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Letter: Observations from the nosebleeds

Mary tells us what should happen at 75 Dublin North
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The following is a letter received from Mary Cabena:

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This is a letter I sent on November 29/16 to the Mayor and City Council of Guelph.

Hello Mr. Mayor and Council,

I was at the City Council meeting last night though I was not a delegate. Here’s what I heard and conclude (and please do read through as I have tried to be balanced and clear):

Basic facts:

Mr. Lammer wants a 5 story building. The project requires an OPA as the official plan allows only 2-4 stories.

If Mr. Lammer is approved for a 5 story building he will provide 20 reduced rent units for seniors and get a $3m dollar federal grant for those units but must have shovels in the ground by April 2017 to be awarded these funds. The units will be rent reduced for 20 yrs.

Stakeholders:

The City of Guelph planning department and staff have recommended against the 5th story.

Guelph Heritage has recommended against the 5th story (and the entire project).

The Upper Grand District School board has recommended against a 5th story.

Community stakeholders have overwhelmingly come out against the 5th story (and the entire project).

If Mr. Lammer isn’t approved for a 5th story, he has made it very clear he will build 4 stories and no seniors housing.

If City council votes against the 5th story, then the urgency of this file is no longer an issue. Mr. Lammer will not avail himself of the $3 million grant. Therefore the pressure to put shovels in the ground by April no longer exists. The file should revert to the usual planning process and timelines and the file should be very, very carefully assessed.

If City Council votes in favour of the OPA and the 5th story despite the overwhelming opposition from the community, Heritage Guelph, the City planning department, and the UGDSB it seems likely an OMB appeal may be the result. There will be a serious delay and the $3 million will be lost anyway.

It seems to me that the Mayor and the City Council are between a rock and a hard place.

The best case scenario is to refuse the OPA and the 5th story and take pressure off this file. It is clear that the complexities of this site and project cannot be resolved expeditiously. The $3 million dollars will have to be left on the table this time.

Rents in this building were always going to be beyond the means of the poorest seniors in our community so if we are committed to more affordable housing for our most vulnerable seniors then we should strive to provide rent-geared-to-income housing rather than just market reduced rents.

If the city was planning to subsidize the 20 units a further $23,000 per unit as was stated, for a total of $460,000, then why not just invest the $460,000 and use the income (assuming a 5 per cent return) to provide rent rebates of $200 per month to 20 seniors for the next 20 years? At the end of the 20 years we’d still have the $460,000 and could carry on supporting rent reductions for seniors for decades more.

If the file no longer has the pressure of an April 2017 deadline, then a land swap should be returned to the table for discussion. The City stated a land swap was not viable due to the April 2017 deadline for the $3 million dollars. If the OPA is denied, or there is an OMB appeal then the Mayor and Council should seriously consider this option once again as the April 2017 deadline is no longer relevant.

75 Dublin Street North should likely be parkland or institutional use. If Heritage Guelph does seek a heritage designation for Catholic Hill as they have stated then issues of adjacency become significant and could thwart the development whether 5 or 4 stories. It really does seem sensible to land swap with the developer if possible as the issues with building on this site just keep piling on.

It’s a $3 million dollar lesson in the public versus private interest. Additionally, I would humbly suggest it would behoove the city to make ready development files for the future. If the federal or provincial government should deem to make funds available for infrastructure, social housing etc. to municipalities we must have development files at the ready that have been pre-screened and vetted. This is common in other communities. It’s another take home lesson from the fiasco we face with respect to the development of 75 Dublin Street North.

That’s the view from the back row of the Council gallery last evening.

Many thanks,

Mary Cabena

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