Thursday, April 29, 2010

Guelph of Tomorrow and Commuter Challenge

Envisioning the Guelph of Tomorrow

For three nights last week, members of the Guelph community were invited to city hall to get a frightening glimpse of the year 2031. Well, it wasn’t so much “frightening” as it was daunting. Several large maps covered the walls of Meeting Room C in City Hall, while several slide cards were on display at the front of the room giving the reader a bullet point breakdown of the plan. On each table were several copies of the revised Official Plan and always nearby was a City of Guelph employee ready to decode an aspect for you educational pleasure.

So what’s in store for the future? Well, to begin with, the fine art of balancing various mandates on all three levels of government. Ontario’s “Places to Grow” legislation says that we’ve got to cram 50,000 more people into our fair city in the next 21 years, but we can’t grow past our set borders. So in short there’s going to be a lot of intensification. In fact, the Official Plan identifies several areas in the City where intensification will be intensified. But what does “intensification” mean? For starters increased residential/employment density since the City is aiming for 57 jobs for every 100 residents. It also means a mix of office, institutional and commercial space with an array services like park land, rec and cultural centres.

By now you’re wondering if you are in a potential intensification corridor. Well, if you live along York Road (between Watson and Victoria), Silvercreek (between Willow and Speedvale), Stone (between Hanlon and Gordon), Elmira (between Delhi and Stevenson) or Gordon (between Stone and Clairfields), you do. Also, look for Silvercreek Junction, the so-called Lafarge site, to move ahead with its redevelopment plan, which includes commercial mixed, high density residential and significant natural areas.

Of course, in the age of great environmental sensitivity, great strains have been made to make the new plan more green conscience. From new bike lanes and trails to methods to decrease light and noise pollution to maximizing energy conservation efforts, the new Official plan pulls out all the stops so far as satisfying those with a slant towards Mother Earth. As well, efforts will be made to preserve the City’s architectural heritage while ensuring that new buildings blend well with the existing ones. Also, an official plan specific to downtown will be drawn up later.

If any of this has got you interested in seeing the official plan for yourself, you can at

We accept your Challenge!

I wasn’t sure who challenged us and why, but arrived in my inbox was notice that the gauntlet was thrown down for Guelph to save mass quantities of energy this summer, and it has been picked up. Between now and August 11, the City of Guelph is asking residents to take the Power Pledge and reduce energy use as part of Ontario’s Community Conservation Challenge, said the city press release. “Guelph has participated in this Challenge since the first anniversary of the blackout in August 2003," says Mayor Karen Farbridge. "Guelph is committed to energy conservation and fighting climate change as part of our Community Energy Initiative. The Community Conservation Challenge reminds each of us that we have a role to play in building a sustainable energy future for Guelph."

The Community Conservation Challenge is province-wide. Challenge winners earn “green” awards and the chance to be named Ontario’s most conservation-conscious communities. Last year’s Community Challenge winners were Sioux Lookout for most participation and Kingston for total megawatt reduction. As for who’s putting this on, the Community Challenge is a collaboration of the Ontario Power Authority, the Independent Electricity System Operator, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the Electricity Distributors Association and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and their associated members, according to the same release. Learn more at

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Washroom Case, Union Cash, and Election Update

Answers Soon in Washroom Death

Last week, the city released an unofficial update on the investigation into an accident on city property in 2009. Last spring, Isabel Warren, a Rockwood high school student, died when a wall collapsed in a washroom at Southend Community Park. The Mercury had an update last Monday, and long story short, the province is currently wrapping up their investigation and it should be ready to release its findings in a month. The city has completed its own, independent investigation but they can't release details until after the province releases their findings.

“The field work is completely over. Now we’re reviewing the information and determining whether to take any action,” Ministry spokesperson Bruce Skeaff said.

“The investigation is still underway with the province, and until that has been finalized we can’t pre-empt the province. They still have the responsibility for the investigation,” said City of Guelph Chief Administrative Officer Hans Loewig. “We can’t release anything until the province has fulfilled their responsibilities and they direct us on it.”

