This Month at Council: Planning Decisions, Help for Straws, and “Strong Mayors” Rebuttal

As scheduled, Guelph City Council returned from summer break, but this September there were a couple of caveats. First, there are renovations underway in the council chambers so the two meetings were 100 per cent virtual once again. Also, these were the only two meetings before the October 24 election, and you might think that there wouldn’t be a lot of action but there were some very big decisions made indeed. Let’s look at them.

Planning Meeting of City Council – September 12

Council returned from summer break for the first of two – and only two – September meetings, and it also returned to an all-virtual format due to the ongoing upgrades to the council chamber. After passing two out of three of the consent agenda items, council heard from members of the public about the staff recommendation to refuse the proposed redevelopment of the old Days Inn site.

The representatives for the developer said that council could save the project if they wish, and all their issues could be sorted out in the site plan process. There was also a thinly veiled threat to take a no-vote to the Ontario Land Tribunal and how council will miss an opportunity to help solve the student housing crunch.

Council still had their doubts though. Councillor Cathy Downer pointed out that if the developer wanted to help with student housing, then they have a site ready to go at the old Royal Brock site at Stone and Gordon. Councillor Rodrigo Goller then got confirmation that the developer chose not to respond to any of staff’s concerns and instead wanted to go right to a decision. Multiple councillors also made the point that the developer didn’t go back to area residents for feedback until the residents came to them one week before the meeting.

Most of the seven delegates were supportive of the decision to decline the application, and before the vote Councillor Phil Allt made the point that it feels like the City of Guelph is taking on the brunt of the responsibility for housing University of Guelph students. Mayor Cam Guthrie was the only ‘yes’ vote saying that he didn’t buy the argument that the building was too big to be approved.

In happier news, council did approve the rezoning of 388 Arkell Rd, so the new high school on that corner will now proceed to site planning. Having said that, there were still some concerns about whether or not the new school will be able to accommodate the rapid rate of growth in the south end, and the lack of firm community energy plans presented in the meeting documents.

The last decision concerned the redevelopment of Hamilton Corners at Arkell and Gordon, and the one delegate raised concerns about traffic congestion on this portion of Gordon will all the new construction in the area. There were similar concerns expressed by some members of council who worried this was too much density, but Councillor Mark MacKinnon threw cold water on those concerns saying that council could not put the totality of area development on one application. The rezoning was approved, but four councillors voted against it.

Finally, there was the statutory meeting to turn the Kingdom Hall for the Jehovah’s Witnesses into a new chiropractic clinic, and the application was received quickly and smoothly.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Special Meeting of City Council – September 14

The last council meeting before the election covered a lot of ground with the approval of the CAO’s performance evaluation (done in-camera), staff recognitions, and the latest Blue Box Transition update.

Some in-depth debate began with the Single-Use Items Update, and while you might be thinking that we already sorted all this out, the Federal government has since announced their overriding single-use plastics policy which supersedes the one the City of Guelph established earlier this year.

Accessibility Advisory Committee chair Lorelei Root delegated on the Federal regulations, especially on the issue of plastic straws, for which there’s no exception in new rules from Ottawa.

Root brought five additional recommendations developed by the AAC and City staff to work within the Federal regulations including an education campaign to let people and businesses know that people with disabilities are allowed to use plastic straws, a potential subsidized straw purchasing program, a bylaw to make sure plastic bag alternatives have two reinforced handles, and a letter from the City to the Federal government to have more exemptions for plastic straws.

There were some concerns about the City providing subsidized products, which would be a first, and some uncertainty from staff about making promises about a subsidized straw distribution program until they collect more information. Still, council was universally supportive of the AAC’s additional actions, and they amended the recommendations to give staff until Q2 in 2023 to do their due diligence. The slate of recommendations was approved unanimously.

The last item of the night was also Councillor James Gordon’s last motion before his retirement, a similar motion to one passed in Kingsville, a formal objection to the passage of the Strong Mayors, Build Homes that was passed last week at Queen’s Park. Gordon said that he was concerned about the potential abuse of the strong mayor powers, not by the current mayor of course, but by a potentially future mayor with less scruples.

There was a lot of agreement with that premise from the six delegates, many of whom pointed out that there’s nothing in the legislation about how the bill would create more and cheaper homes. Mayoral candidate Danny Drew even popped up to say that that there were lots of ways to get more people housed than this undemocratic legislation.

Many councillors spoke in agreement with the sentiment of the delegates. When it was the current mayor’s turn to comment, Cam Guthrie said that Bill 3 would make it easier for a mayor to achieve their agenda, but the legislation is overreach because it assumes that a mayor has expertise in all areas of municipal governance in order to single-handedly set the direction for the city, which is pretty unreasonable.

At this point, the live feed from the City started getting glitchy, but the signal was steady enough to see that the motion was approved unanimously. The meeting wrapped with Guthrie wishing all his fellow incumbent candidates good luck on the campaign trail.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

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