This Week at Council: Trees, Short-Term Rentals, and Rec Centre Back On

If you liked trees and tax policy, then this was the Committee of the Whole meeting for you! The packed agenda saw just about every service areas get some time in the spotlight from the internal audit plan, to potential new rules for short-term rentals, to a new plan to finally get the South End Community Centre built. The big item though, naturally, was the plan to increase the city’s tree canopy.

Committee of the Whole Meeting – March 7

It was a marathon committee meeting for March, and it probably had a little bit for everyone. If you like tax policy in particular, then this was an especially good meeting for you.

But first there was a marathon staff acknowledgement with special reference to David Elloway who is retiring as Guelph’s Fire Chief. Council gave staff some direction about matters of cyber security in closed session, and then received the clerks’ office report about last year’s municipal election without any further commentary.

Then committee ticked off the two tax related items, the 2023 Property Tax Policy and Revenue Budgeting Policy. Committee members asked some probing questions about the two presentations, but both were more or less received as they were presented and sent to the end of the month regular meeting for ratification. So were the updated Terms of Reference for the Transit Advisory Committee.

The first of the really big items was the One Canopy Tree Planting Strategy. Staff laid out all the work that has to be done in order to get the city’s tree canopy up to 40 per cent by 2070, including the planting of between 19,000 and 25,000 trees per year. This would mean spending about $3.6 million per year as opposed to the $687,000 we spend now, and that’s just the cost of the trees and the first couple of years of maintenance.

Three delegates came out to speak in favour of the plan including representatives of Guelph Urban Forest Friends and Trees for Guelph. Committee though spent a lot of time talking to Kya Mason-Wetherill, a recent grad from GCVI who wants to utilize local youths and community members for a program called “Roots to Rewards” that would co-ordinate volunteers, schools, local businesses and community groups to support the growth of the urban forest.

Committee explored what changes might be needed in the plan because of Bill 23. Much of the work was completed before that bill was passed, but the demands on growth, especially on privately-owned land, will be addressed in a future strategy focused on tree planting on non-public property. But can we even plant 25,000 trees in a year? Staff pointed out that the city planted about 16,000 trees last year, but noted that scaling up would require a little less dependence on volunteers to put trees in the ground.

Other topics addressed? Councillor Leanne Caron asked about incorporating tree planting into the plans for Guelph’s 200th birthday since the city began with the chopping down of a tree. Staff were also asked about the practicalities of starting our own nursery and killing two birds with one stone by planting some fruit trees.

After passing One Canopy Tree Planting Strategy recommendations unanimously, committee took a dinner break and then came back with the Business Licensing – Short-Term Rental Accommodations topic. In short, after much back and forth with stakeholders and the community, the policy will limit short-term rentals like AirBnBs to two properties, the one that you live in and maybe rent some portion of, and the one that you own expressly for the purpose of making a short-term rental.

While the vast majority of council thought that the proposed recommendation hit the right balance, Councillor Dan Gibson once again took on the role of contrarian by asking staff many different ways if the City puts a cap on owning any other types of businesses. Council colleagues made the point that short-term rental properties are zoned as residential, which makes them different from other types of businesses like hotels or convenience stores. Gibson said he might look at bringing an increase to the cap at the regular meeting on March 28.

Gibson ended up being the one councillor to vote against the recommendation.

After a brief Audit Committee session that was a primer for the Internal Audit plan coming in a couple of months, committee heard about the plan to finally get going on the South End Community Centre. Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise Services Chair, and Ward 6 Councillor, Dominique O’Rourke was absolutely giddy about the opportunity.

GM of Facilities and Energy Management Antti Vilkko and colleagues explained that the use of a construction management model has led to millions of dollars in savings that will bring the cost of the building down to a more comfortable $115.5 million. Ian Scott, Manager of Facility Design and Construction, explained that while supply chain pressures, labour shortages and inflation have cooled off, the overall cost of building the SECC is not going to get any better than this.

Committee asked some questions about reviewing rec services after the South End Centre is built, whether the majority DC funding is still viable after Bill 23, the parking demands of the site and some of the cosmetic changes. Mostly though, there were expressions of gratitude and happiness that the project is back on track. Staff will need about three months to incorporate changes before the project can go out for tender to trades later this year, and then there should be a groundbreaking in the fall. The centre is currently scheduled to open in 2026.

Committee approved the staff recommendations unanimously, bring March’s meeting to a close.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

The next meeting of city council is the planning meeting on Tuesday March 21 at 6:30 pm. You will be able to see the agenda on the City’s website later this afternoon.

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