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Councillor seeks to hang the ‘open for business’ sign in store-starved east end

Coun. Dan Gibson hopes his motion will help attract and facilitate more commercial development | Courtesy Guelph Today | Feb 8, 2017


Ward 1 councillor Dan Gibson has filed a notice of motion with the city that if successful would direct city staff to start exploring potential opportunities for commercial development along York Road east of Victoria Road.

The key element to his motion is that it happen now rather than waiting until after road improvements and a commercial review are completed over the next couple of years. Continue reading

Exploring Opportunities to Accelerate Large Neighbourhood Commercial Growth in East Guelph

In furthering my committment to advocating for East Guelph commercial development, below please find a motion I will be bringing forward for council’s consideration on Feb 27th. While I continue to champion new commercial development within the long awaited mixed use node at Watson & Starwood, I’ve always maintained that the East End needs more; and moving forward with the reconstruction of York Road presents that opportunity. After successfully getting the York Road Environment Assessment back into the 2015 budget and securing funding for a City wide comprehensive commercial policy review in the 2016 & 2017 budgets, now is the time to be welcoming expressions of interest for commercial development along York Road.

This motion sets out to acheive this and directs staff to consider other opportunities, and report back to council as these interests come in to City Hall so that we can respond as quickly as possible.

If you agree with this direction (to see commercial redevelopment occur along York Road), I encourage you to express your support by sending an email to

Dan Gibson
Ward 1 City Councilor
519-827-6407 (c)

Why is there no Grocery Store in the East End?

Courtesy Guelph Today

January 6, 2016

It is one of the most common complaints in Guelph.

Whenever a new store, business or service opens in the south or west of the city, residents of Gueph’s east side feel stiffed … again.

The lack of amenities, in particular a grocery store, has long been a thorn in the side of those living east of Victoria Road.

We chatted with Ward 1 councillor Dan Gibson about why there isn’t a grocery store and other significant amenities and when there might be one.

If you live in east Guelph you might not like the answers, but it might help understand the situation.

Is there enough population in east Guelph to warrant a grocery store?

Gibson says yes. He estimates 15,000 people live east of Victoria Road.

“The density is definitely there,” he said.

How many grocery stores are there in the south end?

There are five full grocery stores on and south of Stone Road if you include Wal-Mart. It will be six when Longos opens later this year on Clair Road.

“They build (in the south end) because they’re all competing for a piece of the pie,” said Gibson, who sees competition as one impetus for change in east Guelph.

There has also been appropriately-zoned land available in the south end.

Then why can’t east Guelph get just one?

Because the only remaining land big enough to accommodate a large grocery store plaza that is appropriately zoned, at the Starwood Drive/Watson Parkway intersection, is owned by Loblaws, who have not yet chosen to build there.

Why won’t Loblaws build on the land?

They haven’t said.

Popular convention, and Gibson, believe that with no competition in the area, east Guelph residents tend to frequent one of the company’s other stores anyway – namely the revamped Zehrs on Eramosa Road that Loblaws sunk a bunch of money into upgrading a couple of years ago.

As Gibson put it: “Why double down when you’ve got the customers there already?”

He believes the city has waited long enough for Loblaws and needs to be more proactive in opening up more land along York Road to allow for competitors to build.

Did Loblaws ever move ahead with building?

In the early 2000s Loblaws was moving ahead with plans to build a super centre at the location. When Wal-Mart won approval for its super centre on Woodlawn Road, Loblaws shelved its east Guelph plans.

Can’t the city force Loblaws to build or sell the property to someone that will?


Why isn’t there other property where one could go?

Most of the property in the east end has been swallowed up by residential development.

Gibson believes the city made a mistake many years ago by not preserving a larger amount of land for commercial development in its Official Plan.

What’s an “Official Plan”?

The city’s Official Plan is a collection of land use policies that determines how a city grows.
It is intended to make sure a city’s land is used in order to meet the communities needs while keeping in line with guidelines established by higher levels of government.

