Residents questioned plans for a number of construction projects in the city, including an Emma Street to Earl Street pedestrian bridge over the Speed River, during a series of public meetings on Monday evening.
The meetings were held to gather input on zoning and official plan amendments needed for the various initiatives to go forward.
No decisions were made Monday. Staff recommendations to council will follow at a later date.
Several residents urged council to reconsider plans for the bridge and ponder alternatives such as creating a safe zone for pedestrians and cyclists along Speedvale Avenue over the Speed River.
The $1.8 million bridge is proposed to be built about 200-metres downstream of Speedvale Avenue, connecting downtown with the northeast area of the city. It is to be built along an existing utility corridor, with power lines incorporated into the bridge itself, and replacing a mid-river utility pole with a support for the bridge.
Before construction could begin, an official plan amendment is required that allows “essential transportation infrastructure” within significant wetlands, significant woodlands and significant wildlife habitat on this site.
The sought amendment “meets the intent” of the official plan and natural heritage policies, said city planner Leah Lefler, adding the amendment is needed to address a “technical inconsistency between the objectives and the intent of the natural heritage system and a permitted use.”
However, delegates challenged that label of the situation.
“This is not merely a technical inconsistency,” said Terry Petrie.
“Every voice that opposed the bridge or proposes an alternative has been muted,” he continued, “Do not silence the only voice our natural heritage has. … Even if the city restores some of the destroyed habitat, all of the wildlife will be impacted by an increase in human traffic. The river is their home, not ours.”
The project would bring a “net ecological gain” to the area, Lefler told council.
“Since construction will occur within the Speed River valley to construct the footing, there is an opportunity to restore riparian wetlands upstream of the bridge which were historically filled and impacted, in addition to restoring the areas impacted by bridge construction,” she explained.
“Following construction and implementation of a restoration plan, there will be a net ecological gain and tree canopy cover, woodland quality and increase in wetland area quality.”
In response to concerns raised by Martin Collier, a transportation planner by trade who represents the Residents for a Safe Speedvale Avenue, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks recently determined there are deficiencies in the project’s environmental assessment, especially concerning lack of consultation with the public and First Nations, as well as ensuring it is in accordance with the Endangered Species Act.
“That’s work we have committed to do and we will be doing in 2021,” said Terry Gayman, general manager of engineering and transportation services for the city.
Speaking to council on Monday, Collier questioned why the staff report states an environmental assessment has been “completed” when it hasn’t been approved by the ministry and additional work is required.
“By saying the EA is complete, staff is misleading the public,” he said.
Collier renewed previous calls to ditch the bridge in favour of implementing safety zones along Speedvale Avenue where it crosses the river to address pedestrian and cyclist concerns there, which is what prompted recent discussions of a pedestrian bridge in the first place.
“We must redesign our streets to be safer for everyone, no matter what mode, age or ability,” he said, suggesting it’s “far cheaper” to share existing infrastructure and doesn’t impact the areas natural heritage. “In Guelph, this means we also don’t have to build in protected river valleys or greenfields and override official plan policies to do so.”
Collier and others also dispute staff assertions there is a justified need for the bridge.
“All of the major destinations in the Trail Master Plan can already be accessed through existing trails more conveniently than rerouting across the proposed bridge,” said Petrie. “What we really need, what is really essential, is a safe crossing at Speedvale that links existing trails.”
The pedestrian bridge plan is not without its supporters.
“What the official plan amendment and the Emma to Earl bridge alternative really achieves is opening even more opportunity to increase active transportation modal share than bike lanes on Speedvale ever would have achieved,” said Mike Darmon of Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation, “while saving the city millions of dollars in expropriation costs and have less social impact to residents of Speedvale Avenue.”
City council first approved the Emma Street to Earl Street bridge in 2015, endorsed the completion of environmental studies last year and included $130,000 in the 2021 municipal budget for design work.
An additional $1.7 million is expected to be budgeted in 2022, for a total of $1.838 million.
Plans for the pedestrian bridge came into being after council-of-the-day opted not to include cycling lanes as part road improvements along Speedvale Avenue between Manhattan Court and Woolwich Street, including bridge replacement over the Speed River. That, staff previously stated, would required “significant property” to be expropriated from private landowners.
Public meetings were also held regarding a proposal to build two seven-storey apartments and a commercial building on a vacant Edinburgh Road property, as well as a five-storey apartment building and 30 cluster townhouses on Eastview Road.
The proposal drew public comments similar to those of a previous plan for the property at 78 and 82 Eastview Road which featured 57 condominium cluster townhouses.
“My neighbours and I are very concerned about this development,” said Rubina Heddokheel. “Development needs to be appropriate for the neighbours.”
Two numbered companies are looking to have the 3.25-hectare parcel of land rezoned from “urban reserve” to a mix of “residential cluster townhouse,” “general apartment,” and “conservation land.”
Several nearby residents called for the proposal to include more usable greenspace – not protected wetland and woodlots on the site – especially for children to play safely.
“I’m not against development. I understand the city is growing,” said Joe Costello, flagging additional concerns about parking along Eastview Road, traffic in the area, impact on natural areas and park space. “I don’t think this is an appropriate density for such a long, narrow property.”
Joan Koob, property manager for a co-op on Auden Road across from the proposed development’s entranceway, echoed several of those concerns as well as the planned apartment building height.
“This is a low-rise residential neighbourhood,” she said. “This is a problem that needs to be addressed.”
No one spoke up or submitted written comments to council about the Edinburgh Road project, though one call-in speaker suggested apartment size limits could increase the affordability of rents there.
If ultimately approved, the project would see two seven-story apartments with a total of 141 units – a mix of one, two and three-bedroom apartments – built at 265 Edinburgh Road, on the east side of the street, south of the intersection with Willow Road. Between the apartment structures would be a 440-square-metre commercial building.