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An open letter to Guelph's development community

This week's Market Squared has a specific message to those that need to hear the most
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Dear Guelph Developers:

I hope this letter finds you well. I know these are difficult times and that you’re busy businesspeople, but I hope we can talk for a second about politics and homebuilding and the politics of homebuilding.

You’ve probably heard of Bill 23, and you’ve probably heard that it drastically changes the planning game in your favour. Maybe you’re exciting about these changes, and maybe you’re confused, but you’re a big part of the conversation and I don’t feel like we really engage with you on issues of housing. Ironic, I know.

At this past Tuesday’s special city council meeting about Bill 23, only one delegate was there on behalf of a local developer, which was extremely enlightening.

Ryan Scott, the senior vice-president of development and finance at local developer Fusion Homes, told council that he was ambivalent about whether or not Bill 23 was going to achieve the goal of more and cheaper homes in Ontario. He also said that Guelph should be deciding on how best to build Guelph.

Now maybe that’s good spin by a company that will be under the microscope as the first one to develop on the Guelph Innovation District property, but I’m deciding to take Mr. Scott in earnest. Our local developers don’t want to be the bad guy, and I understand, because there are so many people in our community that see you as the bad guy already.

There were some unkind words about the “greed” of developers and how they’ve got the provincial government “in their pocket” by some of the other delegates at the meeting. But #NotAllDevelopers, am I right?

I guess that’s why it was also disappointing that there was only one delegate from a local company at the meeting. We know where council stands on Bill 23. We know where local groups stand whether they’re environmental advocates, pro-democracy activists or social justice warriors. But where do you stand?

The concerns of the community are summed up in an off-hand remark from staff at the meeting about a planning application that was filed and then withdrawn after the Ontario government released Bill 23. What’s going on here? Did this developer pull the plan because Doug Ford tossed a legislative grenade in the room and shut the door behind him, or are they waiting for the scales to tip in their favour?

I don’t know, and it’s easy these days to expect the worse, which is why I’m writing to you today with a modest proposal: If Bill 23 is passed in its current form, will you commit to keep working to build Guelph as if the current planning rules are still in effect?

That means paying the current rate of development and community benefit charges so that the City of Guelph can stay on top of serving the land you want to build on without dumping that on the ratepayer.

That means going to site plan even when Bill 23 says you don’t have to.

That means not going after land owned by the Grand River Conservation Authority that Bill 23 might consider surplus, and no undercutting Guelph on parkland or cash-in-lieu for parkland.

And it means leaving our listed heritage buildings alone, and like they’re still listed on the heritage registry, even if Bill 23 says they’re no longer supposed to be there.

(There’s other stuff that Bill 23 does, lots of other stuff, but this is a short letter and I think you get the point.)

I also want to encourage you to open a real dialogue with the community. If you’re not talking, the void gets filled with all the conspiracy theories that you probably hate around the evil developer trope. Ward 4 Councillor Linda Busuttil referenced “Pottersville” at this week’s meeting, a callback to the odious villain from It’s a Wonderful Life, a timely and completely unflattering image to be sure.

What does “real dialogue” mean? I would like to understand the challenges developers face getting more houses built. Is it all about the supply chain and labour shortages, or is there something more? How big of a hurdle is local bureaucracy? What do those hurdles look like? Is this something we can solve working collaborative on a local level?

There’s too damn much skullduggery here, and I’m not saying it’s malicious, but housing and housing issues are now very much a public issue so closed doors don’t cut it anymore (if they ever did), and the harder a door’s closed, the easier it is to blame nefariousness given the lack of information.

That’s why Ford and his government can get away with blaming local councils for the backlog in supply, which, as you know, has been a big problem in Guelph for a lot longer than the last few years.

And Bill 23 is not the first time that the Ford government has made sweeping changes to municipalities without looping them in first. In happened with their first budget that cut municipal funding mid-fiscal year, and it happened during the pandemic when they would announce lockdown changes on Friday that would go into effect on Saturday.

Don’t play their game. Let’s all agree that Guelph should be deciding how best to build Guelph and prove our veracity with words and actions. The challenges facing us are great, and they all require us to work together as a single unit towards the same goals. Having one part going its own way, even if it’s just “following the rules” will make achieving those goals harder.

I apologize for sounding like a motivational speaker in the end, but that’s what happens when I’m trying to be nice, which, between you and me, I don’t care for.

Thank you for your time, and happy holidays!

Signed,

Adam


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Adam A. Donaldson

About the Author: Adam A. Donaldson

In addition to writing his weekly political column for GuelphToday, Adam A. Donaldson writes and manages Guelph Politico, frequently writes for Nerd Bastards and sometimes has to do less cool things for a paycheque.
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