Thursday, February 26, 2009

Downtown Troubles, Union Issues & Hanlon Headaches

Downtown redevelopment brings out crowd

Last Tuesday, it was a full house at a City Council meeting as councillors approved the new variation of the C2 plan to build the new main branch of the public library at a site at the north end of Wyndham. Good news for fans of a new library, but really bad news for the business owners and patrons of the current occupants of the four properties that’ll need to be demolished to make it happen. In fact many of the people in the gallery, along with six delegations that spoke at the meeting, were there to support Ray Mitchell and his business, the Family Thrift Store, which Mitchell has owned and operated for the last 16 years.

Despite the interest and the speakers, the motion passed by a vote of 10-2 with only Gloria Kovach and Christine Billings voting against. The vote seemed to come down to more a matter of supporting the new library that’s been in the works for years, rather than being against the businesses on that corner. In s city press release, the Mayor touted the vote as a measure to help rejuvenate the city’s core. "I am delighted that after years of work and study, we are moving forward with a design concept for our much-needed new central library. This design concept is the best choice for the library, and the best choice for the revitalization of the north end of our downtown," said Karen Farbridge.

The property between the Family Thrift Store and Cowboy Bar has been in limbo for the last few years as debate over library plans raged. One of the block’s biggest tenants, Wyndham Arts, moved to another location on Wyndham last fall, seemingly in anticipation of this decision. As for Mitchell and other business owners, the Guelph Downtown Business Association says that they’re going to assist displaced business owners and tenants, but that won’t do much for the artists and musicians renting studio space above the Family Thrift Store, or those living in about 30 affordable apartments in the same buildings. We’ll be covering this story as it develops.

Feel like a municipal strike?

It could be in the cards as the City of Guelph continues its collective agreement negotiations with Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) locals 241, 973 and 1946. The unions’ previous contracts expired on January 31. A provincial conciliator has been requested and appointed to provide mediation services to both parties in an attempt to reach a settlement. The next meeting is set to take place on March 2; a tentative strike deadline of Friday March 6 at 12:01 am has been arranged. CUPE locals 241, 973 and 1946 represent approximately 550 outside, inside and library employees.

Hanlon improvements mean headaches for some

The Ministry of Transportation of Ontario unveiled its latest plan for upgrading the Hanlon Expressway for the consideration of city council in March. So you can only image what happened next. If you said, somebody’s against the plan, you’d be either a lucky guesser or a long-time resident of Guelph. Yes, residents on Old Colony Trail are quite displeased with the plan which calls for a service road on the west side of the Expressway connecting Kortright/Downey to Stone Roads, to be built right behind their homes. The MTO says that the plans, if initiated, would not encroach on the properties on Old Colony Trail, with the exception of three at the south end near Woodland Glen Drive. Further, the MTO has pledged to work with affected residents on a one-to-one basis, but they are firm in their contention that this is the best of all options following public consultation and feedback last Fall.


The LIMITS (Land Is More Important Than Sprawl) press conference scheduled for last Thursday (February 19) was postponed until Friday because the group didn’t want to compete with U.S. President Barack Obama’s official visit to Canada. But due to the move, the conference was held a day too late for Echo’s deadline, so for details head to “Guelph Politico” at for more information.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

GO Trains, Cash and Attendance

Now we know, where to get on GO

We’ve talked a lot about the fact that GO Transit is coming back to Guelph in 2011. The biggest part of the plan to bring GO back was the question of where the new station’s going to be; it wasn’t always a forgone conclusion that it would be at the VIA station downtown, although that would be logical. In fact there were three sites in the running including the VIA station, as well as new stations on Watson Rd. or the Lafarge site. But GO Transit released an Environmental Assessment on the impact of expansion this week that seems to have settled the matter.

In the report, GO with its partners cited that the downtown station would be the best option based on environmental, cultural, technical and economic grounds. Both Lafarge and Watson Road were turned down due to the potential, deleterious impact on the local environment, and inadequate access to the site from the outside. But most importantly, the other two sites were too expensive to convert over the pre-existing VIA station. This is good news for the downtown and Ward 1 Councillor Bob Bell who told me in December that host the GO stop downtown is “the single biggest thing that will happen to downtown Guelph this decade.”

