This Month at Council: Parks, Solid Waste, and Community Benefit Charges

It was a very consequential month at Guelph City Council, especially if you’re a fan of parkland and infrastructure. Bookended by intense debates around the demand for more park space, new bans on a variety of single-use plastics, and the delegation of authority to staff when planned capital go way over budget, the month also dealt with a heritage appeal, a new big density development and the new Community Benefit Charges. Here’s the recap for April.

Committee of the Whole – April 4

April’s Committee of the Whole meeting was a long one, and even started an hour earlier than usually scheduled. Perhaps someone at city hall was anticipating the complexity of the issues that were being presented.

After dispatching the monthly staff recognitions and a couple of consent items, committee dug into the first big issue, the Solid Waste Management Master Plan Recommendations. Of particular interest was the planned elimination of single-use plastic items. The initiative proposed by staff was to ban shopping bags, straws, and polystyrene take out containers and cups in March 2023 and then introduce a $1 fee for reusable bags and a 25-cent fee for disposably cups by March 2024.

Some questions from council asked why the ban on those specific items, and GM of Environmental Services Jennifer Rose said it was because they were the most problematic. Others were concerned about the long-time horizon for initiating the plan, and Rose said that was because businesses are going to need time to adapt by buying new equipment and materials, which is also why they get to keep the fees. And what about waiting till the Federal government releases the details of their single-use plastic ban? Well, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about what that will involve.

At one point, Councillor Mark MacKinnon moved a motion to charge a $1 fee for plastic cups and remove the fee for reusable bags. His rationale was that 25 cents are not going to be the disincentive the City hopes it will, while not having a fee on the bags will be more likely to encourage their use. The motion on the bags was ultimately removed, and the motion on cups ended up failing as the majority on council felt there wasn’t enough data to back the direction.

Mayor Cam Guthrie was able to get support for a couple of motions, one to direct staff to get more feedback before the initiation of phase two of the single use ban, and an adjustment to the timeline for the start of phase one, which is now January 1, 2023. Councillor Bob Bell though was unable to change minds about alterations to industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) collection, which means his Wike operation in the Ward will be one of 200 businesses no longer getting residential waste service.

Most of the recommendations were passed unanimously, but three members of council voted against the changes to ICI collection, and a list of other recommendations.

Next, committee talked about the inflationary pressures on the capital budget. GM of Finance Tara Baker said her message was “Don’t panic” and that things are moving too quickly to set any long-term direction about changing the plan. That’s why she and staff were recommending a short-term delegation of authority to work within the approved capital budget to deal with those pressures.

Four delegates expressed concern about delegating that authority, and the tenor of those comments was not always as conciliatory as committee might have liked. Accusations that staff were unaccountable to the public and that city council were giving up their oversight role were met with great offense, and the perceived slights were as much a topic of conversation as the main motion.

Many on council tried to find a way to have a bit more oversight beyond a quarterly information report, but timing was again the issue; circumstances move too quickly and by the time an emergency council meeting can be called, an opportunity could be lost. Guthrie summed up the comments best when he said that the community gives council their trust, and council gives staff *their* trust.

The recommendation was accepted in a vote of 11-2, with Bell as one of the no votes. The Ward 1 councillor said committee should have removed the South End Community Centre entirely from the capital budget and then committed to further cuts.

The late item was the Park Plan, which noted the difficulty going forward in securing the same amount of parkland access per person in the future that Guelph enjoys right now. The three delegates were concerned about that too, but advanced discussions about funding had to reserved for next week’s meeting about the Parkland Dedication Bylaw update. Council approved the Park Plan and passed an additional motion from Councillor Leanne Caron directing staff to look at wide-range of finding options for parkland.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Planning Meeting of City Council – April 11

A south end neighbourhood was out in force at city council speak against a proposed development at 12 Poole Street. Part of a broader subdivision, long in limbo before the various iterations of the Ontario Land Tribunal, the developer wants to build almost 500 units in the form 308 stacked townhouses, and one 185-unit apartment building.

There were five delegates against the project citing concerns about the amount of density on the site, the impact of all that traffic on the area, the size of the roads, the lack of available transit or amenities that new residents could walk to, and the impact on local wildlife and natural habitat as the reasons why the application should be refused. The project’s manager, meanwhile, tried to persuade council that this development presented a good opportunity for young professionals to get into the housing market.

Before approving receipt of the application, councillors echoed a lot of the concerns that residents had. There was concern that the developers were now asking for more units on this tract than all the units originally asked for when the subdivision was first proposed. There were also concerns about the underground visitors parking, and the way that the developer was throwing around words like “affordability” and “supply” in order to provoke an emotional response from the horseshoe. Mayor Cam Guthrie encouraged the developer to do some outreach with residents in advance of a decision.

