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Guelph planning matters this week seem like Halloween in June

This week on Market Squared, we talk about all the planning projects that have risen from the dead, or have come back to haunt us
City councillors, board members and library lovers gathered Tuesday morning for the groundbreaking of the new library.

I was thinking about raising the dead this week.

We’re not even a little close to Halloween, and we’re still at least six weeks away from Value Village stocking the Halloween costumes, but the news this week has been rather macabre from a certain point of view. Well, mine anyway.

On Tuesday morning, I stood in the Baker Street (former) parking lot with what looked like half of Guelph as ground was ceremoniously broken on the new main library project. It’s actually happening, but for me I will reserve any celebration until I’m actually sitting in the finished building. This is Guelph, and we can still slip on a banana peel at the one-yard line and blow the game after being up 30 points in the first quarter.

“So the debate of the cost of the library is behind us,” Mayor Cam Guthrie said to begin his remarks. It was a weird thing to say because we were still debating the cost during last fall’s general election, and I’m sure we will again.

Meanwhile, comments on social media are setting expectations for a repeat of what happened with city hall and the police headquarters, which is to say that that whole thing could end up over budget and/or over schedule, but I’ve got to say that the city would be pretty stupid to trip this hard under the microscope that this project will be observed with.

But as I said, this is Guelph.

In the east end, a developer announced that lands reserved for decades to be a Loblaws grocery store might now be 582 apartments in four buildings between 6 and 10 storeys each plus 192 townhouses… and a grocery store.

In keeping with our Halloween in June theme, I give you our Frankenstein. It’s a collection of various parts, that’s meant to be something beautiful and representing man’s mastery over the chaos of nature, but it will end up disappointing everyone, including its creator.

Over the top? Maybe, but the knives are already out because of a seeming betrayal; the big, beautiful grocery store promised in decades past is now just another mega condo project.

I’m not saying I believe that necessarily, and I would also note that Toronto-based developer Tercot Group seems to acknowledge that they’re walking into a minefield. No zoning bylaw amendment has been filed yet, and they’re starting engagement with an invitation to an information night this Thursday at the Victoria Road Recreation Centre. At least Dr. Frankenstein is inviting us into the lab first.

But if we’re raising the dead, we need only look to the west end and the old Lafarge site. The triangular sector bordered by two different train tracks and the Hanlon is a proverbial development zombie that you think you’ve dismembered but it still finds enough mobility to be a threat and bite you.

The zombie returned as the developer and the numbered corporation that owns the Lafarge site are now taking Guelph to the Ontario Land Tribunal, which are three words I’m sick of typing in that order but seem to come up on a weekly basis just the same.

The blame goes to a lengthy back-and-forth between the city and the developer that resulted in four different revisions of the plan without any one of them being brought back to council for a decision. Now one might blame the fact that the original statutory planning meeting for the Lafarge site development took place literally a few days before the start of the pandemic, but maybe the land is just cursed.

It’s a Guelph oddity that we have these big areas surrounded by development that are ideally situated for redevelopment and decades later nothing’s happened.

The old IMICo site at 200 Beverly Street is like that too. How many times has there been some forward momentum to remediate that land and build something useful on it, and how many times has the towel been thrown it? The developer over at the Lafarge lands clear cut the site six years ago this summer, and if you go over there today you would never be able to tell.

Now none of this is to say that nothing ever gets done in Guelph. Certainly all manner of projects are completed all the time, but from one end of town to another there are the restless spirits of issues and projects that pre-date the iMac. The Macarena is a golden oldie, your Tamagotchi is some egg looking thing at the bottom of a drawer, and you’re still not sitting in a new main library, or shopping at a big grocery store on Starwood, or visiting the great community park off the rejoined Silvercreek Parkway.

Who’s to blame for this? Does it matter?

Online again this week, I saw as our present mayor and council were excoriated for all the things they’ve done and all things they didn’t do. We blame them for things that are out of their control in equal measure with all the stuff they can control, and if the idea is that we can get to a point where we can please everyone, we’re doomed because that point doesn’t exist, and we end up doing nothing at all.

And then one day, we do. Is the Baker Street project happening as we envisioning it for years? No, but it is happening. The new main library will not be everything to everyone but finishing it will provide one important service to the city, closure.


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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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