Interestingly, the plan had an addition previously unknown to city staff, a park-and-ride on Neeve St. at Farquhar. Richard Henry, the city’s manager of engineering said he was “a little surprised” to see the notation on GO Transit’s plan for the downtown stop, but added, “It is a potential site. It is not firmed up at this point.” According to Bob Chapman, the city’s manager of parking and traffic, the 210 spaces required for the initial rush can be handled by pre-existing parking downtown, plus the on-the-books development of a parking structure on Wilson St. What’s unclear though is how the creation of new parking on Neeve St. will be paid for. Chapman said that discussions about cost sharing could happen as soon as this April.

Social services cash fractures city and county

The social services and housing budget at a joint city and Wellington County social services committee meeting last week failed to pass after a tie vote. The vote fell along party lines as the three county councillors and Wellington County Warden Joanne Ross-Zuj voted in favour, while Mayor Karen Farbridge and three Guelph City Councillors voted against. The committee’s budget called for Guelph to pay $1.25 million more than the $23.5 million the city approved in its Dec. 15 budget vote. “We're sitting at a 21 per cent (caseload) increase over January of last year,” County treasurer Craig Dyer said, adding the previously expected 20 per cent increase through 2009 is not enough. Despite the failed vote, the social services budget will now go to county council on February 26 where it can be reopened and approved with the county's entire budget.

Roll Call released

The city recently posted attendance numbers for councillors at all meetings in 2008. There was a three-way tie for first in attendance at 47 out of 47 council meetings; Mayor Karen Farbridge and Councillors Vicki Beard and June Hofland were counted present for every meeting of the whole council. Reversely, Ward 5 Councillor Lise Burcher has the worst attendance at 37 meetings, followed by Ward 3’s Maggie Laidlaw at 38. Interestingly, Gloria Kovach tied for third best attendance even though she spent three months in the middle of the year running for higher office. You can find all the numbers on the Mercury’s 59 Carden St. blog.


The group Land Is More Important Than Sprawl will be holding a press conference today (Thursday) at 11 am at the (maybe) future site of the Hanlon Creek Business Park. For more information, jump over to my blog,, or come back to next week’s Guelph Beat.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lafarge, Valeriote and Heritage

Lafarge deal good, but not for all

A deal reached between the City, the Howitt Park Neighbourhood Residents' Association (HPNRA) and Silvercreek Developments was formally approved by council last Monday allowing development at the Lafarge site to proceed, and shorten the hearing process at the Ontario Municipal Board. Only Armel Corp, the fourth party involved in the mediation process, has refused to endorse the deal, which was reached after nearly half-a-year of negotiating. Mayor Karen Farbridge was pleased, saying that this will save taxpayers money at the OMB. “At the very least we’ll be able to reduce the length of the hearing, which will reduce the cost of the hearing to taxpayers,” Farbridge said Monday.

The key components of the deal include: A main street area for restaurants and other services along Silvercreek Parkway between Paisley and Wellington streets; a business park, residential community and park on the east side of Silvercreek Parkway; and retail/commercial uses on the west side of Silvercreek on lands bounded by the Hanlon Expressway. Farbridge said that she was grateful that an agreement could be reached given the fact that this brownfield is a “difficult site for development.” She added, “I think we’re really impressed with how hard everybody worked on it, and there was a lot of give on all sides,” she said. She also commended representatives of the Howitt Park Residents’ Association, whose members voted 61 to three in favour of the deal at the end of January, according to HPNRA president Ron Foley.

Valeriote to represent farmers and foodies

Our local MP, Frank Valeriote, has been appointed to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food in the House of Commons. This Committee focuses on bills, expenditures and activities of the organizations that are part of the Agriculture and Agri-Food portfolio, including issues such as farm income, food safety, pesticides and the wheat board, says a Valeriote office press release. The position’s a natural fit for Valeriote who advocated heavily during the campaign in favour of expanding the opportunities in investment of the Agriculture sector and how it relates to creating a greener economy. “It’s an exciting opportunity for me to focus on Canada’s agriculture industry and our nation’s food supply,” said Valeriote. “There’s no doubt that Canada’s farming industry is facing enormous challenges but is also presented with an exciting range of opportunity with constantly evolving advances and innovation in technology.”

City Hall on Doors Open tour

If you’ve been sitting around, waiting with bated breath to see the inside of the new City Administration Building (AKA: City Hall), fear not because you’ll get your chance on Saturday April 25. The building was announced last week as one of the stops on the eighth annual Doors Open Guelph Tour sponsored the Guelph Arts Council, Heritage Guelph and the city’s tourism office. This will be the first time that the new City Hall will be open to the public before its official grand opening which will hopefully be held in May once the exterior portion is complete. Currently, the interior is expected to be done in March for staff move-ins at the end of the month. The Doors Open event is considered a celebration of the city’s architectural heritage and was started in 2002 as part of Guelph’s 175 anniversary.