More news as it happens.

Union Says They Could Have Saved Cash

The president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1189 says that he and his union showed the city several ways to save more than $1.3 million, and thus would have avoided so-called “Karen Days” this summer. After passing a budget that had to allow for five unpaid days off for city staff, and being unable to reach an agreement to spread those days out, the city mandated five days this summer where city services would be closed including no bus service every Sunday in August.

But according to Local 1189 president Gary Daters, his union had the key to keeping buses running on Sunday. Among the transit union’s cost-saving proposals was the elimination of a proposed base-to-bus radio system, the elimination of a proposed call centre, downgrading the Smart Card Study, the elimination of the purchase of a supervisor’s mobility van, a restructured schedule and training of staff, and the delay of purchasing of Nova Buses. The total savings would have come out to $1,352,000. “The city said it couldn’t do anything because those were fixed costs in the capital budget, but my feeling was they pretty much had their minds made up (on unpaid days off),” said Daters in an article in the Mercury.

But according to Mark Aromosi, the city’s director of human resources, the suggestions weren’t helpful because they pertained to the capital budget, which is separate from the operating budget, which is where the savings would have had to come from. “You simply can’t transfer those savings. There’s no ability to transfer them,” Amorosi said.

Election 2010 Update

Several new names were added to fall ballot last week, including a number of familiar names. Ward 6 Councillor Karl Wettstein will be pursuing re-election this fall, and if he wins, the 2010-2014 term will be Wettstein's third on city council. He was elected in 2000, and then lost in 2003 before being elected again in 2006.

The second new name on the ballot is Allan Boynton who is running for Ward 1 councillor. This is Boynton's first election in Guelph it seems, so I don't have too much about him. And try googling "Allan Boynton" and you get a myriad of different Allan Boyntons in the area, so I'm not sure what to say about him.

Then, in the mayor’s race, there’s David Birtwistle, and if he sounds familiar it's with good cause. Birtwistle was a councillor for Ward 4 serving two terms in 2000 and 2003 winning 26 and 28 per cent of the vote, respectively. He was defeated in the 2006 election after losing his seat to Mike Salisbury and garnering a mere 16 per cent at the polls. But it appears his ambitions have broadened since 2006, and what could now make the race for mayor even more interesting is if Cam Guthrie enters, as he also ran against Birtwistle in Ward 4 in 2006.

If you're a potential candidate for city council, we (and by 'we' I mean 'I') would love to hear from you. E-mail to break news of your candidacy.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mayor's Awards, Dead Bodies and Curry Killed

Want to see a dead body?

So I was minding my own business last week, stopping by Ed Video Media Arts Centre to run an errand when I ran into the Guelph Mercury’s Scott Tracey in the lobby of 40 Baker Street. He was trying to snap a picture of some city workers doing road work on Baker, filling a sinkhole at the side of the road. Or so it seemed. Because what began as a simple picture of road work turned into one of those stories.

The worker we talked to was quite frank about what brought him there. The sinkhole in question could have been from a body. Not a fresh body, mind you, but one that was buried there before the existence of Baker Street at the turn of the 20th century. There was no confirmation at press time, that the woe of the Baker Street sinkhole is, in fact, the body of some poor soul left behind when the occupants of the former cemetery behind Knox on Quebec St were moved to Woodlawn, but we’re left to wonder. More news as it develops.

Deadline for Mayor’s Award Noms Soon

Know somebody that deserves an award of such prominence it’s named in honour of the highest political office in our land? Well, your opportunity to shower them in adulation is soon closing. The deadline to nominate someone for the 2010 Mayor’s Awards is Friday April 23. The criterion for nomination is simple: making a difference in our city. This can mean any number of positive actions, including volunteering, fundraising, coaching, or showing leadership in our community. Know someone that fits that bill? Send an e-mail with a letter describing your nominee’s contributions, along with contact information for yourself and your nominee, to Winners will be announced at the Guelph Awards of Excellence gala on June 24.

