This Month at Council: Official Plan, Zoning and Homelessness

July means the end of council business for the summer, but in this election year it also kind of means the end of business for the rest of this term. With the exception of a couple of meetings in September, and one in November, this is it for the current incarnation of council and what a way to leave things with a new Official Plan Amendment, a major benchmark in the Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw review, and emergency motions about homelessness downtown. Here’s the recap!

Committee of the Whole Meeting – July 4

July’s committee meeting started with a surprisingly lengthy and complex discussion about next year’s council meeting calendar. While members of city council welcomed the change to Tuesday meetings, there were skeptical of the clerks’ suggestion to switch to 10 am start times for all those meetings.

The move to morning meetings was suggested as a way to improve equity, increasing accessibility to meetings for those that do shift work, many of whom are a part of racialized communities. This was not the same conclusion city councillors had. They were concerned that the change would not only be exclusionary to people who have to work during the day, but also to people who might want to run for a council seat but can’t take three or four days off from work every month.

Many on council requested that a round of public engagement be completed before any formal decisions on timing is made. A motion was crafted to approve the change to Tuesdays, but to send staff back for the that holistic review of what start time would be appropriate for council meetings. The motion was approved, so the clerks will be preparing a memo on engagement, and a council meeting schedule with new times, for the regular meeting on July 18.

The Paramedic Service Response Performance 2021 and Performance Plan 2023 came with a specific warning about the off-load times at Guelph General Hospital, which Paramedic Chief Stephen Dewer warned would continue for the foreseeable future.

Dewar explained that there have been instances when 11 ambulances were lined up at any given time at the hospital. Code Yellow was called 3-times a day in the month of May, and there was one Code Red incident in May where there was no ambulance was available for 16 straight minutes. Although not a uniquely Guelph problem, Sewar asked committee to keep pushing the provincial government for more resources, especially at the upcoming Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) meeting next month in Ottawa.

The last item was a slate of motions from Mayor Cam Guthrie about issues of homelessness, drug addiction and mental health in the downtown core. Bookshelf founder Barb Minett delegated that things have gotten worse over the last several months with open drug dealing on the streets, constant outbursts, break-ins, shoplifting, and lots of littering, including used needles. Two other delegates made similar observations.

At the committee debate, some people noted the difficulty in making sweeping requests of the County in the middle of summer in terms of the timely delivery of reports, or the request for meetings. There was also a lot of discussion about the systemic limitations of the City to deal with social services, and the division of labour and responsibility between the County, the City and the Government of Ontario.

Much of the debate focused on the addition of a seventh clause re-directing $50,000 unspent from the council training budget to hiring a third person for Welcoming Streets. An amendment was proposed to let the Strategic Advisory Group created in clause #6 to determine how best to spend the money put on the table in clause #7, and it was unanimously passed by council.

Ultimately, all seven recommendations were passed by council, but there will be some further information brought forward for the July 19 regular meeting where all committee measures will be ratified.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Special Meeting of City Council – July 11

The long day at city council started with a special meeting to pass the latest update to the Official Plan for the entire City of Guelph, so naturally about half of the delegates were there to talk about the Rolling Hills area.

Aside from the apparent schism between the members of the Rolling Hills community in favour of some re-development, and those who are against all re-development, other members of the public brought a variety of concerns. Following up on last week’s town hall, a couple of delegates expressed concern about the high-density designation for the Armtech site on George Street, some wanted a bit more flexibility in commercial areas, and the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce said that downtown density targets could be bolder.

While discussing Rolling Hills, staff tried to reinforce that if there’s any re-development in Rolling Hills, it will be limited to the Clair Road facing side, and will only occur once the area is connected to City services, which could be sometime beyond 2051. Staff also explained how they built in more protection for the Natural Heritage System in the plan with focus on the southern end of Rolling Hills where the area starts running into the Paris-Galt Moraine.

The first motion to try and change something in the staff presented plan came from Councillor Leanne Caron, who wanted to re-insert recognition of the Couling Registry of buildings from before 1929 into the Heritage portion of the plan. References were taken out because the Couling list is a product unique to Guelph and thus has no provision in provincial regulations. The motion failed 6-7.