More Heritage to celebrate

Stone Road Mall is ready to welcome the pillars of local heritage with its annual Heritage Day celebrations. The main corridor of the mall will contain displays from such groups as Guelph Historical Society, Wellington County Historical Society, Heritage Guelph, Heritage Guelph/Eramosa, Architectural Conservancy – Guelph and Wellington, Guelph Public Library, Hammond Museum of Radio, Guelph Historical Railway Association, Locomotive 6167 Restoration Committee, Guelph Arts Council, Norfolk Street United Church Archives, St. George’s Church Archives, Wellington County Museum and Archives, and Guelph Museums. This year’s celebration is called Spotlight on Heritage, and the exhibits, which are all organized by Guelph Museums, will be on display from 9:30 am to 5 pm. And just so you know, about 30 years before it became known as “Family Day,” the third Tuesday of February was known in Canada as Heritage Day.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

City Hall Doings and No Radio Days

Marching on to a Move-in date

Sometime in mid-March; that’ll be the day. After months of catch-up work and years of delays, it seems that city workers will finally be able to move into their new digs in a finished civic administrations building just before the start of spring. This message was from Hans Loewig, Chief administrative Officer for the city, was post on the Ward 5 blog: “I’m pleased to be in touch with good news this morning about the completion of City Hall and our move-in schedule.

“Resulting from a thorough inventory of work that remained after Urbacon’s termination, the City’s general contractor estimates that City Hall will be substantially complete by the end of March 2009. Departmental move-ins are being scheduled to take place even earlier in mid-March.”

According to a report, about $2.4 million in work remained when Alberici Constructors Ltd. took over for old contractors Urbacon last fall. Further, it has cost the city another $500,000 to fix deficiencies apparently noticed by the architect but ignored as construction of the building struggled to proceed. Overall all though, this is good news for city staff, some of whom have been without permanent quarters since the completion deadline was missed, again, last November.


So with the new city hall seemingly on track, the attention of council now turns to the question of what’s to be done with the current city hall building. Now, the current and future-former city hall is a heritage building and an important piece of Ontario history, so you can’t just tear it down and build a Tim Hortons. When construction on the new city hall began many moons ago, it was the decision of the council at the time to turn the old building into a new municipal courthouse. It’s a possibility, but the Mayor says not so fast. “We have to understand the rationale of why that use was chosen for this building,” said Karen Farbridge.

Former councillor Cathy Downer chaired the committee that reached the decision to convert the current city hall into a courthouse post-move. Part of the rationale had to do with the fact that the city hall building was found to be an “ideal size and an ideal set-up inside” for a courthouse, according to provincial requirements for court space. Downer said that sticking to the plan and restoring city hall into a courthouse would mean restoring a lot of original features now hidden behind false ceilings, she said. It would be an opportunity to “bring back the lovely big rooms of the city hall.”

Currently court space is being leased on the second floor of Old Quebec Street, but nobody likes that idea as a permanent solution. Meanwhile, there’s been discussion about making city hall the site of the new library or arts centre. Considering the contract for the conversion was with the aforementioned Urbacon, it seems a proverbial can of worms has been opened up about the fate of what will soon be called the old city hall. Stay tuned.

No new radio for Guelph

Guelph listeners hoping for a little spice in their radio options had their hopes dashed last week when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said thanks, but no thanks, to three applications for new stations in the Royal City. Three groups: Blackburn Radio Inc., Frank Torres of Skywords/DAWG FM, and Guelph Broadcasting Corporation all filed applications last year to start a new FM station in the city. A fourth application for AM station CJOY, owned by Corus Entertainment, to move to the FM dial, was also up for consideration. But all applications were denied unfortunately. The CRTC said that in the current economy it just isn’t feasible for Guelph to support a new, local radio station.

"We're surprised that we would go through the entire process of the hearings, just to have the commission say they would issue no licences at all," said Frank Torres, president of Skywords/DAWG FM, he was surprised by the unanimous thumbs down. "From what I've seen so far, their decision is based on the economic downturn that has taken place subsequent to the initial application." John Weese of Blackburn Radio Inc. added, "We certainly trust our own behaviour and our own business ability to be able to go in there and make a go of it."