Category Archives: Randy Norris

Randy Norris

The Guelph Factor

By Randy Norris

Posted October 1, 2015

The scene has the author glimpsing, just at the edge of his vision, a wisp of smoke. Dark trails wafting in the air, suggesting some sort of insidious presence with ominous power.

Some don’t want to call it by its name. Just saying it somehow gives it power.

Let’s just leap into the darkness. Let’s call it for what it is, “The Guelph Factor”.

Over the years, many the occupants of City Hall have told us that if it exists at all, it was only because of red tape at City Hall or that it only started yesterday.

In 2011, the Manager of Development Planning resigned citing the dysfunctional nature of the red tape at City Hall.

The Guelph Mercury quotes former city staffer, Robert Walters, as saying it’s “due to a lack of leadership and action. In 27 years, I have seen nothing like it.”

His analysis was emphasized by consultants who stated in their report that council “lacks a clear, coherent and cohesive vision.”

The consultant even went so far as to comment on the eating habits of our citizens. “Guelph prides itself on being perceived as the granola capital of the world.”

Good and bad, it would seem

I like granola and I’m concerned about the environment.

We are accused and convicted of not playing well with others, despite our protestations to the contrary.

The City has launched what it calls an “Integrated Operational Review” to slice and dice red tape.

The Guelph Factor will be caged and controlled

I look forward to spending time snuggled up to the review with a bowl of granola and soy milk. A copy of “The Sheep Look Up” by John Brunner at my side.

Red tape. I don’t disagree but there’s so much, much more going on here than meets the eye.

Neither I nor the “Guelph Factor” were born yesterday.

Thirty years ago, I was offered a job as a Senior Development Planner with a Kitchener Planning Firm. One of the reasons I was hired was simply because I was from Guelph.

“We just can’t break through in that town. It’s the attitude. You’ll be ok since you live in Guelph.”

Soon after, I worked for a local development firm who proposed to the City that a large multi-use recreational complex with ice rink be build on the vacant lands north of Wellington and south of Paisley abutting on the east side of the “Hanlon Expressway with Traffic Lights”.

The City’s answer at the time was only, “Oh, we couldn’t do that.”

Fifteen years later while presenting Ex-Mayor Kate Quarrie with the plans for a much smaller recreation facility in Guelph, she was quite pessimistic about its journey through City Hall.

“If this was anywhere else in the Province, it would get approved but not in Guelph”.

Against all odds, it was eventually approved but only after a long and tortuous process that involved the self-righteous indignation of counsellors.

One was long-time City Councilor and current conservative candidate for the federal election, Gloria Kovach.

Huffing and puffing political platitudes, they couldn’t tell the difference between a large corporate sports facilities manager, Nustadia, and a group of Guelph citizens and sports volunteers looking for cooperation.

For decades, controversy has surrounded large projects like a waste recycling plant, a hockey arena in a shopping mall and the new City Hall.

Like monsters out of control, all have gorged on our tax dollars.

Recently HIP Developments, builders of the bloated Solstice 3 housing proposal, appealed to the OMB that the City’s approval process took too long. This appeal occurred even before the review was completed.

Are all examples of the Guelph Factor?

It’s been here for decades and it’s obviously more than just red tape. It’s more than just granola.

It’s an attitude that expects us to settle for less. There’s nothing too difficult that we can’t screw up.

Our grasp has been much less than our reach.

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To those of you without sin

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?

 

 

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A Tale of Two Cities at polar opposites

By Randy Norris

guelphspeaks contributor

Posted September 8, 2015

A few months after I moved to Guelph, 32 years ago, a long-time real estate agent told me that Guelph was divided into two cities.

He described it loosely as the area north of College and south of Speedvale which he called the “Real Guelph”. The other area that was south of College, he simply called a ghetto and named it “Mississauga”.

He was referring to that place down the 401 that’s dominated by big houses and even bigger four lane roads. It has a heavy sprinkling of shopping malls, fast food joints and gas stations which interrupt the kilometres of asphalt that allow the herds of stampeding SUV’s a way to get somewhere.

At the time, I naively thought that his comment was an over exaggeration. Little did I know that even today this Tale of Two Cities continues to dominate our politics.

At the centre of this obsession with the “Real Guelph” is the downtown and its surrounding residential areas. Far too often, some of the more “important” residents of this area feel superior to every other part of Guelph, particularly the south end.

A lingering attitude can be annoying

Its not that I don’t like our downtown; it’s the attitude I don’t like.

I live in the south end and sometimes, when I go downtown, I feel like a mutt at a purebred dog show. I’m scraggly and a little too casual, or so my wife informs me. I feel out of place.

One of the main proponents of our divided City is the current ward two Coun. James Gordon. He of guitar and politics, continues to sing his sad songs of urban sprawl and Stephen Harper.

Recently, our local newspaper reported his comments on the new Walmart that’s coming to the south end taking over from the former Target store on Stone road.

Mr. Gordon doubts that a second Walmart will cause the same controversy that surrounded the arrival of the retail Godzilla in the north end.

The second store, he says, will be “right in the middle of sprawl”.

So who cares anyway, right James? In his mind, the south end is forever condemned.

Have I missed something? Isn’t Guelph composed of all its neighbourhoods, the worst and the best? Every part of us contributes to what is Guelph.

But that’s not what our rookie city counsellor seems to think nor does his offspring, members of the Guelph Civic League.

The Guelph Civic League told us for years that it had the vision for Guelph and the leader who could take us to the promised land.

In the end, it was remarkable how wrong they got it.

Their vision for Guelph would have no diversity, no difference between its neighbourhoods.If they had an immigration policy, it would probably involve the use of a wall to keep out the hoards of south end troglodytes from taking over.

They did, however, try to build a wall around City Hall.

At one point, I had requested a meeting with Mayor Farbridge to discuss a local recreational project, a request which she granted. Imagine my surprise when ex-counsellor and shadow Mayor, Ken Hamill, showed up.

Hiding behind the coat tails of our recently defeated mayor. She needed the wall because Guelph had become a scary, insular place.

Her surrogates in the Guelph Civic League snuck into City Hall through the ballot box and thankfully left through the ballot box. Unfortunately, they left the place dirty and contributed to wasting a lot of money.

It’s like a nightmare that just keeps on giving. Even after losing last year’s election, they couldn’t let it go.

A condemnation that back-fired

Susan Watson, a rabid Farbridge supporter who doesn’t know when to quit, continues to tell the voters of Guelph that they got it wrong.

She tried to beat us over the head with a $400 donation to a Farbridge opponent that she contended was illegal but after investigation, her claim was denied.

Unfortunately, she learned under the Farbridge administration that it’s ok to waste taxpayer’s money, an estimated $10,000 so far.

She showed us, didn’t she?

The only thing I see is a group of sore losers who aren’t doing what’s good for Guelph. Either grow up or take your ball and bat and go home. You’re not welcome here anymore.

Plan to attend the Compliance Audit Committee meeting Thursday in the council chambers starting at 5:30 p.m.

It will receive the auditor’s report on the Watson complaint and recommend their decision to city council.

 

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