For example, you can’t build factories on land zoned as residential and you can’t build houses on lands zoned industrial.

A grocery store needs mixed use or commercial designation.

Can’t the city just make changes to its Official Plan?

Not arbitrarily. It is a potentially complex, lengthy and contentious process.

Official Plans are reviewed every five years.

What’s the quickest solution?

For Loblaws to decide to build a grocery store at that location, Gibson said, adding that if it did it would take roughly 14 to 16 months to get a grocery store up and open.

Are there others willing to build a grocery store if land were available?

Yes. Gibson said at least two.

“Create more competition and let the free market dictate,” Gibson said.

How do we make more land available?

Gibson said he continues discussions with the city’s executives to see if there are ways to get zoning changes of existing properties along the York Road corridor that would free up more commercial land ahead of the city’s ongoing York Road redevelopment studies and changes, which are a lengthier process.

While he cautions against false expectations, Gibson remains “optimistic” that there is the possibility a “shovel could be in the ground” before the end of the current term of city council in October 2018 if there was a way to make those changes.

But at this point there are no firm plans or decisions to free up more commercial property on York Road.

Are there any positive steps happening right now?

Yes, but they take time.

The city already has plans on the books to widen and upgrade the roads and other infrastructure on York Road east of Victoria Road that would be a positive and needed step to more development along the corridor.

They have also begun a full commercial policy review of the city, which could identify the need for more commercial space along the York Road corridor.

The old jail lands on York Road are another possibility, but the dispersal of that property by the province is still in the early stages and the city might end up not owning any of it.

From our family to yours Merry Christmas Guelph

IMICo Update: Where we’ve come from and where we’re going

These are exciting times for the Ward’s IMICo property. Last night council unanimously approved the signing of a Memorandum of Understading (MOU) between the City, Habitat for Humanity Wellington/Dufferin/Guelph Chapter and ARQi R&D developers for the future redevelopment of the property. At this stage, in order to keep everyone up to speed on what’s been happened over the past 13 months I wanted to share some history,  in order to set the stage for next steps.

Following the 2015 federal election and the renewed optimism around federal infrastructure funding for affordable and social housing, many city’s began building bold proposals in an effort to attract federal funding. One proposal which caught my eye came from the City of Vancouver which I continue to follow closely.

See link here: Vancouver offers city land in bid for social housing funding from Ottawa.

In this context, I believed Guelph should be no different and the IMICo property presented such an opportunity.  As a City owned property which has sat vacant for 20+ years, I believed IMICo (which is almost 14 acres in size and steps from our Downtown) could be leveraged for federal brownfield funding in exchange for a commitment to an affordable housing component within future developments (in addition to many market based developments).  In essence, a truly mixed used community that the City (as current owners) could steer in the appropriate direction.

During the February 11th, 2016 council meeting specific to Guelph federal infrastructure proposals, I raised this concept for IMICo and on February 12th, 2016 sent the following email to council and the executive team in order to start an internal discussion on the file.


Fast forward 11 months and I am extremely pleased that we (collectively) are taking positive steps toward realizing this future for IMICo. In closing, I’ve included my speaking notes from last evenings council meeting in order to express my sincere thanks to all who have played important roles to date and to set the stage moving forward.