For George Street, Ward 2 Councillors Rodrigo Goller and James Gordon brought a motion to change the designation for the Armtech site from high to medium density. Most everyone on council agreed that making this site high density is not a good fit for the area, especially since it was a decision made almost 20 years ago in an earlier amendment. The motion was passed 8-5.

Ward 6 Councillor Dominique O’Rourke was not as successful when it came to her motion to adjust the number of residents and jobs per hectare at Gordon and Arkell from 130 to 100, which failed 5-8. O’Rourke’s two other motions found unanimous support though; one that formalizes engagement with Guelph’s neighbouring townships, and another to promote knowledge-based sectors like advance manufacturing.

The amended recommendations were passed unanimously, and now it’s likely on to the Ontario Land Tribunal for appeals.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Planning Meeting of City Council – July 11

About an hour later, the monthly planning got underway with the approval of a townhouse development on Grange Road, and, after a couple of delegations, the approval of the latest piece of the Metalworks development. There was some concern about the public areas and wayfinding for the walkways through the development, but for the most part council was bullish about the project.

On 78 and 82 Eastview Road, council followed the recommendation from staff to turn down the application after two delegates also spoke in favour of turning it down. Mayor Cam Guthrie said he doesn’t like refusing an application, but if it’s coming down to a matter of water, or something technical like that, it’s something the City can’t ignore.

On the new applications, council finally heard the case for a new 10-storey mixed use building for student housing on the site where the Days Inn currently sits. Naturally, area residents had a big problem with the size of the proposed development, and the impacts it would have on the area in terms of the addition of thousands of more students living in the area, including noise and traffic. Council, meanwhile, was concerned about the loss of greenspace and the loss of another area hotel to redevelopment. The application was received unanimously.

The last item was the application for 1166-1204 Gordon Street, which was just as controversial. The plan calls for two, 6-storey apartment buildings on the Gordon side with a total of 134 units and 22, 3-storey on-street townhouse units on the Landsdown side, which a number of area residents explained was too much density for the area. Council had some sympathy for the sheer size of this project, and there was also some concern about the developer’s idea of using the building’s setback to count toward the total amount of common amenity space. This application was also received by council unanimously.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Special Meeting of City Council – July 13

A very busy week at city council wrapped up with a very long, and still very busy, special Wednesday meeting.

First, the matter of the proposed demolition of 50-60 Fife Road. It’s the former home of Guelph businessman and mayor F.J. Chadwick, but for UpBuilding!, a non-profit home builder, it’s standing in the way of the construction of 18 new affordable units. There’s a tower that’s part of the home, and Heritage Guelph wanted the entire tower saved in any demolition, but Howard Kennedy of UpBuilding! wanted to just save the heritage elements, which are at the top of the tower, and staff were okay with that.

There was some confusion among the councillors if the staff recommendation and the will of UpBuilding! were one and the same. Once council got that confirmation, there was only the question of whether council would approve the demolition; Councillor Leanne Caron tried to seem if there was a way to save the whole building, but Mayor Cam Guthrie felt it was a matter of spending millions to save five units or spending less money to build 18. The motion was approved 11-2.

Next was the public meeting for 1563-1576 Gordon Street, a project to develop 154 unit stacked townhouse development as well as eight single-detached dwelling units across nine plots between Gordon and Dawn Avenue. The area residents that delegated were concerned about the size of the project, drainage issues in the area, parking and traffic, and the fate of trees on the properties. Many on council shared these concerns, but the application was received unanimously.

The biggest item of the night was the Statutory Public Meeting Report for the Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw Review. After a complete and thorough report by staff, plus delegations, Guthrie announced that he knew about 15 different motions from council to make amendments. Noting the time, which by that point was after 9 pm, the mayor said it would be better to just treat this like a true planning meeting and give staff notes about changes as opposed to debating full motions. After a 40-minute debate, council agreed.

So in terms of those notes, there was a lot of agreement that there was still not enough flexibility in the new rules for driveway width and garage size, that more flexibility was needed for viewing platforms on bridges and boardwalks, and that there needed to be more allowances for accessibility. A couple of delegates discussed their concerns about new bylaws governing the placement and use of storage containers being employed by various small businesses as auxiliary storage for tools and materials. Many councillors encouraged staff to work with businesspeople to find a compromise.

