Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Word on Lafarge is Still, “Shhhhhh.”

A small, but highly informed group of local advocates gathered at the Guelph Bible Chapel last Thursday for a meeting of the Howitt Park Neighbourhood Residents' Association. The purpose of the meeting was to let the group’s membership know that they’re still in mediation with the City, Armel and Silvercreek Development, and that they still can’t tell them anything substantive about the fate of the triangular patch of brownfield bordered between the Hanlon, Paisley Road and Waterloo Street. Still with an Ontario Municipal Board Hearing slated for early January, the executive felt they had to say something to the membership, said HPNGA exec member Ron Foley.

To recap, here’s how we got to this point. For years now, there’s been a question about what can be done with the track of land known affectionately as “the Lafarge site” for the cement factory that once stood on that spot. The factory was closed in the mid-90s and subsequently torn down, since that time the land’s been used for biking, jogging, dog-walking and numerous other functions by neighbourhood residents. Recently Armel and 6&7 Developments, the peeps behind the Wal-Mart on Woodlawn, wanted to build a 400,000 square foot retail park on the land. There was some disagreement on that point.

On June 3rd at a city council meeting, the city unanimously denied the application to rezone the area, which would have paved (pun intended) the way for the beginning of construction on shopping centre. With council’s disproval, it seemed to be full-steam ahead to the OMB, a process that’s always costly and would be nearly repetitive after the Residents for Sustainability’s decade long fight against Wal-Mart. But in the days following, Silvercreek Developments, the City and HPNRA hammered out a “wish list,” a detailed account of what each group would like to see. The next step was mediation, a process that’s moved forward in good faith since late-September and continued through to last Friday, December 12.

While mediation is taking place, a media blackout’s been in affect, so news as to how the talks have been progressing, whether that news is good or bad, has been unavailable. Foley says that members should know by this week what the outcome of the last two months of negotiations have been and more importantly, whether its onward and upward to the OMB hearing on January 12. In the meantime, HPNRA felt they owed their members something, and despite the difficulty in getting people out to a community meeting in the midst of the Christmas rush, they decided to bring the update, such as it was, to the group.

On the books for HPNRA now is the recruitment of new members and fundraising. The current roster of 107 was joined by some new inductees at the meeting, but the neighbourhood group is reaching out to include members from the entire city to join them in the fight against the proposed development. As for fundraising, the costs the group is currently incurring is the retaining of a lawyer from the firm Smith/Valeriote and a couple of urban planners from the Davidson Group. If the mediation fails and the OMB hearing proceeds, both these costs will increase because, according to Foley, the OMB will take you more seriously with the infrastructure backing you up. Only one thing is for certain though, and it has to do with the most controversial part of the development: the underpass connecting the south and north sides of Silvercreek Parkway. The money for the underpass is listed D.C., or “Development Charge” in November’s draft of the 2009 budget. Going along with this is pre-existing concerns in the area over traffic and the desire for calming measures to be implemented.

Undoubtedly, there will have been developments since the time I wrote this piece and when this issue of Echo was published. For any updates that may have broke, head over to the old blog at for all the details.

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