Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Tale of Two Projects

The new year brought with it some rather immediate concerns about one proposed construction project and the status of a major tourist attraction and possible city intervention. This week’s Guelph Beat will examine two very different matters that have come to the public’s attention these last few weeks.

Discord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Given how much time, effort, and energy is expended in this City about student housing and the assortment of disruptions this creates, one might think that the idea of creating a place to get 1,500 of them in one spot would be received with a degree anticipation. Not so for Abode Varsity Living of Mississauga and the revelation of their plan to demolish the Best Western (formally the Ramada) at the corner of Gordon and Stone Road, and turn it into two high rise apartment towers.

This proposed project (emphasis on ‘proposed’) from Abode will see a 16-storey tower and a 14-storey tower built on the grounds of the Best Western containing 341 four or five bedroom units that will house 1,500 students. This would require the land to be rezoned to allow for two giant (by Guelph standards) towers to be built there, not to mention the landscaping and traffic concerns that would come with the construction of such a large scale project. Naturally, response has been fierce.

Several neighbourhood groups in the area have been vocal in their protest and have begun organizing against the (again) proposed project. Increased traffic, scope and size of the towers, and the canonization of the area as a “student ghetto” are the most persistent reasons why this project won’t move forward without a fight.

Many people are blaming the University of Guelph and saying that the project is getting rubber stamped because the U of G is behind it, but both assertions are facetious. The university has nothing to do with the development, and has, in the past, noted that such a development is unnecessary given current student needs. On the approval end, no decision about the project’s approval has been made yet, and in fact, this past Monday’s council meeting is the first official hearing of the proposal before the horseshoe. “There’s still a lot of work to be done,” on a project “of this size and complexity,” Ward 5 Councillor Lise Burcher told the Guelph Mercury.

Jumping the Tracks

But if people think there is a nefarious cabal at work trying to blot out the sun for people living south of the University – which is a genuine concern for one letter writer to a local paper who worried that the towers would block his view of the sunrise despite the fact that the towers are west of the street he lives on – then they’re already aware of the unbridled evil in City Hall that killed the local tourist train.

Destiny Tours and its owners John and Rita Carroll ran the Guelph Junction Express, which made train trips between Guelph and Campbellville along the old Guelph Junction Railway lines. I say ‘ran’ because it appears that the New Year’s Eve trip of the train was its last. After numerous letters and petitions to various city departments, supervisors and politicians, in which the Carroll’s requested for support of their business in the form of various infrastructure improvements, this Express train is one that they can’t afford anymore.

What were the requested improvements? Basically, the Carrolls were looking for a loading platform with wheelchair accessibility, access to local water and power and appropriate signage to direct passengers to the loading area. On the surface, this is all perfectly reasonable and probably wouldn’t have cost the city all that much, so what was the malfunction? Provincial Law. More specifically the Municipal Act which makes it illegal for a municipality (like the Guelph) to help out a private, for-profit business (like Destiny Tours).

Some have called B.S. on the City for such lame excuses, and for leaving the train gang out in the cold. They cite the City’s assistance to Skyline and the reconstruction of the Gummer Building, and Orangeville’s Credit Valley Explorer Tour Train as reasons why City Hall could have helped out. But again, we hit fallacy road as the Credit Valley train was started by the Town of Orangeville before they passed on management to a newly formed corporation that was created with that purpose. As for the Gummer Building, it is possible for the city to differ taxes or other fees on the basis of fostering development or protect historic buildings. Nothing new under the sun, as they say.

So that’s a lot of heat so early in the new year and in the dead of winter. One wonders where we’ll go from here.

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