Thursday, April 2, 2009

Emotions Stirred at Community Meeting

It was billed as a discussion and a dialogue, and sometimes that was the case. The Guelph Civic League hosted a town hall-style event last Thursday in Norfolk United Church, where members of the community were invited to hear from all sides about the issues involving the development of the Hanlon Creek Business Park. It was a packed house, as evident by the fact that more and more chairs had to be brought out to accommodate the masses. Clearly this issue has struck a chord in the public, and though the atmosphere was mostly collegial, there was something else there under the surface.

The panel was made up of Judy Martin (Sierra Club Canada and Guelph Urban Forest Friends), James Gordon (Wellington Water Watchers), Matt Soltys (Land Is More Important than Sprawl), Councillor Lise Burcher (Chair of Community Design and Environmental Services Committee, City of Guelph), Peter Cartwright (General Manager of Economic Development and Tourism, City of Guelph) and Lloyd Longfield (Guelph Chamber of Commerce). The panel was kind of split up along Crossfire lines. Everybody had five minutes to open with their point of view, comment on they’re position or their organization’s position and maybe wrestle with a Power Point presentation.

During the Q&A portion was where the civility of the evening suffered the biggest threat of fracturing. Cartwright, and to a certain extent Longfield, took the brunt of the questioners’ tone. Many seemed to suggest some sort of conspiracy theory on the part of the city to get the HCBP done as quickly and quietly as possible. A third year zoology student from the University of Guelph accused Cartwright and of his office of denying her the chance to study the Jefferson Salamander in the HCBP site, and that he’s been ignoring her phone calls and e-mails. Cartwright responded that he’s done no such thing and the reason she was denied access to the site was for a liability issue. Panellist Gordon riffed on this statement later when he said that he didn’t realize he was a liability issue when he’s gone there to walk the grounds.

But of more universal concern was a lack of information about the current plan, or the fact that this plan is being pushed ahead in spite of the fact that there are currently no tenants lined up, or just generally the prevailing economic conditions. Also mentioned was the prevalence of brownfields and the increasing number of vacant industrial areas in the city limits. The question was why do we need to lose more greenspace because of all these factors, to which Cartwright said that the point was to have a “good product mix” for potential businesses in the city.

As the meeting wrapped, it seemed that the civil feeling of the room was sort of encountering a rough patch. Obviously, with everyone piling on the city staff, things seemed to be a little one-sided. Burcher was the last one to speak during the one-minute wrap-up, and she got a “Shame” and a “How about you listen?” in response to a couple of her comments. Clearly, many of the people at the meeting were of one mind on the issue of this development, if not development generally. While some agreed that development, to a degree, was necessary, others were emphatic in their belief that any amount of development on the HCBP site is too much. This debate is far from over.

In memoriam…

By the time this hits newsstands, the Family Thrift Store will be no more. Despite the protests and the lamentations and the media attention, Ray Mitchell’s mecca of all things practical and curious shuttered its storefront after a week long celebration affectionately called “Thrift Stock.” Bands like Evan and the Sad Clowns, The Magic, The D'Urbervilles, Tacoma Hellfarm Tragedy, The Saltlick Kids, Richard Laviolette and His Hollow Hooves, The Neutron Stars, and The Burning Hell all played sets during the seven night celebration. Family Thrift Store: you will be missed.

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