Will the province keep the city's best interests at heart when it sells 326 acres of prime land on the city's east side?
That was the question on the minds of some city councillors at at a Committee of the Whole meeting Monday afternoon as the city ponders backing out of the initial plan to buy the so-call Guelph Innovation District, located between Stone Road and York Road, from the province and sell it itself.
Coun. James Gordon said there is a "collective nervousness" regarding the future of the lands and wanted assurances the city would be "holding the ace" in regards to what future development there will look like.
"Who comes first? Can the province say 'tough'" if the city doesn't agree with how they sell the land, Gordon asked.
"What's holding me back is my lack of trust in this current government. It's all about money and jobs," coun. Leanne Piper said.
Council voted 12-0 Monday in favour of the staff recommendation and move it forward to the council meeting at the end of the month for firnal decision. Coun. Phil Allt was absent.
Staff said the sale of the property is being conducted by the arms length agency Infrastructure Ontario and that they are committed to working with the city to make sure its interests are observed.
"At this stage I don't see anything that gives me discomfort," Deputy CAO Scott Stewart told city counci.
"We want a partner at the table that won't fight with us," Stewart said.
In the end the city should still get what it wants: developed land that brings jobs and services to the city.
Same rewards, less risk, staff told council in why the change of heart regarding the city's role.
"All the same benefits, but the risk is minimalized for Guelph taxpayers," Stewart said.
Back in 2017 council voted in favour of moving ahead with a plan to purchase the land from the province and then proceed with finding development partners to build a variety of uses on the land. That plan was seen as a way of maintaining control of the property and making sure it is developed in accordance with the city’s secondary plan.
But staff said that proved too risky, notably in possibly having to pay land transfer tax twice on the property, Stewart said.
"It was going to cost too much money, too much money for local taxpayers adn we couldn't make it whole," Stewart said.
The land has been valued at $60 million.
There were still some concerns around the council horseshoe just how the development of the property, which is made up primarily of the former Wellington Detention Centre and Turfgrass Institute, would proceed.
At one point Monday council went in-camera to get some legal advice.
The land was valued at $60 million and the city would have had to come up with roughly $10 million as it moved through the process.
The land is expected to go on the open market later this year.