Somewhat easier to accept was staff’s approval of a plan to turn the old Holiday Inn on Scottsdale into a student residence.

After that, the last item concerned the property owner’s opposition to the designation of 919 York Road as a heritage property. The owner says the Matthews’ farmhouse is too far gone to be saved and is actually a danger to the public, but staff is steadfast in its finding that the house can still be salvaged and repurposed and it’s still worth chasing those efforts. Council approved the staff’s recommendation to proceed with the designation despite the two Ward 1 councillors voting against.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Special Meeting of City Council – April 13

A special Wednesday meeting of city council dealt with the new Community Benefit Charge, and new administrative changes to the Parkland Dedication Bylaw. Both matters were relatively straightforward, new policy designed in response to legislative changes at the provincial level, but because it involved parks and parkland, there was a lot of interest in this meeting from the public.

In brief, the CBC will go to things not covered by development charges anymore (parking and some studies) and things that were never covered by DCs (public art, community gardens, municipal administration buildings et al). There’s a four per cent cap on the CBC, and it only applies to developments five-storeys or more. The changes to the Parkland Dedication Bylaw were largely administrative, but a full review of the PDB will be coming next year.

For the delegates it was all about the PDB. They all advocated to council to push for the maximum amount of money and/or land (mostly land) that the City can get for parks, though that was not really a matter up for debate at this meeting. A lot of attention was on the Ontario Reformatory lands, which many delegates phrased as an open space under threat of development and in danger of being lost unless the City acts aggressively.

Some councillors seemed like they wanted to make changes to the recommendation, but since all the six recommendations were all referrals to a July 18 meeting anyway, staff asked council to give them direction so that they can do more fulsome research and better inform potential changes.

Councillors also had caps at top of mind, and many of their questions went that way. Other councillors asked questions of clarity about how certain decisions were made about how much money the CBCs can raise, what they can be applied to, and how developers can choose to apply either the portion of land or cash in-lieu according to the PDB. The results of the discussion between council and staff showed that Guelph isn’t getting what it needs from developers to cover the cost of growth, but there also aren’t a lot of options right now to close the gap.

After getting all their questions answered, council voted unanimously to refer the recommendations to July 18.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Regular Meeting of City Council – April 25

Councillor Cathy Downer held court as the chair on Monday night, leading the council meeting in chambers while Mayor Cam Guthrie appeared remotely. While the agenda was solely about items already discussed at Committee of the Whole earlier this month, there was apparently still a lot to say.

After passing the consent agenda items, council dug back into the Park Plan. DCAO Colleen Clack-Bush reiterated that this was only meant to be a background document to be used as a defence in any future decision about the Parkland Dedication Bylaw, the formal update of which will be voted on in July. Still, six delegates came back to council will a vigorous argument for the City to collect as much parkland as humanly possible.

The council debate responded to delegate comments about the potential purchase of the land for Wellington Park (coming up at budget), why the draft park inventory list is still a draft (still some research underway), and whether it was a good idea to galvanize resident enthusiasm with a parks advisory committee (that might come back next year with the Parks & Rec Master Plan). Along with the original recommendations, council unanimously passed a motion from Guthrie directing staff to look at potential terms of reference for that new committee.

Council then came back to Solid Waste Management Master Plan recommendations, and a proposed change to the single-use plastic ban after some feedback from the Accessibility Advisory Committee. The AAC wanted plastic straws to be removed from the proposed list of banned items in phase one because it would put an unfair burden on people with disabilities who have to use straws.

Although they didn’t have any object to the request, the debate was how soon staff could deliver a recommendation about straws after doing more community feedback. Staff wanted to bring information back before changes went into effect with phase two of the ban in January 2024, but Guthrie wanted something more timely. Council would vote in favour of a motion to direct staff to bring forward a report later this year when they approve the bylaws for phase one of the ban, which goes into effect January 1, 2023.

Councillor Mark MacKinnon tried again to get council to approve a $1 fee for disposable cups that are not 100 per cent recyclable as part of the phase two ban. Although MacKinnon’s motion improved on the one he brought to committee with some very specific language about the type of cups, he ran into the same doubts from his colleagues about the lack of data proving that $1 is more of a deterrent than the proposed 25 cents. Even after the motion was divided into two clauses, it failed 4-9.

Before the final passage of the full amended recommendation, Councillor Bob Bell tried again to make staff reconsider the moved to end industrial, commercial and institutional pick-up at 200 businesses along residential routes, including his business, but he only found support from his wardmate Councillor Dan Gibson.

The last item was the Financial Impact Strategy, which Bell asked to be pulled from consent. The councillor tried again to dissuade his colleagues from delegating authority to staff on whether to pause and moving forward with approved capital projects in the wake of inflationary pressures. Bell said that council represented the community, not staff, but the majority of council was satisfied that there are good oversight measures in place, and the recommendation was approved 12-1.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

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