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Demolition order for historic home stands, council says for second time

Staff also ordered to release redacted confidential report on the property
20211016 797 Victoria Rd N RV
A crew was actively dismantling the historic farmhouse at 979 Victoria Rd. on Wednesday morning.

Demolition of an historic, publicly-owned stone farmhouse will continue.

City council approved the move at an emergency meeting confirmation of its previously confirmed prior approval. 

As a result, the circa 1840 home at 797 Victoria Rd. N., owned by the Grand River Conservation Authority, will soon be no more, though aspects of the building are slated for preservation. 

That’s the outcome of the second emergency meeting of council held in the past week.

It follows a Sept. 27 decision to remove the property from the city’s registry of heritage properties and green light the demolition out of a concern for safety.

“This is something that has been very trying for all of council and me as chair,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie during Wednesday’s meeting. “I have an obligation, as a mayor, to make sure we are upholding the proper process.”

The first emergency meeting, held Sept. 30, came about after Guthrie learned Heritage Guelph had not been consulted ahead of council’s Sept. 27 decision, as is required by the Ontario Heritage Act.

A second emergency council meeting was held Wednesday. Opinions vary about whether that meeting was brought about by a “simple typo” in a quickly-prepared motion or if the draft meeting minutes failed to reflect the intent of the motion council was discussing at the time – suspending the procedural bylaw in order to hold the meeting without providing the public with more than a couple hours of advance notice.

Coun. Leanne Caron, who moved the motion to suspend, insists she intentionally included a clause that eliminated the need for nine votes in order to reconsider the Sept. 27 decision, meaning a simple majority vote was needed. Coun. Cathy Downer, who seconded Caron’s motion, confirmed that was her understanding as well.

However, other members of council stated they understood a two-thirds majority of nine votes was still needed, as had been verbally stated during the meeting, in contradiction to the information put on the screen for all to see.

“I knew what I meant,” said Caron, adding that if others didn’t understand a traditional simple majority would be needed, “that’s their problem, not mine.”

After Guthrie said he found it “difficult to accept” that was her intent because she didn’t speak up to raise concerns about the process that came after, and the announcement that the reconsideration vote had failed, Caron noted she tried to raise concern but the conversation was shut down.

However, when draft minutes of that meeting were posted online Tuesday evening, Caron said she was “shocked” to discover they excluded the clause that required two-thirds support, meaning a super majority was required, and made Guthrie aware.

That, the mayor said, is what prompted Wednesday’s meeting.

Ultimately, council voted 7-5 in favour of approving a set of draft minutes which essentially left the Sept. 27 motion in effect, taking 797 Victoria Rd. N. off the municipal heritage registry and approving demolition.

Councillor Mike Salisbury was absent from Wednesday’s meeting. Councillors June Hofland and Phil Allt missed the first emergency meeting.

In addition, Wednesday’s meeting saw council approve the public release of a previously confidential report dealing with the property presented during an in-camera portion of the Sept. 27 meeting.

In a 10-2 vote, city staff was given until noon Friday to remove legal advice provided in the report and release the rest.

Councillors Dan Gibson and Mark MacKinnon were opposed.

Caron said “98 per cent” of the report should have been public information in the first place.

Though he voted in favour of the release, Guthrie noted the information lacks the “context” of what’s happened since Sept. 27. Gibson suggested that without the legal opinions, the report is one-sided and its release will only “fan the flames” of those who would seek to preserve the stone house.


Richard Vivian

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