This Month at Council: Voting Methods, Route Review, and Zoning Bylaw Changes

November was a busy month around the virtual horseshoe, and that’s even before you factor in the business of the 2022-2023 Guelph budgets. We’ll deal with that in another recap post, but for now, you can re-live the debates around having a more accessible vote for next year’s election, some of the proposed changes to the comprehensive zoning bylaw, and some planned changes for Guelph Transit over the next 10 years.

Committee of the Whole Meeting – November 1

In what was one of the most lengthy committee meetings we’ve seen in a while as Guelph city council covered a lot of ground on a myriad of different issues, sometimes it was contentious, and sometimes it was very technocratic.

The first part of the agenda, the Audit Committee, moved swiftly, but seven delegates on the staff report about electronic ballot marking kicked off hours of debate where committee tried to find a way to make it happen despite any and every reservation held by the clerks office about not having enough time to do it right in 2022. Those seven delegates, all of whom wanted electronic ballot marking, made a very persuasive case.

As laid out by the City Clerk Stephen O’Brien, the problem was not money, but the expected workload. Between now and May 1, the clerks office would need to settle on a vendor, hire staff to oversee the testing and implementation, and to make sure everything’s good to go for next fall. O’Brien also noted that there’s considerable material to print off and that may be a barrier to some people that want to use electronic ballot marking software. There’s also a lot that the clerks have to do to launch mail-in voting, the Vote From Home program and the regular election activities at the same time.

Mayor Cam Guthrie said that this was a matter of “risk tolerance” and he was comfortable enough with all the risks to put a motion on the floor to direct staff to come up with an electronic ballot marking project for 2022, and to lay the groundwork for a permanent option in 2026. O’Brien warned caution because once committee directed staff to use electronic ballot marking, they would have to stick with it even if they found problems with the system after May 1.

Councillor James Gordon suggested that the mayor’s motion including wording about testing, so that the City would have an out in case the electronic ballot marking system was too glitchy to initiate. There were further concerns about whether or not the City could find the expertise to test the system considering that Guelph would be the first jurisdiction in Canada to use this system.

Shortly after 5 pm, CAO Scott Stewart suggested that the committee was asking O’Brien for a lot of information that he didn’t have immediate access to, and Councillor Dominique O’Rourke recommended that committee pass a referral until the regular council meeting at the end of the month. Eventually, the referral was passed 10-3.

A presentation about increasing the digitization of City of Guelph services was received well, but it could be moving faster for some members of committee. There was also a robust discussion around the bylaw regulations regarding the parking of trailers, like what problems this review was trying to answer and why staff didn’t get the answers they need in the “Have Your Say” survey. Guthrie wanted to formally direct staff to look at seasonal exemptions for trailers parked in driveways, but there were a lot of concerns about opening that door given the size of some trailer vehicles. Committee passed the recommendations as originally worded.

The final item was about the draft agreement between the City and the 10C Shared Space about taking over management of the Guelph Farmers’ Market. Under the plan, 10C will enhance the Farmers Market and its facility by turning it into a market hub and business incubator with community events, trade shows, food security initiatives, and community food programming. Everyone involved was really excited about it, and so was committee. The draft plan was approved.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Planning Meeting of City Council – November 8

There was only one item on the planning agenda this month, and it was the draft version of the comprehensive zoning bylaw review, but as one city councillor pointed out, if you didn’t know better, you might have thought that it was a *parking* bylaw review.

After the presentation from project manager Abby Watts, every member of council got their turn to ask a question or leave a comment, and much of that commentary was about the provisions around parking and driveway width.

In one corner there were councillors from newer areas of the city who were looking for some leeway to allow everyone to have a driveway where they can park two cars next to each other without breaking the rules. Some councillors said their future support on the whole bylaw depended on making some changes.

There were others on council though that made the argument that the city needs to be less car-centric, and that its unrealistic with 60,000 more people moving to town to purposefully making more room for cars. Others pointed out that there’s a generation of young professionals coming up that are trying to avoid car ownership and that the City may inadvertently create a parking surplus in the near future.

Other concerns included developing a proper definition for bike parking that’s not bike storage, concern about visitors parking in areas around intensity nodes, and the size and shape of accessory buildings like garages. Mayor Cam Guthrie also asked staff to look at a Barrie motion to allow institutional zones to use their land for residential purposes, like allowing faith groups to build affordable housing on their property.

If there was one thing that everyone on council could agree on, it’s that Watts and her team had developed a beautiful looking document that was easy to understand and simple to use. So it wasn’t all bad news as council approved receipt of the draft.

