Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ward 5: The “Sandwich” Effect

Nearing the completion of its cross-city tour, this week’s penultimate edition of “Better Know a Ward” brings us to Ward 5. The uniqueness of this particular area, according to its representatives Councillors Leanne Piper and Lise Burcher, is that Ward 5 is sandwiched between two different cultures: downtown and the south end. As well, there’s a “vibrancy that comes from having a high student population,” says Piper, as Ward 5 is home to the University of Guelph and numerous students, staff and faculty that have settled nearby. As well, the HQ of The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and the largest commercial zone in the city in and around Stone Road Mall dwell within Ward 5.

At the same time, Ward 5 hosts a very active community. Not only socially-conscious U of G students, but also several well established neighbourhood groups like the Hanlon Creek Neighbourhood Group and the Old University Neighbourhood Residents' Association. In fact, the OUNRA is where many city councillors, including former Ward 5 rep Cathy Downer and Burcher, got their political start. “They’re a really good training ground for citizen engagement,” says Burcher. “The good thing is that it was very much about community mobilization, and very much focused on engagement and bringing people to the table.”

As for the issues, Piper and Burcher face the usual things associated with a heavy student populated area, but not so much the usual development issues being discussed throughout the rest of the city. One on the duo’s radar though is the ongoing concern from the Guelph Limestone Inc (formally Dolime) property just adjacent to the Ward along Arkell Rd, east of Victoria St. S. “It has become an issue, not just in terms of noise, but blasting, migration, and water quality,” says Piper. “The city has taken a very strong position that the pit needs to be decommissioned to protect our surface water.”

“What we want to do is encourage Carson-Reid (the owner’s of the quarry) to get to the end use plan and stop the blasting and stop the excavation,” adds Burcher. “The really serious risk from a water quality perspective is that recently there was a geological survey conducted and the City of Guelph was told that they could see the top half of the aquifer, had actually been removed in one portion.”

City requests for operations to cease seem to have been ignored and the concern is that there might be contamination of the aquifer from surface water. The result is that the water would have to be treated at the cost of millions of dollars. Sadly, this is provincial jurisdiction and the city can’t seem to get the traction it needs from the Ministry of the Environment. But there are hopes that there’ll be a break on that soon with help from community pressure and groups like Wellington Water Watchers.

Another issue that generated some heat in Ward 5 early this year was the removal of older, dying trees in Royal City Park. “It had to be done in my opinion, however unfortunate that is,” said Piper. “It’s a very significant move on the city’s part to go from just managing trees on an ad hoc basis to doing a very comprehensive urban forestry master plan for the whole city,” adds Burcher. Although the removal of trees is sad, they say, it’s necessary in order to keep the city’s urban forests healthy. As well, they add, it’s part of the city’s new commitment to the health of these trees, which is now being only limited by budget restraints.

Having said that and considering re-election plans, both councillors affirm that they are interested in pursuing political life after this fall’s election. “Many of the initiatives that you begin in 2006, you can't see through in four years,” said Piper in response to being asked about re-election. “Two terms of council, I think, are a minimum in order to feel satisfied that you've made a difference and you've seen through your vision into action. So yes, I'm running again.”

“Absolutely, I plan on running again,” responded Burcher. “And having been there another term I have to say that several of the large initiatives we've talked about started two terms ago. But I think the exciting thing now is that there have been so many initiatives in the last two terms, I would venture that it's a 10, 12 year outcome for a lot of those larger things to even get to the starting stage.”

In any event, Burcher considers it important that every citizen be part of the process at all levels, and not just at the voting booth on Election Day. “I believe it’s critical that we engage citizens very intentionally and very effectively, early and often as it goes, to contribute to and be the creators of these plans moving forward. And I think effective citizen engagement really draws that community value. It’s not about doing it for people, but doing it with them.”

For “Better Know a Ward” segments past and present go to

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