“I want to thank Mr. Howard and the local Habitat for Humanity Wellington/Dufferin/Guelph chapter as well as Dr. Obeidi from Arqi Developments. I’d also like to thank Mr. Cartwright and the Guelph economic development office, our planning staff, our Guelph executive team, and our intergovernmental affairs team for their efforts and involvement to date on this file. To the Mayor and Council I thank you for supporting this vision for the prosperous use of the IMICo lands into the future. It goes without saying that there are tremendous gains from moving in this direction on IMICo, especially when considering the many socio-economic and environmental multipliers that will be generated from construction activity like this in the Ward. I’ve always believed that the factors unique to IMICo create the types of conditions our federal and provincial governments are looking to support (through social & brownfield infrastructure funding) in order to grow our economy and support the social wellbeing of our country. For these reasons I commend intergovernmental relations staff in their efforts to highlight the IMICo proposal in Guelph’s portfolio of strategic infrastructure projects presented to the federal government ealier this year. We need partners to make this project reach it’s full potential and to this end I’d also like to thank our Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield for being a welcoming and engaged ear on this file. I believe this MOU lays the foundation for welcoming those partnerships with senior levels of government and (as owners of the property) the city can build in assurances that the vision will be carried out. So, today marks a significant hurdle being crossed, and now we can move forward to the next one.”


Closing thoughts on the Provincial Water Taking Review

The Provincial Water taking file (I believe) has been a valuable process for our council, community and staff to go through together. What started out as a very aggressive motion brought forward by Councilor Gordon and Allt, eventually turned into a well focused discussion on how Guelph might influence the governance review of the water taking process in our province.  Governance that should always be grounded in science; where priority uses can be established for municipalities and others.

I sincerely want to thank all of the residents and business owners in Guelph who have reached out to me over the past few weeks expressing appreciation that this file was steered away from it’s original tone.  Many in our community have felt alienated by things that have been said during this process and to those people, I want to acknowledge that I heard your voices very clearly.  While often too intimidated to speak up, I thank you for reaching out to me.

Guelph is very passionate about water, but our passion should always remain grounded in the science of sustainable resource development and priority uses; not on personal value judgements alone.  For these reasons I commend staff for their work on this file.  For listening to council and the community and for developing recomendations that (I wholeheartedly believe) accurately reflect our collective water security concerns. The recomendations and report are defensible and most importantly are respectful of the relationships we have with our surrounding townships and the businesses where many of our residents work.  Residents and their families who are valued members of our Guelph community.

In Canada we are truly blessed to have abundant water resources. And while we must never take for granted the sustainability of this resource, an abundance of water does allow Canadians to maintain a standard of living that (we can all acknowledge) includes many non-essential uses. Uses that other regions of our world can only dream of having, such as lawn and golf course irrigation, car washes and yes, swimming pools and splash pads. To be clear, I am not opposed to any of these uses provided the science can demonstrate the resource (in Guelph’s case groundwater) is not being depleted in order to provide them.

To this end, I believe a science based approach to rational and sustainable water use should always guide our policies (including price) and governance (e.g. Permit to Take Water Process – PTTW).  This approach was recently reinforced by the Provinces decision to review the PTTW Process in Ontario over the next two years.

It is in this context that (during the November 7th water meeting at City Hall), I decided to pose some questions to Wellington Water Watchers member Mike Nagy.  During his delegation Mr. Nagy took a moral position against the “frivolous use” of water by a company outside of Guelph.  And while I completely respect his personal opinions on water, I decided to explore the boundaries of this conviction.  My questions were intended to simply hear Mr. Nagy’s thoughts on the many non-essential uses of water that occur within Guelph.  Uses like swimming pools and splash pads, as well as industrial users (including breweries). I wanted to know whether he also considered these “frivolous” on a moral basis. After all, Guelph commercial breweries do consume water through their processes; bottle it; and ship it (as product) out of our region and around the world. And while I do not oppose any of these uses, I simply wanted to know if Mr. Nagy’s moral objection also applied to uses within Guelph.  I did so not to be patronizing, but simply to identify the inherent difficulties in developing water policy based on personal or moral positions. It is my experience in resource management that this type of approach often leads to interest groups simply “throwing rocks” at the users they don’t like (which we are seeing on this file).  And this type of targeting only results in division. This is why I continue to maintain that our collective focus must remain, first and foremost, on the science of sustainable water use; and I will continue to push this focus later on this month when the file comes before council for final deliberation and direction.

