, she liked what the plan had laid out.

Councillors had many esoteric concerns including the costs of establishing the infrastructure in the area, the potential impact on the City’s tax base, the cost of buying the requisite parkland and open space, including the moraine ribbon, and the role of development charges, the community benefit charges, and the parkland dedication bylaw. Even more specifically than that, some councillors were concerned about details around the management of Hall’s Pond and a proposed transit hub for the urban village.

In the final analysis, at least once councillor, Ward 6’s Dominique O’Rourke, was concerned about putting too much pressure in terms of density and height along the four-kilometre stretch of Gordon in Clair-Maltby, and that perhaps the City was expecting too much from this one stretch of town. Some of her council colleagues though disagreed and suggested that there might even be some room to go higher and create more density. There was also praise for staff on the comprehensive report and for the way that they managed public feedback and let it help guide the process over the last several years.

The report was received unanimously before last night’s storm had too much of an effect in knocking councillors off line.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Regular Meeting of City Council – September 27

The last meeting of the month was a relatively brief affair. It started with a closed session that commenced at 5 pm, but 90 minutes later there was still some work to do, and it was time to begin the open session.

One of closed meeting items was the formation of the Council Renumeration and Support Advisory Committee, this is the group that will approve the new salary and benefit conditions for members of city council and the mayor. The five-person panel was approved unanimously, and so was the consent agenda from September’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

Before the territorial acknowledgement, Mayor Cam Guthrie talked about the importance of this week, and some of the community events that are happening around Orange Shirt Day, and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This fit nicely into a resolution Guthrie brought forward at the end of the meeting to officially recognize the first ever National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, and the important work to make amends and improve relations between settler and the Indigenous community. The motion passed unanimously.

Council then returned in-camera to finish the closed session and did not emerge until nearly 8:30… And that’s when the real fun began.

The remaining matter in closed session had to do with the old stone farmhouse at 797 Victoria Road North, and its potential demolition under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act. The exact issue is unknown because that was outlined in the closed meeting materials, but the recommended motion that came out of in-camera suggested that the farmhouse be carefully demolished while efforts are made to hold on to key historically relevant features.

Guelph’s Minister of Heritage, Councillor Leanne Caron, made a last-minute case to try and preserve some majority portion of the farmhouse, but it’s apparently too far gone and is a clear and present danger to the public. Caron had some support to try and take some further action to preserve the farmhouse, but the motion was adopted by a vote of 8-5 by council, some of whom noted that they voted in favour reluctantly.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

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