Posted September 8, 2012
If I were elected Mayor of Guelph, the first thing I would do is scrap that electronic voting system. I defy anyone, outside of council and staff, to figure out who voted for what when the nano-second vote result is revealed. Sure there has to be a record that the city clerk maintains but trying figure out the electronic result at the time the vote is held is nigh impossible … particularly on the televised council meetings.
This brings up a report about the impending meeting with the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) regarding a proposal to build two hi-rise student residences at the corner of Stone Road and Gordon Street. The developer, Abode Varsity Living, has made two attempts to obtain agreement to proceed.
The first plan was submitted to city staff in 2010. A second proposal last December reduced the number of units. The city staff did not take a position on the proposal at that time and Abode turned to the OMB for an adjudicated decision.
Now the story gets murky.
The city and an activist group formed to oppose the proposal, to take part in the 15-day hearing. Known as the Mayfield Park Community Association, it is attempting to raise funds to defeat the proposal. Also the University of Guelph has expressed “concerns” about the project and will also be represented at the hearing.
In August, it is reported that city council voted unanimously to oppose the application. This was based on a staff recommendation that the project was too large and not compatible with the surrounding neighbourhood.
Those councillors who voted to turn this down should not have included councillors Leanne Piper, Lise Burcher and Maggie Laidlaw who are employees of the university. If they did vote, without revealing their ties to the university, that’s a conflict of interest.
At best, they should have recused themselves to maintain the credibility and integrity of council.
Here is a paraphrase of the conflict of interest law that applies in Ontario.
“The goal is to keep councillors from using their elected position to advance their private interests.”
What is hard to figure out is why the objection to the proposal? It’s to be built on the site of a former Best Western motel It is across the street from the Delta Inn complex. It’s across the road from the University and the company has an established track record of building affordable student housing.
On top of that, there are the complaints of nearby residents in areas zoned for single families, who are plagued with homes being converted to student apartments and rooms. This council refused to take action to stop this on the grounds the Civic Rights organization would object.
Please explain: Who is representing the interests of these long-suffering residents? They will not have a voice at the OMB hearing that starts September 10.
The OMB will undoubtedly consider these factors.
The underlying concern for citizens is the cavalier way these three councillors ignored their link to the university when supporting the city’s rejection of the proposal.
The irony is Coun. Leanne Piper’s job as manager of student residences puts her in a direct conflict of interest. That is if she continues to vote on any matter before council concerning her employer, the University of Guelph.