By Gerry Barker
October 8, 2018
There was a flurry recently on Twitter about the Guelph Innovation Secondary plan that was to create a green city in the middle of our city. The plans are detailed and claimed it would house 7,000 residents and provide 9,000 jobs.
City council approved this project May 13, 2014. It was a pet project of former Mayor Karen Farbridge. City staff planners were engaged to develop the detailed layout of the site including housing and commercial development and a street pattern that almost eliminated fossil-fueled vehicles.
The theory was that residents could walk, roller skate or ride their bikes to work right in their own neighbourhood.
Seven years later, the traffic in Guelph is congested twice a day on all major streets and roads as a result of the former administration’s ant-vehicle traffic policies of shrinking vehicle lanes on many major streets to allow bicycle lanes.
In 2011, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FOCM) gave the city a $142,252 grant toward developing the plan. The Guelph planning staff led by General Manager Todd Salter, and General Manager of Economic Development, Peter Cartwright, swung into action employing city staff to work on the project.
It is safe to assume that $142K FOCM’s green grant would not last a year scoping out the project now called the Guelph Innovation District.
But here is the nagging problem
The city does not own the land on which all these development drafts represent an expensive exercise in futility. It is compared to the $16.5 million spent on the Civic Museum built on lands owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton.
A plan of this magnitude would cost some $300 million in today’s dollars not including the cost of purchasing the land. The PC government has said it wants to dispose of provincial lands no longer needed. The Reformatory lands are a rich plum for the province to sell to the highest bidder.
What role would our newly elected Green Party leader, Mike Schreiner, play in this game? Here’s an important local issue that has a full development plan for the 1.077-acre property sitting in the city-planning department
It begs the question: How much has the city spent in seven years on this project that is no closer to realization than it was in 2011?
An educated guess is that the province could value the property at $200,000 per acre and that amounts to $215,540,000. The city could engage in some creative scheme to line up some builders to financially participate. Servicing that debt could cost $7,539,000 @ 3.5 per cent in interest alone and no reduction in principal per year. A revenue source would be the property taxes assessed for the development. However, the carrying costs alone would never be supported by property taxes.
Based on their design they could lease the land to the builders, a la Arboretum, and pay down the costs. This would include servicing the property, plus what has already been spent to prepare the site with the necessary infrastructure and facilities such as police and fire stations, and services buildings.
But in view of the city’s maxed-out financial situation, is it prudent to go into large-scale property developments?
The Guthrie administration has already agreed in principle to spend an estimated $350 million renovating the Baker Street parking lot. This is a ten-year Public Private Participation Plan with long-term liability to the citizens.
For the record here are capital projects already under construction: The Guelph police Services headquarters $34 million renovation; the $22 million Wilson Street parkade next to city hall; the $63 million south end recreation centre; the $53 million new downtown library integrated with the Baker Street redevelopment, the cost to citizens has yet to be revealed; the windup up of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc multi-million financial disaster, the cost of which we may never know.
It’s egregious for the mayor to claim that a new downtown library is a major component of the plan that will not open for ten years, according to reports. Construction is not scheduled to commence until 2024.
It is important that the new council carefully examines these various plans because the city’s growth of debt and liabilities is being placed on the shoulders of future councils.
Mayor Guthrie declared in his Sate of The City address to his friends at the Guelph Chamber of Commerce last February that he was “a numbers guy” who drills down to check the details of a proposal.
His statement that the city was not giving Guelph Hydro away regarding the merger with Alectra Inc. is patently untrue. Perhaps the Mayor should check the batteries in his calculator before making such a claim.
There’s a simple explanation Mr. Mayor, if the Ontario Energy Board approves this deal, name the owner of the assets of Guelph Hydro and holder of the title of that corporation.
Less than two weeks left to Election Day. Please make the most of it and vote for change.
Check out guelphtomorrow.ca for commentary on the election October 22 and post-election news and coverage.