Road construction kills Curry

If you’re a fan of the downtown institution Curry in a Hurry, then tomorrow is your last chance to partake its delicious curry goodness. The restaurant will be closing on Friday April 16 because, you guessed it sports fans, revenue is down after last summer’s construction along Norfolk. Between road repairs being conducted by the city and Bell Canada fibre optic upgrades that necessitated further road construction, Curry in a Hurry spent about eight months last year being difficult to access for customers. “I had people call and then wouldn’t pick up their order because they couldn’t find their way into the restaurant,” said owner Sarah Dewbury. “Unfortunately, we often have to dig when we do work of this nature,” Bell Canada spokesperson Julie Smithers said in a Mercury article. “We always look to minimize any impact on local businesses.” Mission: failed. Dewbury says that there’s a possibility that she may continue to be a distributor of fine curry dishes as a delivery-based business, but she’s still unsure. RIP: Curry in a Hurry, 1997-2010

Money for DT Businesses to improve externals

Ten downtown business owners are going to get a $10,000 bonus from the city to improve their external appearance of their buildings downtown, so long as they kick in a matching $10,000 for the enterprise. The decision was approved by council last week, and included another $25,000 for up to five feasibility studies to estimate how much it might cost to restore other buildings in the core to their former glory. The plan is similar to one enacted in Kitchener in an effort to revitalize that city’s downtown area. However, not all were impressed with the plan. "I think the downtown has more problems than a lack of awnings," said Coun. Christine Billings. She was one of three councillors to vote against the plan. Results of the projects are expected to be delivered to council by year’s end.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Transit Plans and Lost Summer

Consulting group reveals bold plan for Transit

Guelph’s Transit Growth Strategy and Plan was addressed in two sessions last week at the Evergreen Seniors Centre and City Hall, respectively. After a public meeting last December, over 1,100 completed written surveys, 6,000 online surveys and interviews with members of council and transit stakeholders, the crew of Dillon Consulting unveiled their master plan, which was, to say the least, ambitious.

I had the opportunity to be a proverbial third wheel as Ward 3 Councillor June Hofland was taken through the proposed changes by Richard Puccini, a transportation consultant with Dillon. The plan was broken up into three areas: improvements to mobility service, changes to conventional bus service and the assessment of Higher Order Transit for the city (ie: light rail, use of Guelph Junction Rail lines and intercity transit). The overall vision of the project, to summarize, is to make public transit the preferred mode of transportation for everyone in the City of Guelph be they resident, worker or visitor.

First up were improvements to the city’s mobility service and according to the survey, ridership on Guelph’s mobility buses hasn’t increased in the last few years. The thing is though, it will. With an aging population, the city will need to expand past one mobility bus running four hours a day. Instead Puccini and his fellow consultants recommend getting a second bus and a north and south route. Further, the consultants talked about targeting those routes to the amenities and locations that seniors frequent. It’s hoped that within two years, ridership will expand by 25 per cent and then expand to 60 per cent in five years.

Conventional service is where things really get interesting. First, it was noted in the surveys that despite an overall excellent record of service, Transit is still slipping so far as areas being underserviced or dealing with the fact that sometimes bus demand is either overwhelming or unable to meet demand. Puccini explained that a grid system was out of the question because the nature of the layout of Guelph streets makes it impractical. Instead, the Dillon team is recommending a complete teardown of the current routes and make the straight shot of Gordon, Norfolk and Woolwich the primary transit corridor of the city. They also suggest adjusting route lengths to make runs 15 minutes during peak and 30 minutes off peak.

Overall though, Puccini said Guelph’s ahead of many southern Ontario municipalities with 6.1 per cent of the city population taking the bus as their primary form of transportation. Still 65 per cent are single person auto-centric and the city will need to take steps to discourage that while also encouraging a dynamic, multifaceted approach to transportation that includes biking, walking and carpooling.

