February is the shortest month of the year, but there were some very long meetings indeed as council tackled a number of very complex issues. From a new tax designed to help bolster tourism, to new licensing for AirBnB and other short-term rentals, to a new program to let the community help lead Guelph to net zero, there was a lot to cover policy-wise, and there were also a few planning decisions too. This was February at city council.
Committee of the Whole Meeting – February 7
It was a long Committee of the Whole meeting for February, but that reflected the variety and seriousness of the issues discussed. There were some big, interesting, and long-in-the-works projects that came up for approval.
The first big item was the update from Our Food Future, the Guelph-Wellington Smart Cities office. The presentation effectively marked the halfway point of the project since Guelph and Wellington County were first awarded the Smart Cities prize money in 2019, and that $10 million investment from Infrastructure Canada that has since turned into $25 million thanks to additional investments. Staff, committee and the four delegates were all enthusiastic about the next few years.
The first topic requiring decisions was the short-term and long-term housing report. There were two delegates who spoke against the staff idea to license only short-term rentals where the person offering the rental is using it as their primary residence. They both made the point that there are already a number of safeguards in the various short-term rental apps to make sure that people who abuse the system are kept out of it.
Some on council made that same point including Councillor Dan Gibson, who noted that you have to be renter or vendor in good standing on apps like AirBnB to keep using the service. He also added that he would rather staff use a registry option instead of a license, but when committee passed an amendment to strike the “principal residence” requirement, he took the win.
Councillor Rodrigo Goller expressed a concern about seeing Guelph’s rental housing stock getting turned into short-term rental offerings, which would have a negative effect on affordability, but this is an idea that might be expressed in the fulsome public engagement coming soon for a new short-term rental bylaw.
In terms of long-term rentals, committee passed a motion asking staff to spend the spend two years updating their data so that the next council might revisit the possibility of licensing long-term rentals too.
Next, council heard about implementing the Municipal Accommodation Tax, which has been so long in the works that council only had questions of clarification: Could the MAT take pressure off the City’s current tourism budget (not right away), will the MAT fund tourism projects that guarantee heads in beds (yes), and is staff working on designating Guelph a “Music City” (it’s in the works).
The four Municipal Accommodation Tax recommendations were passed 11-1.
The final item was the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) update, a program that will allow homeowners to get an interest-free loan to make green energy improvements to their home. The program will be administered by the City of Guelph, but the loan money is coming from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
A few people on committee were concerned about the City getting into another government green energy program that massively fails to pay off, and they also wanted to make sure that the City can recover administration costs over the course of the program’s 20-year time span. There was also some concern because there’s only been a couple of Ontario municipalities that have tried this, so there’s not a lot of data about what works and what doesn’t with these programs.
A couple of councillors tried to bring forward an amendment to make it explicit that the City recoups its administration costs, but there was some confusion about what exactly that would look like, and what costs would be included. Staff noted that they were still working out the details with the FCM, and didn’t have a lot of hard answers, so the amendment was eventually scrapped. Another motion to refer all recommendations to the end of the month also failed.
Ultimately, committee decided that the money on the table was too good to pass up, and since it was just a couple of months ago that the community packed the virtual gallery to demand that climate change be made a council priority, the majority of council agreed that they needed to push on with the program even as they wait for answers to key questions. All the recommendations were approved.
Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.
Planning Meeting of City Council – February 14
This month’s planning meeting was a straightforward affair. As Mayor Cam Guthrie noted at the end of the meeting, council approved 150 new units, but the focus was on 18 in particular.
Right off the bat, council approved the redevelopment of the plaza at Willow and Dawson that will remove a section and build two apartment towers with commercial on the ground floor. Another application to rezone an “Industrial” plot that’s actually been used as a residential property for years was also approved.
There was one delegate who wanted to speak to the decision report to allow 18 stacked townhouses at 77 Victoria Road North, and he was concerned about the increase in traffic in the area, and the proposed height of the three-storey townhouses, which will be right next to a one-storey school. It all seemed pretty straightforward, and then council started to get absorbed in what seemed like minutia matters of site planning.
