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LETTER: 'Say no to Skyline,' resident urges council

Susan Watson says the tower would overwhelm the history, character and landscape of Guelph
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Rendering of a proposed 25-storey building for 70 Fountain St. Supplied photo

GuelphToday received the following letter from Susan Watson regarding the proposed Skyline Development in Guelph.


A proposal to build the tallest building ever constructed in Guelph – yes, taller than the Basilica of Church of Our Lady – will land at Guelph City Council on Monday, Feb. 10.

If you care about local democracy and the character of our City, this is a time to address Council and to phone and email your Ward Councillors.

Skyline Developments is pitching to add 23-storeys to their current building for a total of 25 floors. The catch is that the current height permissions for that site are three to six storeys. Skyline’s play for 25 storeys conveys a complete contempt for our democratic planning process and for the heritage integrity of our downtown.

Under Places to Grow Provincial legislation, downtown Guelph was designated as an “Urban Growth Centre.” The Council of the day set to work to craft a new Official Plan to anticipate and manage the required growth – the Downtown Secondary Plan.  Professional planning staff, citizens, members of Council and developer consultants and stakeholders worked together over many months to come up with a made-for-Guelph plan. This plan would ensure we would meet a minimum target of 8,500 residents in the downtown by 2031. A key feature of the Downtown Secondary Plan was the preservation of the heritage character of the downtown core. 

High-rise development was slated for the perimeter of the downtown on the lowest topographical sites.  No building would be allowed to be higher than Church of Our Lady. The addition of new green space needed for more residents was anticipated, with a plan to expropriate and revert the plaza on the south-west corner of Wellington and Gordon to a riverside park. In fact, the Downtown Secondary Plan was considered so creative and visionary that in 2013, it captured one of most prestigious planning awards in the Province - the Ontario Professional Planners Institute Excellence in Planning Award.

In the press release from the City Todd Salter, general manager of Planning Services for the City, said the following: “Receiving the Excellence in Planning Award is a great honour for the City. It is gratifying to see the work of our City staff and all of the community members who contributed to the development of the plan being recognized on a provincial level by our peers and colleagues.”

Over the past several years, the Downtown Secondary Plan has been rolling out as planned.  We have the two Tricar towers and the Metalworks complex along the river.  A 14-storey condominium has been approved at 71 Wyndham St. south. 

Not only are we on-target to reach 8,500 residents, there is no question we are going to shoot past that number.  Nearly every development to date has negotiated a couple of extra storeys from Guelph City Council in exchange for delivering additional benefits to the community. 

The catch now?  The Ford government delivered a gift to Ontario developers by eliminating this mechanism known as “density bonusing”.Guelph has embraced and planned for intensification of both our downtown and strategic nodes and corridors throughout the City. 

It is the job of local Councils and professional planning staff to set the quantity, location and timing of growth. An increased number of residents brings an increased need for services and infrastructure such as parks, roads, libraries and recreation centres. 

We need managed growth, not a developer free-for-all.It’s not clear what game Skyline is playing.  Are they asking for something completely outrageous hoping to hoodwink us into a “compromise” of 12 storeys which would effectively double the allowed height maximums on the current site?

If Council approves this development at 12 storeys, or at 25, it will essentially put our Downtown Secondary Plan in the shredder. This tower would overwhelm the armoury and drill hall and loom above the train station and old City Hall. 

It would irrevocably change the landscape and character of our city core. Even more concerning, the planning precedent set by this development would essentially declare open season on developer-driven, profit-based development rather than democratically-guided managed growth. 

And why should citizens even bother participating in crafting Official Plans if they are going to be successfully thrown under the bus by developers?  Why should everyday people volunteer hours of their time for the Clair-Maltby Secondary Plan if at the end of the day, Council itself isn’t willing to respect the work of the community?

We have a great plan. We should stick to it. 

Council needs to say, “No,” to Skyline.

Anyone can speak to Council on Feb. 10. 

Pre-registration is requested but not required for Statutory Public Meetings under the Planning Act. And you get ten minutes to speak – not the five minutes allotted at regular meetings of Council. 

Contact the Mayor and your Ward Councillors and express your views:  Local democracy and the built character of our City matter.  It’s time to speak up.

- Susan Watson