To get more information about the Transportation strategy go to

5 Lost Days of Summer

Despite lengthy negotiations between the City and the workers’ unions in an effort to co-ordinate the five unpaid days for city workers approved in this year’s budget, it seems that Guelph services will effectively be shutdown five days this summer. Facility closures and service disruptions will be in effect Monday June 21; Friday July 9; Thursday July 22; Wednesday August 11; and Tuesday August 24. However, this doesn’t include transit, which will have to take its lumps in the month of August during which time Sunday service will be cancelled. That’s right, I hope none of you out there take the bus in order to get to church, work, or other points of interest on a Sunday, because you’re going to be S.O.L. in August.

“While this has been a difficult decision and will undoubtedly be unwelcome news for residents, the measures are necessary to mitigate further property tax increases,” said Guelph’s Chief Administrative Officer Hans Loewig in a press release. “We thank all of the parties for their willingness to discuss ways to avoid service disruptions, which demonstrates a collective commitment to public service.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Skateboarding, Construction & Campaigning

Skater Boys and Girls Wanted

Do you like skateboarding? Sure, we all do. Even my younger sister with the law degree from Dalhousie is a reformed (reforming) skater punk. Anyway, it’s to you the City’s speaking now. A new working group is being assembled to tackle the question over where the skate park currently found in Deerpath Park should be relocated to. Last fall, council approved the $200,000 needed to move the park after residents complained that the noise exceeded the applicable Ministry of Environment noise guideline limit at nearby homes. (Never mind the notion that, perhaps, having young people outside doing physical activity is better than having them indoors playing on an electric box given modern obesity rates in children, but I digress.)

What can you do? Simple, “The group will have approximately six evening meetings over the next year to develop a recommendation to City Council,” says the post on the City’s website. “The working group will have about 10 members including residents from across the city, representatives from the Guelph Youth Council and Neighbourhood Coalition, facility users and City staff.” Don’t have time to contribute to a working group but still want your say? No worries, the group will be looking for public input. Keep your eyes open for such opportunities in the weeks and months to come. If you are interested in joining the working group however, let yourself be known by providing your name, address, contact information and reason for your interest to Helen White, Parks Planner with the Community Design and Development Services department by Monday, April 12. White can be reached by phone at 519-837-5616 x 2298 or by e-mail at

It begins…

Like the warmer weather, don’t you? Well you know what that means… That’s right gang, with winter behind us it’s time for Canada’s other season, construction, to begin. "This is the start of an unprecedented construction season as we work to complete about five years of work in just one year in order to take advantage of federal and provincial infrastructure funding," says Guelph City Engineer, Rick Henry in a press release. "There are going to be inconveniences, but the City plans to be proactive in communicating with residents and businesses so that they can be prepared." It’s all part of the “Guelph: Remastered” plan that was put forward by the City earlier this year, which is a communications and publicity campaign with the dual purpose of keeping residents informed of construction and helping them cope with it through various promotions. In case you haven’t already noticed, Suffolk St. is the first contestant in this round of Guelph: Remasted. Starting tomorrow, April 2, Suffolk St will be closed to traffic between Norfolk St and Woolwich St.

Campaign Watch 2010

Can’t speak for the rest of you, but I’m a little antsy to get this municipal election cycle up and going. So in the hopes that sunnier and warmer weather may melt political aspirations of future Guelph Politicos (Hey, I have a blog by that name which can be found at http//, I offer this update of the current candidate slate as of my Echo press time. Now you probably already know that Mayor Karen Farbridge has thrown her hat into the ring for re-election as have Ward 2’s Vicki Beard and Ward 3’s June Hofland. Ward 1, meanwhile, has two candidates in the person of Linda Murphy and Sean Farrelly. As for Ward 1’s current councillors, sharp readers will recall me mentioning Kathleen Farrelly (mother of Sean) in last week’s column and her intention to retire from council. Meanwhile, Bob Bell’s future in the horseshoe is, as of yet, unknown. Of course, updates, as always, can be found at The Politico. And if you’re planning to declare your candidacy, give me a heads up at adamadonaldson[at]gmail[dot]com