How is Guelph managing risks to our municipal water supply?

On Friday October 28th, 2016 Water Services released a report which outlines Guelph’s strategy for managing risks to the sustainability of our drinking water supply.  In particular, the report reiterates the City’s long standing positions on commercial water takings in our region and the risks they may pose to Guelph’s future needs.  I’m proud of staffs ability to prepare such a thorough and well articulated report on short notice (Council motion was only passed in late September).  Further, I’m proud of the mitigation measures already being established to address these risks through a comprehensive Tier 3 Risk Assessment (currently ongoing) for Guelph and surrounding townships under the requirements of the Clean Water Act.

guelph-water-budgetThrough this process (Tier 3 Risk Assessment), I’m confident our staff will continue providing council with expert advice and recommendations grounded in evidence based science, with a focus on implementing sustainable water resource use in our region.  To this end, I’m hopeful council will share a unanimous voice in calling for a science based review of the water taking permit process in Ontario.  A message similar to the one delivered on September 23, 2016 by Premiere Wynne when she called on the environment minister to “explor[e] ways to ensure sustainability remains the top priority for the use of our surface and groundwater. Your work will acknowledge that immediate improvements are needed when it comes to water bottling practices, particularly in the face of climate change, the increasing demand on water resources by a growing population, and concerns about water security”. 

Below are some pertinent sections of the Staff report that I believe all residents should be aware of.

Continue reading

Speaking notes from October 24th, 2016

I take great pride in making the personal decision early on in this file to take ownership and immerse myself in it’s history in order to better understand and determine how we’ve arrived at today’s outcome (suspending operations at Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc indefinitely).

So to the beginning, the creation of GMHI and pursuit of District Energy for that matter go back almost 9 years in Guelph. On November 24, 2008 council at the time struck a design team shortly after approving the original Community Energy Initiative in 2007. They appointed a sub-committee to build a business case detailing objectives, mandate, guiding principles and a proposed structure for HOLDCO (later termed GMHI).  On that design team were former mayor Karen Farbridge, former councillor Ian Findlay, and current councillor’s Mike Salisbury, Bob Bell and Leanne Piper.

Now, fast forward to June 28, 2010 (I’ve referenced this date many times in the past), Council endorses a design (founded on this subcommittees work) for GMHI that includes 5 of 8 voting members of the board being elected officials. I’ll acknowledge Councilor Bell was the only member of the design team to vote against the proposed structure of GMHI. Appointed to the original GMHI board were Karen Farbridge (chair), Todd Dennis, Lise Burcher, and current councillors June Hoffland and Karl Wettstein. 5-8 voting members were politicians (a controlling interest) by design. Politicians that now maintained governance and oversight of Guelph Hydro and its subsidiary companies. Companies that, as we’ve heard Mr. Sardana state in the past, were subjected to “pressure” and “moral suasion” to get on with pursuing District Energy in the Hanlon Creek and Downtown. Initiatives that ultimately lead to $14M dollars being invested in District Energy, of which, $8.7M has already been written off in losses.

This was a well crafted sell to the residents of Guelph. I know because as a resident before being elected I voiced support for the concept of GMHI and District Energy, and today my trust has been broken over what I’ve come to know. This is a personal issue for me because I know what it means to government’s social license when environmental initiatives (shrouded in a lack of transparency), fail.  One only has to look provincially, at the erosion of public trust in government’s ability to implement renewable energy as proof of how important social licence is in these pursuits. GMHI and District Energy is no different.

So, now residents know, just like we (councillors) know the history and I fully support Mayors Guthrie efforts to bring transparency to this file.  Those who designed, created and ultimately governed over these pursuits should no longer be allowed to distance themselves from it or shift blame. I hope that in the coming months we can continue cleaning it up, and start rebuilding the trust that has been lost in our city.

My thoughts from Monday’s meeting are attached.

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