This Week at Council: New Tower Downtown and the Integrity Commissioner

The first planning meeting of the year was a big one, and size did matter. Council discussed the merits and demerits of a redevelopment that could see a 23-storey mixed-use residential building constructed at the corner of Wellington and Wyndham, but a decision on that will come later. In the meantime, the Integrity Commissioner came to town to give council the lowdown on how to avoid conflicts of interest.

Planning Meeting of City Council – February 14

City council spent Valentine’s Day considering the intricacies of a new tower at a busy downtown intersection. The project is from Fusion Homes and it proposes a 23-storey mixed-use building at the corner of Wellington and Wyndham with 250 residential units, three commercial/residential units and 714 square metres of retail commercial space.

Predictably, there were a number of concerns, and the site planner tried to address them in advanced. Knowing that others may be concerned about having an above ground parking structure in the pedestal of the building, Hugh Handy explained that the site is on top of a water table so going underground is a non-starter. Fusion has also been in touch with the Grand River Conservation Authority about how the floodplain nearly goes right up to the front door of the building.

Council had numerous questions for Handy and Fusion Homes VP Ryan Scott, who was also on-hand, beginning with affordability. Although there was some talk about not knowing yet how much the building will cost, which might affect the cost per unit when the condos are sold, Scott conceded that these units will likely go on sale at full market value.

There were also questions about parking, obviously, including some pointed concerns about how there is less than one space for every unit in the building. Handy later confirmed that the spaces will be unbundled from the units, and will go to those who request one. There were also further questions about building underground parking, and how many storeys would be lost if the developer increased parking to give each units it’s own space. That answer is two storeys.

Council also probed ideas about how this project could set a tone as a gateway building to downtown, plus more concerns about climate change impacts on flooding, and how the height will compare to other tall buildings in the new Guelph skyline.

The other five delegates followed up with some of the concerns that you might expect for a project like this: too much traffic, too much height, not enough parking, not enough affordability, and a challenge in matching the character of the area. One delegate brought up the interesting point that the development might create a choke point on that corner with delivery trucks stopping at the front entrance on the Wellington facing side. Councillor Leanne Caron suggested later that the project should consider a secondary entrance specifically for deliveries and service vehicles.

In terms of other notes from council there were concerns about the massing of the building, the limited setbacks, the parking situation, the assurances about trees and landscaping along the road, and yes, the utter lack of affordable units being offered. Councillor Dan Gibson warned that council may be out of bounds by flirting with the idea of twisting developer arms to include affordability while the city is barely keeping up with growth and considering that it takes years to build up a secondary market.

Ultimately, council unanimously voted to receive the application, but then there was one more unexpected bit of controversy.

When it came time to pass the bylaws, Councillor Caron asked that 5.2 and 5.3 be voted on separately. Why? Because these two bylaws ratified the decision of the Ontario Land Tribunal to allow the construction of the new Skydev tower on Fountain Street. Caron wanted the chance to refuse the affirmation when this decision imposed on the City by the OLT, and because it overrides council original vote to refuse the project.

That’s when Councillor Rodrigo Goller’s curiosity was piqued: What would happen if council didn’t approve the decision? Planning GM Krista Walkey said that the answer to that question would likely require an in-camera legal opinion, which made Goller propose the possibility of deferring a decision on those two bylaws.

Mayor Cam Guthrie cut in saying that this line of thinking could result in a major legal issue for City, and it would all be over what’s essentially an administrative formality. “We did our job as a council when we said now and a higher authority overruled that,” he said. “There’s nothing more that can be done here.” Ultimate, the two bylaws passed 10-2 with Caron joined by Councillor Carly Klassen in opposition. The rest of the bylaws were passed, as usual, unanimously.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Workshop Meeting of City Council – February 15

John Mascarin, the City of Guelph’s Integrity Commissioner, came to town to offer council some general direction about the Code of Conduct and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. There’s was nothing terribly controversial in either the presentation or in the questions asked by council, but if was a heck of a primer about the many facets of these issues from a very experienced municipal lawyer. It’s worth reading the recap or event watching the whole two-hour video.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

The next meeting of city council is the Strategic Planning Workshop Meeting on February 22 at 6 pm.

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