This Month at Council: Economic Plan, Growth Plan and Transportation Plan.

Guelph city council began the year 2022 by approving a lot of new long-term plans. Council set up and knocked down plans for economic development over the next four years, plans to manage growth for the next 30 years, and plans for moving people around town for that same time horizon. Here are all the developments from a surprisingly busy January around the virtual horseshoe.

Committee of the Whole Meeting – January 10

There was nothing terribly controversial at the first city council meeting of 2022, but there was a lot of hopeful thinking in the two reports at this month’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

First CAO Scott Stewart presented the priorities and objectives of his office for the year ahead. There was nothing out of left field here with Stewart highlighting continued pandemic support and progress on long-term plans and projects that will come to fruition in 2022.

Most of the meeting though was about the new Economic Development and Tourism Strategy, which will help guide the city’s pandemic recovery, help orient business plans around exploiting Guelph’s assets, creating ripe conditions to expand the workforce and attract new businesses, and to support efforts to make Guelph an attractive tourist destination. Three delegates from Guelph’s business community came out to speak in support of the plan.

One of the biggest pieces of the new plan is the Municipal Accommodation Tax, or the MAT, which will be a four per cent surcharge on people booking hotel rooms in Guelph and will go towards a dedicated fund to support and promote tourism. Guelph is one of the last cities among its comparators to initiate a MAT, and the exact details of its initiative will be brought to committee for next month’s meeting.

Speaking of hotels, there was some question about the recent loss of the Holiday Inn and whether Guelph hotels have the capacity to support these tourism initiatives, but there were also no hard answers. Similarly, there were no easy answers about getting a hotel downtown, which is bizarrely bereft of a hotel facility despite all the events downtown, and despite the fact that most cities have hotels based in the core and not almost entirely in the periphery.

There were also some questions about why the report didn’t have more of an emphasis on promoting tourism through arts and culture given the return on investment. There were also some comments about getting the City’s place-finding and heritage ducks in a row before Guelph’s bicentennial in just five years time. Ultimately, those were minor critiques, and committee was largely enthusiastic about the plan and received the recommendations unanimously.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Planning Meeting of City Council – January 17

There was one topic of conversation at this month’s planning meeting, “Shaping Guelph: Growth Management Strategy and Land Needs Assessment.” It’s a city-wide plan to manage growth in Guelph, but the over 20 delegations were almost universally focused on one area in particular: the Rolling Hills area south of Clair Road East.

The delegations from Rolling Hills fell into one of two camps: There were the ones that generally approved the redevelopment of Area #1 in Rolling Hills so long as Area #2 is preserved as it, and there were the people that wanted to keep the hands of City planners, and local developers, off the area entirely. Only Dr. Hugh Whiteley spoke to the city-wide plan with concerns about the low intensification targets and a lack of emphasis on net zero builds.

When it was council’s turns to ask questions, most of the debate was around whether council should endorse or receive. The original recommendation in the agenda materials used the work “endorse” in terms of taking the work of the “Shaping Guelph” plan to the next phase including the creation of a new Official Plan Amendment. Still, some on council felt “receiving” the materials was better since there still might be certain aspects of the growth plan they feel need further work before endorsing.

There were also some questions about exploring the protections of environmentally sensitive areas in Rolling Hills, the order in which council will be receiving the various master plans supporting this growth work, and some queries about specific corners of the city and whether they will be able to achieve targets laid out in the growth strategy. There were also a few questions about changing the intensification targets or going back to the Province with a different growth target.

Ultimately, council unanimously voted to *receive* the growth management strategy and land needs assessment, and the request to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for a modified minimum intensification target of 46 per cent. Councillor Phil Allt politely declined to endorse the modified population forecast of 208,000 by 2051.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Special Meeting of City Council – January 24

In a special meeting of council, the virtual horseshoe heard and discussed the final version of the Transportation Master Plan. The plan is big and complicated, but simply put it looks to develop a bigger modal share for making trips aside from the private automobile, the implantation of Vision Zero for road safety, the initiation of a new master plan to address pedestrian needs, and strategies to manage congestion, climate action and other transportation concerns.

There were 10 delegates on the matter with a range of issues. Most were fairly positive about the plan and endorsed it, but others had some proposed tweaks. There was some anxiety about the growing congestion on Niska and Whitelaw Roads, and the fact that there wasn’t much study in cut-through traffic. Representatives from some groups looked to promote pet projects, and one delegate suggested the possible creation of toll roads to help cover the cost of road infrastructure and as a possible replacement for gas taxes as more people move to electric.

Council’s turn to chew on the plan came with a lot of discussion about what objectives are literally accounted for and which are aspirational, how some projects were chosen for the cycling spine and others were not, where roundabouts come into play, how City roads can manage truck traffic, and the placement of public washrooms at transit terminals.

The first amendment was made by Councillor Dominique O’Rourke who wanted to make it explicit that staff come back to council for final approval of any plan to create transit dedicated lanes on Guelph roads. The motion failed in a 6-6 vote as council was evenly divided as to whether that was managerial overreach. Alternatively, council passed a motion that asked staff to bring recommendations through a council information report, which can then be pulled by council for discussion if so desired.

The next motions from Councillor Cathy Downer were in addition to the main motion and they concerned consultation with the University of Guelph and Heritage Guelph on any future widening of Gordon Street, and that the project come back for council approval to initiate. It’s a big project that was scuttled in the early aughts by the U of G, so council wants to make sure all proverbial ducks are lined up before proceeding. The motions were passed by council with an additional amendment to include the widening of College Street between Edinburgh and Gordon in the scope.

Councillor Mike Salisbury proposed a motion to make Whitelaw Road a local road instead of collector road in the plan. There was some concern that a similar fate to Niska and Downey Roads awaited Whitelaw with increased traffic from drivers looking for short cuts between major roads, but there was not enough concern from council to pass the motion and it failed 3-9.

The final move came from O’Rourke who suggested that staff come up with a new Transportation Reserve Fund to collect revenues from red light cameras and other transportation safety initiatives. Staff said that this was a project that they were working on already, and it passed unanimously.

While there were a couple of dissenters on the final vote, the motion to approve the Transportation Master Plan and five accompanying motions were passed by a majority of council.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Regular Meeting of City Council – January 31

There was something different about this week’s council meeting. It was being streamed from the City’s website instead of a third-party like Facebook or YouTube, and it featured the return of “O Canada” to the meeting instead of just a couple of seconds looking at the flag.

As to the substance, council approved new appointments to the Downtown Guelph Board of Management and the Library Board of Directors, and then they heard from two delegates on a Committee of the Whole report about the 2022-2026 Economic Development and Tourism Strategy. One delegate wanted more funding for economic development in Guelph, and the other wanted to enhance the Goderich to Guelph (G2G) biking trail.

Council would eventually reaffirm its commitment to the strategy, but not before looking at some pet tourism projects and how staff will decide to prioritize them, do we go with biking tourism first or making Guelph a “Music City”? There was also some teasing about next week’s debate about the Municipal Accommodation Tax, the proceeds from which will be used to fund a lot of promotion and place-making efforts through the strategy.

The last item on the agenda was a motion endorsing a legal challenge to Quebec’s Bill 21, and that the City of Guelph considers the bill discriminatory. Some councillors were enthusiastic about voting for the motion given recent events (see below), but Councillor Mark MacKinnon took a principled stand that “feel good” motions like this were out of scope for a municipal government in Ontario and abstained from the vote. The rest of council voted in favour.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

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