By Randy Norris
Posted September 16, 2015
It felt like I was reading the obituary of an old friend.
You know the feeling, especially if you’re older than most but only younger than some. A sinking feeling that knows the truth of change. Everything changes. Everyone leaves.
My old church, St Matthias, at the corner of Kortright and Edinburgh, had a For Sale in front of it. I suppose I thought that it would last forever even though I knew the truth of change.
In this case, forever only lasted until a small group of Anglican faithful could no longer financially support the building or property.
This church was for many years, my second home.
It’s where my kids were baptized. It’s where I became the People’s Warden, Treasurer and Chair of the 31st Guelph Scout Group which met at St Matthias.
The Diocese of Niagara has conditionally sold the property to HIP Developments. HIP requires the City’s approval of a zone change to build a student housing development on the St Matthias property.
HIP has two other sites where they are constructing projects under the brand of Solstice 1 and 2.
Students inflicting fun
When the developer proudly described the design and the construction of the first building in the local newspaper, he’s quoted as saying that, “It’s all been thought of as to how the students will inflict some fun on the building.”
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this statement might increase the concern of adjacent home owners to a student fun house in the neighbourhood.
As anyone knows who has a student house in their vicinity, some students can inflict fun on their house and everyone around them. Fun can sometimes be incidious.
Every home owner adjacent to the St Matthias site should be concerned.
I was not surprised to see the neighbours’ reaction to the project. But I was surprised and very disappointed by the criticism of the church.
Thirty years of history
Many have criticized the Diocese for selling the site and for “abandoning” the neighbourhood. They’ve stated that the church served as a neighbourhood resource and that their neighbourhood will be gutted, if the church leaves.
Quite to the contrary, for many years the Diocese subsidized St Matthias operating budget while waiting for the surrounding neighbourhood to create a sustainable community centre. It didn’t happen.
Critics have also tried to shame the Bishop for accepting an offer from a developer.
They have stated that the Diocese should only accept an offer from another religious community which would result in far less money than what the developer is offering.
The Diocese has, for three decades, offered the building for many different uses at its own expense. Rental rates to use the building were ridiculously cheap.
At one point in time, there was a daycare and a karate school using the St Matthias basement. One of my boys went to Beavers and Cubs in the church basement.
Times are tough for many in the God business, particularly if they are Anglican. There are other churches in the Diocese that need financial support. The Diocese has nothing be be ashamed about. Sad, yes, but not ashamed.
I would always expect that any church and any denomination would attempt to support and energize the surrounding neighbourhoods.
A church, during its tenure at a particular location has an obligation to service the surrounding neighbourhoods as a community or neighbourhood centre because of the nature of their business, their mission. and because it received tax breaks.
That is what St Matthias did but the surrounding neighbourhood did not take advantage of the Church’s facilities to the level that it was sustainable.
Even during the last gasps of breath, the neighbourhood could not be found
Now the neighbourhood wants to blame church for its own inaction.
Disrespect leaves a smell
At the last Guelph City Council meeting on Monday night, the Mayor made a comment that some churches have established the same policies as the Boards of Education. If a site is abandoned, the school board must offer it to another school board before it is put on the open market.
The Mayor ended his comment by saying that the Anglican Church does not have such a policy. In response, several members of the audience, I assume members of the McElderry Neighbourhood Group, laughed and made derogatory comments about the Anglican Church.
I was embarrassed by their behaviour.
At the same time, everyone was patting everyone else on the back. Cititzens thanking City staff and their Ward Councellors and in turn the neighbourhood group were thanked for the level of respect they showed during the process.
I smelt a large plop of disrespect on the floor of the Council chambers.
Church and state make poor bedfellows
At Monday night’s meeting, Council passed a motion to review the need to protect worship sites in the City. The St Matthias situation has triggered the need to look at the big picture.
The planning issues seem to be somewhat similar to what occurs when planning new subdivisions. Land is set aside for parkland and for school sites. If a plan of subdivision is “balanced” in terms of land use, then there should be some lands set aside for institutional uses. This does not, however, insure that the land zoned institutional will be used for a church.
The God business is a free enterprise business. Bums in pews are important and if a congregation is not large enough to sustain the location or if the neighbourhood does make use of the community space in the church, like the neighbourhood around St Matthias, then the marketplace can be a harsh reality.
The municipality has no business in the religion of its citizens. Government does not regulate the God business. Demand and supply determines success.
The Diocese is the wrong place to throw your rocks and your disrepect.
This is not the Church’s fault. The neighbourhood has no one to blame but themselves.
Those without sin…
Development with an iron glove
The developer, however, obviously lives in a glass house.
I’ve worked in the business and far too many developers take this approach.Their style of negotiation has as much subtlety as a train wreck.
Proposing a project that accommodates 324 students with 109 parking spaces on a site of that size and location is like asking me to run to the moon and back.
It’s irresponsible and manipulative to even ask for the approval of a project of that magnitude on that site.
HIP Deveolpments backs the City and the neighbourhood into a corner with the unreasonable project and then says they are willing to compromise. I’m so impressed.
The developer had the audacity to appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board about a sluggish municipal approval process that hadn’t even begun to grind through its deliberations. Staff hadn’t even completed its review, let alone making a recommendation to City Council.
The staff review was completed on the first proposal for the site and they recommended to City Council on Monday night to turn down the proposal. Council, quite correctly turned down the proposal.
The OMB hearing begins on September 22 where HIP Developments will continue to be a hypocrite. Stay tuned.
An overloaded proposal made with a nudge and wink while offering to negotiate with an iron glove seems to be their style.
And if that wasn’t enough, the developer acts contrite and self congratulatory when it offers to suggest a compromise with a proposal that it should have originally proposed.
HIP Developments sure ain’t hip.
Does anyone have a stone?