Is the Wilson Farmhouse shaping up to be another costly heritage debacle?

Posted October 24, 2013

It all came to a head when city council was deadlocked over whether to demolish the derelict Wilson Farmhouse sitting in a city park.

Coun. Ian Findlay, who voted against demolishment the house, is quoted as saying: “The Wilson farmhouse park be confirmed as a park in its entirety, is exactly my position.”

Ian, Ian, some clarity here. Are you saying the park should be a park without the dump that’s sitting on it? Or spend an estimated $500,000 to convert this over-hyped heritage site with a footprint of only 820 square feet into a community centre?

The Wilson farmhouse project’s business plan, published in Coun. Findlay’s blog is an amateurish, convoluted document that wouldn’t stand five minutes scrutiny by a junior financial manager.

Yet the costs of extensive renovations to convert the house into a hallmark of green technology, are not stated.

It is the objective of this administration to promote causes dear to its heart – environmental issues, senior services, heritage, wellbeing, childcare, anything green or self serving.

Further the renovation project claims to create four jobs, with a payroll of $170,000 and facilitate $1,00,000,000 in economic activity annually. The income statement shows revenue from renting space and estimated sales for a café and kitchen with total income of $107,000.

This is what Coun. Ian Findlay voted for revealing his close ties with the Guelph Civic League.

Not even Mayor Farbridge fell for this one as she voted to tear the building down. Nor did the city staff that recommended it should be demolished.

Taxpayers should be wary of a scheme to preserve the house when the supportive statement for retention that says: “At minimal dollar cost to taxpayers, using limited city “in kind” service support and financing.”

The proposal is believed to have been prepared by the subsidiary of the Guelph Civic League known as 10 Carden Street. This is a taxpayer funded “community” activist group.

The Civic League played a role in the 2007 decision by the newly elected Farbridge-dominated council to renovate the Loretto Convent. It was a derelict and crumbling structure vacant for more than ten years. It took more than three years to convert it into a new civic museum. That excursion into preservation of privately held property ended up costing the taxpayers $16 million plus.

Or, how about the indoor soccer dome project where the city taxpayers guaranteed payment of the mortgage of $500,000 because the citizen operating group said it can no longer make the payments.. The soccer group in charge of the project complained that people don’t like to play soccer in the winter. Who knew?

The Civic League adherents are in the same outfit that pushed the city into renovating the Farmer’s Market. and that exercise cost $500,000 following a staff budget of $176,000.

This group fails to understanding that this city can no longer waste money on projects that the majority of people don’t want and never asked for.

Unlike the Civic League that represents people with a social leftist agenda, GrassRoots Guelph is an organization that is non-partisan and open to any citizen who share the view that taxes are too high, waste management is a failure, taxing of student lodging in single family areas and excessive spending.

The Wilson issue will be brought up again in council. It’s time to get serious and do the right thing. Tear it down.

Continuing to vote to restore the house presents political peril for those councillors who vote that way.

If the vote don’t fit, you have to quit…or something like that


Filed under Between the Lines

12 responses to “Is the Wilson Farmhouse shaping up to be another costly heritage debacle?

  1. paul

    That about sums it up, Gerry…good stuff.

  2. Keith McEwen


    Slow down and take a breath. You are getting too repetitive and the forth last sentence lost context after the word “failure”.

    Keep it clean and keep it sharp.



    PS: Thanks for your hard work

    • Keith McEwen: Thanks for the edit. Being repetitive is a necessary evil in the writing game. I write posts and comments to hundreds of people every day seven days a week. Not all post content is read by all. People drop in and drop out. But your point is well taken. Not sure what you mean by “clean.”

  3. Ross

    Love the articles, keep them comming.

    Waiting for your take on the fluctuating height of overpass bridges .
    I might suggest the city inspection dept invest in some new tape measurers or perhaps its a plan for the trucks trying to service downtown Guelph to unload their goods at the Police parking lot and have the merchants bike them into the core.

    Over Taxed and Under Paid

    • Ross: There is a “bridge too low” piece coming. Give it a couple of days. I have been swamped with new members getting aboard GrassRoots Guelph and our membership team is working hard to register the members.

