This Week at Council: Economic Development and OR Lands Boundary Approved

After a week off for March Break, council returned for a busy work week that saw a major piece of a major heritage project completed, and some new work on the local economic development and tourism picture. But along with the regular order of business, there was some irregular order as council met at 10 am on Wednesday as a new measure of inclusion for the Muslim members of our community this Ramadan. Shall we recap…

Planning Meeting of City Council – March 21

After a week off due to March Break, council reconvened for the monthly planning meeting, and it turned out to be relatively uncontroversial given the stakes. The first of two items was the approval of the new seniors’ residence at 1408 Gordon Street and 33-41 Arkell Road, and though the project is fairly straightforward, there were a few follow-up questions from the Ward 6 councillors, in whose ward this being built.

Ken Yee Chew asked about planned upgrades to Gordon Street, and how they might align with this project, which, he noted, is geared to seniors who will predominately be transit users and pedestrians. For the record, Gordon Street improvements will likely begin in 2025 and take between a year and a year-and-a-half to complete. The guidelines for Guelph’s plan to create complete streets will comeback sometime later this year, but Transportation Planning Manager Jennifer Juste warned that between the demands of vehicles, transit and cycling, there are some unique challenges on Gordon to make it a complete street.

Council unanimously approved the project and then dived into the big issue of the night: the approval of phase one of the Heritage Conservation District for the Ontario Reformatory Lands.

Senior Heritage Planner Stephen Robinson, and Joel Konrad, the Cultural Heritage Lead from WSP Consulting, took council through the creation of phase one step-by-step and how they came up with the boundary for the HCD. They also laid out how the HCD will interface with the already existing Guelph Innovation District Secondary plan for the site; the HCD will protect the past while the GID Plan will guide the future.

Konrad also made the point that when looking at all six of the character areas that make up the HCD, public feedback always ranked 81 per cent or more in favour of protecting those assets. When it was time for delegates that trend of near universal support continued with all three delegates in agreement that the phase one report was a strong start for the HCD process, and that council should heartily approve it. One delegate made the point that given the “mercurial” nature of the Ontario government, the process should move “expeditiously”.

In one specific note of concern, John Fisher, president of the Guelph Hiking Trail Club, said that he was worried about the fate of the old wooden trestle bridge, especially after a March 2 report in Guelph Today that said Infrastructure Ontario was moving to demolish the structure.

Fisher explained that the GHTC had been working with Infrastructure Ontario to evaluate the bridge for the last few years, but they recently broke off contact. There’s real cultural value in that bridge that should be preserved, Fisher argued, because it’s only one of three wooden trestle bridges in the Grand River Watershed, and it’s already been promoted as a key feature for future connectivity on the property.

Looking at ways to protect the bridge was the point of a special additional motion brought by Councillor Cathy Downer to direct staff to continue discussions with Infrastructure Ontario in regard to the bridge and then bring a report back to council with those results. That motion was passed unanimously.

In terms of the main motion, council was interested in the potential impacts of construction work along York Road on the OR Lands since some of those amenities are pretty close to the roadway. Staff is already thinking ahead and working with Infrastructure Ontario about how best to protect those assets. There were also some questions about doing trail work on the property, protecting the old quarry, and the timeline for phase 2.

On that last point, Mayor Cam Guthrie himself noted the pressures from the Province, and given the rather widespread desire on the part of the community to protect the OR Lands, he asked if there was a way to speed the process up. Alas, Konrad said no because the policies will need to be tested to make sure they’re iron clad and without any loopholes that can be exploited after the fact. So having said that, look for phase 2 to come back council sometime in late 2024 or early 2025.

The recommendations, including the proposed boundaries, were passed unanimously with Guthrie encouraging everyone in Guelph to get out and see the OR Lands for themselves.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Planning Meeting of City Council – March 22

The subject of this workshop was “Economic Development and Tourism Unpacked – A Council Workshop”, but first, why was this meeting, and all council meetings for the next month, being held at 10 am? Well, it’s due to the observance of Ramadan. Staff suggested the move last year as a way to encourage participation by observant Muslims who fast all day during the month and break it at sundown.

As for the workshop, economic development staff lead council through a comprehensive presentation about the current business environment in Guelph, the challenges facing businesses big and small, and how City Hall intersects with local business leaders and entrepreneurs. They looked at the mix of industries that are coming to Guelph, current conditions for moving people and goods around town, and how a midsize city like Guelph attracts tourism.

And since tourism can’t be just tourism, it was noted in the presentation that tourism can also be talent attraction. Whether its someone visiting friends or family in the city, someone here on business, or someone coming to visit the University of Guelph with their kid, they may be a perspective future Guelphite if conditions are right.

Another focus of the workshop was Guelph’s potentiality as a “goods movement hub”, which is aided by the fact that Guelph owns its own railway. Guelph is only one of a couple of municipalities in Ontario that has this kind of amenity, which is attractive for companies looking to move a lot of freight, and attractive to anyone that wants to spare the air because one rail car takes four long-haul trucks off the road. Look to a future workshop on April 26 to get more into transportation concerns and then there’s the GJR annual general meeting on June 14.

Staff also touched on economic recovery downtown after a relatively stagnant period in the 90s and early 2000s, and then they announced that a new “Guelph” sign that will be bigger and illuminated will be installed soon in Market Square following the success of that temporary “Guelph” sign that was in the square during the pandemic.

One of the conclusions of the workshop was to point out how economic development is also connected to the demand for affordable housing. If people can find somewhere else that’s affordable and then commute to Guelph, they will do that, or find a new job in that affordable community. It also hurts the university talent pipeline because if young people can’t find an affordable place to live, they won’t stay either.

When council finally got a turn to ask questions, they focused on accessibility, the lack of regional transit options, and equity in terms of socio-economic conditions and the promotion of areas around the city. Staff were also asked about whether businesses in Guelph might feel like the City’s carrying its own weight and whether the relationships between the City and economic development offices at higher levels of government are as good as they could be.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

The next meeting of city council is the regular meeting on Tuesday March 28 at 10 am. You can see the Politico preview here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s