There will now be another round of public consultation about the draft zoning bylaw before it comes back to city council for a full statutory planning meeting and final passage sometime in 2022.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Special Meeting of City Council – November 15

The first of three council meetings this week was an in-depth discussion about what the future of transit might look like in this city, and how best it might be implemented.

After the staff presentation, there were nine delegations on the proposed plan and they all fell under a couple of fairly broad themes. On the one hand, people were looking specifically at the present inadequacies of transit in terms of frequency, the total time it takes to make a crosstown trip, and the number of missed connections and transfers endured. On the other hand, people felt that the staff recommended plan wasn’t ambitious enough, especially when considering the fight against climate change.

Back at council, the struggle was between how much council wanted to do, how fast they wanted to do it, and how much it would cost in the process. Some on council were dubious of the idea that high frequency that could create the demand that council and staff wanted, while other councillors noted that repeated public feedback is pointing at a desire for more frequency that the City should be answering that demand. There was also general agreement though that doing nothing was not an option.

In terms of procedure, there was a motion to refer recommendations #2 and #5 to the December 2 budget meeting. These recommendations committed council to the staff’s preferred implementation plan, which is tied to the ICIP funding for the new transit facility and the purchase of electric buses. Councillors Leanne Caron and Dominique O’Rourke warned caution because they didn’t want council to postpone a vote on something they won’t end up supporting. In other words, they didn’t want to end up with the status quo by accident.

Councillor Rodrigo Goller endorsed the referral because he wanted to get some more information about the costs associated with the “high-frequency” plan, but there was some concern among his council colleagues about talking policy on the same night their just supposed to be talking about the numbers. Ultimately, council voted against the referral 4-9 and ended up approving all of the recommendations unanimously even though many wanted to take the time to explore more thoroughly the high-frequency option. Unfortunately, with the budget just two weeks away, time’s not on their side.

There was one final motion. O’Rourke moved that staff explore partnerships and grant opportunities to fund interregional transit before Guelph takes on any new routes itself starting in 2026. That motion passed unanimously too.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Regular Meeting of City Council – November 22

This month’s regular council meeting got hung up on two important matters, but before that they ratified the vast majority of business including new appointments to local boards, and the new management of the Farmers’ Market by the 10C Shared Space. Most of the rest of the time was about trailers and voting methods.

On trailers, there was no new information from staff, but there were two new delegations who were concerned about the potentially punitive move in not letting people park their recreational vehicles in their own driveways, especially since there doesn’t seem like much of an issue as long as people are parking their vehicles safely.

Councillor Mark MacKinnon brought forward a motion directing staff to come back to council in the second quarter of 2022 with an option to allow recreational vehicles and trailers to be parked in driveways under certain conditions and to align those options with the City’s yearly parking restrictions. There was some wordsmithing along with the way, including a direction to staff to bring forward a more concrete definition of “seasonal,” and the motion also directs staff to look specifically at recreational trailers, not work trailers.

Council approved the amended motion unanimously.

Even more intense was the debate about proceeding with electronic ballot marking for the 2022 Municipal Election. A memo from the clerks’ office laid out again a list of reasons why they didn’t have the time or resources necessary to implement an additional voting method before May, and during the council discussion Clerk Stephen O’Brien said that it would take four or five months alone to follow the proper tendering process.

Still, there were six delegations, all of whom were returning from this month’s Committee of the Whole meeting, and were once again urging council to move on making the election as accessible as possible. Some had very serious and accusatory comments about the City’s commitment to accessibility given how the clerk picked the date to bring this report back and then said it was too late to act on it. Others noted that improved accessibility is an ongoing election promise that is never fulfilled by the time the next election comes around.

Ultimately, the ad hoc motion that committee cobbled together earlier this month was scrapped in favour of the original staff recommendation. After intense questioning by council, there was an understanding that time was working against staff in making electronic ballot marking a reality this election, and that they were being asked to put into effect a method of voting that the people in charge of running the election might not have confidence in.

Along with the original staff recommendation, council passed a supplementary motion to direct the clerks office to investigate voting service enhancements for 2026 in consultation with the Accessibility Advisory Committee and report back by the second quarter of 2024. Guthrie said he was disappointed that council could make it happen in time for next year, but he also thinks that council and staff learned a lot from the conversation.

Finally, council passed a motion along with the Internal Audit Work Plan to reach out to the Guelph Police Services Board and look at bringing the police into the City’s internal audit program.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

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