  4. A different Paul:

    You raise some good points especially on the so-called “business case” developed on behalf of Ian Findlay(By Whom?) You are right – any junior financial analyst who produced such a flawed business case would be immediately escorted to the back door and fired!
    The Farmhouse should be demolished for a number of reasons-
    1, The teardown is supported by most of the residents in that area of the City.
    2. The business plan indicates 4 jobs at an average salary of $42,500.
    It completely overlooks the 3 people that would be needed to handle the Green Living Showcase generating revenue of $96,000. Which means the most they could be paid would be $32,000 a year INCLUDING BENEFITS.
    These are Knowledge workers not street sweepers – a funding error of 68,000 each or in total $204,000.
    3. The business plan does not cover capital cost repayment – at least $25,000 per annum – based on a 20 year amortization.
    This building will take up a corner of the Parkland, in fact it would need a good size PARKING LOT to handle the needs of the Café, the Green business and the visitors to the so-called workshops. In addition the building will be a target for vandalism, graffiti etc.
    I could go on but this will show the readers that not only Is the Councillor looking at this through rose colored glasses, but they are badly shattered.
    I cannot believe that a Councillor would present such a flawed document. But then I think it supports all the other problems .the city has – financial and operational. But you have raised these issues in the past,

    Best of luck to GRG on a timely audit of the way business is done in this City.

    • Paul: Couldn’t have said it better. When you factor in the indoor soccer deal, Farmer’s Market renovation budget over-spending, the civic museum’s multi-million dollar project, the Hanlon Business Park occupation, the $52 million waste management scheme that doesn’t work, the Wyndham Street underpass that is a bridge too low, spending millions on bicycle lanes, failing to trim the weeds in boulevards. That’s only starting. It points to the lack of financial planning expertise that exists among most members of council.
      This time they did not listen to their Mayor or to the staff that recommended tearing the derelict house down. If you blindly follow a political agenda without examining the facts, this is what we taxpayers get- stalemate. Dragging this on will just increase the costs and perpetuate the mantra of the heritage supporters exercising paralysis by analysis.

  5. Nathan Lane

    I don’t understand why you would like the destroy historical buildings that date back before confederation. Sure it cost 16$ mil what do you expect. The Parl of Canada renos are heading into BILLIONs yet you don’t whine about that? hmm bias bs

    • paul

      But Nathan….one comes out of the federal budget and the other does not

    • Nathan Lane: Please don’t accuse me of bias when you don’t even know me. There were other alternatives in 2007 to relocate the civic museum. This was a biased move to secure the building in the name of heritage. It was located on private lands when other city-owned locations were available. Like everything else there is a cost benefit. In this case a new downtown library was shelved in the capital spending plan and six years later is still not built. It is this kind of narrow-gauge thinking on the part of this council that panders to the minority special interests and the rest of us are usually not considered.Thanks for your comment.

    • paul

      Well put, Gerry.

  6. A different Paul:

    Are you new to Guelph? The Wilson farmhouse is a Heritage thingee for Guelph/Eramosa Township – not the City of Guelph. The City of Guelph showed its disregard for this house WHEN IT FAILED TO PROTECT it from 2002 and on.
    You may not have seen one of my responses on this item but I admire the wisdom of the developer when he included this White Elephant in the Parkland dedication. The Heritage Hounds completely mishandled this one leading to a “repair Bill of over A HALF A MILLION DOLLARS. It is time the Heritage crybabies got over the Mitchell Farmhouse. The Heritage Report by the Heritage expert hired by the City said that there was little Heritage VALUE IF ANY. The developer unwittingly put a “Wilson Crocodile” in the Heritage Swamp and the Farbridge controlled Council fell for it – Hook, Line and Stinker!!) (sic). But if these Heritage clowns really miss the Mitchell farmhouse they should set up an annual Crybaby celebration at the City storage site! It might even be expanded to include every destroyed site in the City including the Carnegie Library, the downtown YMCA and the Original SLEEMAN brewery! By the way the Wilson farmhouse has a RUBBLE foundation which has been made structurally unsound by those lovely Walnut trees!
    I am reminded of a comment made by Archie MacRobee a long serving Puslinch Counsellor(God rest his soul). After the City expropriated the fated, under serviced , underdeveloped and neglected South End property from Puslinch Township, he commented that this City was so stupid that they did not remove the aggregate deposits before approving residential and Commercial development in the South end. He said watch it, in 50 years time the City will be ripping those houses down to mine the aggregate. He also said that the City will face serious objections on any future raids on the Townships. I hope that the City will learn from their past errors.

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