Councillor Bob Bell proposed a motion to direct staff to require the owner to put a two-metre fence along the north end of the property to act as a buffer. Some on council felt this was an example of micromanagement, and that giving formal direction on matters of site planning was outside the ken of council. Staff pointed out that two metres exceeded the maximum allowable height for a fence, which is limited to 1.8 metres. Bell withdrew his motion but found no support to refile it with the correct height.
While some councillors had notes about snow removal and doing more work to help the City achieve net zero goals, the motion was eventually passed 11-1 as it was originally written without any additional caveats or demands.
The final item was an application from the Shell station at the corner of Speedvale and Edinburgh to expand by increasing the floor space of the convenience store and adding an automated car wash. Assurances were made that the car wash will be far from nearby homes, and the owners had already taken noise control into effect. Council received the report rather swiftly after some brief delegations from the owner and his representatives.
Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.
Regular Meeting of City Council – February 28
The first of two back-to-back council meetings on Monday saw council deal with a matter that required council to sit as tribunal.
The owners of 2 Quebec Street were protesting the fact that they had to pay educational development charges (EDCs) on their renovation of second floor offices into 14 new apartments, and if they couldn’t get that money back, then they wanted the EDCs to be adjusted back to when they applied for the building permit to renovate in September 2019 versus when they received it in October 2021.
Why? The lawyer for the owners made the argument that the 14 new units were adding to precious rental stock in the middle of a housing crisis, and that the tower had paid back millions in taxes to the City over the last 50 years. The lawyer for the two school boards politely disagreed, and said that the EDCs were properly assigned, and that the construction of the building predated the commencement of collecting EDCs in the 1990s, so it could be argued that 2 Quebec Street never paid their share.
Council acting as tribunal retired to closed session and a short time later emerged to say that they were reserving their decision. More information will be released once the City has been in touch with all the involved parties.
Perhaps because of the length of that meeting, the open session of the regular meeting started 25 minutes late.
Mayor Cam Guthrie explained that council gave direction to staff’s negotiations with the paramedics’ union, and then there was a motion regarding 239 Elizabeth Street. You may recall that council voted against demolishing that house last fall and instead moved to designate it a heritage building, but Monday’s motion undid that decision. Instead, council approved the demolition and revoked the designation by a vote of 7-5.
In an additional motion, Councillor Leanne Caron wanted Heritage Guelph to review the file in closed session, and then see if they can disclose some of the conversation and debate around 239 Elizabeth. That motion was approved 11-1.
In terms of the main agenda, council massaged some of the recommendations on the Long-term and Short-term Rental Housing Report. A general recommendation about proactive enforcement and education on long-term rental properties was amended to include a staff report in Q3 of 2023 with updated date and options for regulations if council decides to proceed. That amendment was approved.
The second amendment asked to staff to do engagement about which option for licensing short-term rentals worked best: Where the rental is the owner’s primary residence, and where it’s not their primary residence. It briefly re-opened the debate from Committee of the Whole about whether people understood how apps like AirBnB work, but the amendment’s mover, Councillor Rodrigo Goller, felt that the people should decide through the course of public engagement. The amendment passed, and so did the slate of recommendations.
On the Municipal Accommodation Tax, there was some more discussion about dream tourism projects around heritage and music, but at least one councillor wanted confirmation from staff that any direction on tourism programming would be data-driven and not dream-driven. The recommendations were approved by council.
On the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, Councillor Dominique O’Rourke proposed an amendment to direct staff to come up with a user fee program that can recoup administrative costs not funding through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities grant. It would hopefully answer any lingering concern about the City eating any extra costs from the program.
The amendment was passed, but Councillor Dan Gibson was still concerned that a 25-year loan was a long period of time when considering the rapid pace of development in clean tech. Staff reported that the loan repayment period for each loan will depend on the loan, and the borrower, and that the 25-year period is how long the City has before they have to pay FCM back it’s $15 million. The recommendations were passed.
Councillor Mark MacKinnon that tried to bring forward a motion to reconsider council’s past votes on alternative voting methods for the 2022 election in order to implement internet voting as an option instead. That vote could not reach the nine-vote threshold to overturn a previous direction of council failing 5-7.
Council also heard the Integrity Commissioner’s report, which barely contained any drama.
Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.