Councillor Phil Allt asked staff if they felt the bylaw they’ve developed is radical, conservative, or the status quo? The GM of Planning Krista Walkey said that it’s not status quo or conservative, but it’s carefully pushing radical. It’s not quite there because we’re not ready as a community to get radical. Yet.

Walkey left the meeting with 15 pages of notes, and council approved receipt of the report unanimously.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Regular Meeting of City Council – July 18

The last council meeting before summer break began with two pretty big pieces of news.

First, there was an announcement that council approved in closed session the Memorandum of Agreement between the City of Guelph and the Canadian Union Public Employees Local 241 and Local 973, and staff were directed to finalize and execute the agreement. The second piece of news was that there’s now a deal for a made-in-Guelph PACE program, but the cost seems to be the dissolution of Our Energy Guelph.

After that, a consortium of local non-profit groups led by the director of the Guelph & Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination Dominica McPherson gave an update about the three local supportive housing projects approved this term. Look for Grace Gardens to open in November, and for a ground-breaking later this year for the Kindle project on Shelldale.

After approving the consent agenda, it was time to take another look at the seven motions under the topic “Urgent Issues Related to Homelessness, Mental Health and Addictions.” Again, the motions were separated so that council could vote for them one at a time, all culminating in a new eighth motion that devolved into a debate of process versus need.

Some of the motions passed quickly after a council question or two, and others were passed after some brief wordsmithing for clarity or specificity. The others, not so much.

The first place that council got really stuck was on the creation of the Strategic Advisory Group on Downtown Issues, some on council wanted a more formalized process with a recruitment campaign and the drafting of terms of reference, but others felt that going that route would take too long, especially with there being only two meetings between now and November. It was proposed that council could approve a hybrid model, an emergency committee now that could be replaced by something more formal later, but the motion was eventually passed unanimously without additional changes.

On item #7, council amended the original recommendation to take $50,000 from the operating contingency reserve, and then it was bumped up to $100,000, but then someone asked the question about what exactly this money was being allocated to. The final vote on the amended #7 failed in a 6-6 tie, which forced council to return to the original Committee of the Whole motion for this item, and that was to allocate $50,000 to the Welcoming Streets initiative. That motion passed unanimously.

New motion #8 was meant to allocate the $500,000 in funds in the affordable housing reserve as matching funds for the United Way and Community Foundation’s Home for Good campaign. This opened up a can of worms about process and a motion to refer the matter to the 2023 budget review, during which Councillor Bob Bell accused his fellow councillors of dithering on affordable housing while he’s been trying to push council that way this whole time. The referral ended up failing, and Mayor Cam Guthrie asked council to take a breath.

A different amendment came forward to ask the United Way and the Community Foundation to wave the five per cent administration fee, but that also failed 6-7, and then council returned to pummelling the mayor rhetorically for ignoring the regular process for these things, and only making council aware of the motion on Friday afternoon. The motion eventually passed 10-3.

By this point, council was looking at going past 11 pm, and a motion to go continue beyond that deadline was passed unanimously.

The next item was the Community Benefit Charge and Parkland Dedication By-laws update, and five delegates each made a case for going for the maximum and/or to remove the cap when collecting parkland funds. Council passed the staff approved slate of recommendations, plus a motion to look at removing caps as part of the upcoming Park Plan. Another motion to have staff explore the creation of a mechanism that would require community benefit charges to be spent where they’re collected also passed.

Last, but not least, the 2023 Council and Committee Meeting Schedule approval. A couple of delegates implored council to keep the meeting times as they are now, which was more or less the motion that came forward with the exception of approving the new meeting day of Tuesday. Council wasn’t even sure that they wanted to make that small change, which re-opened the debate about public engagement and how the proposed changes came from the clerks without any advanced public feedback or reaction.

Ironically, the debate had to pause in order for council to pass a motion to suspend the procedural bylaw and go past midnight. After a bit more debate, council passed the new 2023 calendar with Tuesday meeting dates and the same start times as now, plus an additional motion to have the clerks office do a round of community engagement about other changes to the calendar for 2024.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

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