Heritage Guelph Should be Reigned in!

Originally sent to the Mayor.

Why is it that you and the present city council jump through hoops, and run for cover every time a non elected special interest group such as Heritage Guelph raise a fuss, or throw a collective hissy fit? The Wilson farmhouse vs. parkland debacle is a prime example of this council totally ignoring the well researched recommendations of your city staff to solve a civic concern by pandering to those who protest their decision the loudest. Heritage Guelph has an important role to play in preserving our old buildings. No one argues that. But in this case (Wilson Farmhouse) that group has stepped way over the line. We’re not talking about tearing down the Church of Our Lady here, for heavens sake!! Heritage Guelph, it’s seems to many, is dictating to our elected representatives and staff in this case and others, and they need to be reigned in!! That, however, would take political courage to do so, and I’m afraid that attribute is in critically short supply at City Hall these days.   RA

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8 Comments

Filed under Heritage

8 responses to “Heritage Guelph Should be Reigned in!

  1. MS

    Completely agree!

  2. Don

    This post is silly. Heritage Guelph is an appointed advisory comittee of City Council. They have no power. You don’t have to reign them in if you don’t like their advice. You can just ignore them. What do you want council to do? Appoint a comittee to give them advice and then tell them what advice to give?

  3. Dennis Galon

    Politics is the art of the possible, and when the politics are very good, then wisdom prevails, compromises are hammered out, and good-willed people recognize that something good has happened.

    Council’s decision on the Wilson Farmhouse is a superb example. Unfortunately, a dose of political sophistication is required to recognize the good that we experienced last Monday.

    So, let’s review the cold, hard, political facts; putting aside the expectation that my group alone have all wisdom, and our view must dominate and destroy the other side, or else great evil has occurred. (Is that not a fair description of RA’s call for and MS’s support for the abolition of Heritage Guelph.)

    First, everyone agrees the city blew it on this file. As Mayor Farbridge pointed out a while back on her blog, the folks are long since gone who allowed a flawed site plan for Northern Heights that idiotically isolated the Wilson Farmhouse on a hillock in the corner of a park. If one must look back, there is plenty of blame to pass around. I believe the developer knew the Farmhouse was supposed to be preserved and integrated, and none the less, designed the site so that would be awkward. City staff were asleep in approving the site plan. The Council of that day—everyone please note, NOT THIS COUNCIL—failed to correct this faulty planning.

    Secondly, even after that initial fiasco attributed to long gone folks, there was a very unfortunate failure of the process of citizen participation that his city, most especially under this Mayor and this Council, have insisted on. It is costly in terms of staff time, and it can be extremely frustrating for staff when they organize input sessions and very few show up. Still, Guelph is rightly proud and rightly famous for doing the participation thing well. That impartial citizen participation did not take place.

    Thirdly, a group of citizens filled the breach, and did what they could by way of an alternate process. Big problem, however. This group, from all accounts, came to the process with an ANSWER, a CONCLUSION; and they, again by all accounts were aggressive about it. It is of course just fine for a group of citizens to congregate and push for a position on an issue; BUT that is not the same as a participation process designed to bring forward all views, and were possible, strive for consensus; or failing that, at least mutual respect. Further, in this particular case, the local advocacy group just presumed that the right to participate in the decision was strictly a neighbourhood right. That view can only have arisen from a lack of awareness of Guelph politics over the decades. Heritage preservation costs money, so everyone has a vested interest in heritage decisions in whatever neighbourhood.

    (Granted there will be different views on this third point; but no one can argue with the fact that whatever happened did not produce a happy result.)

    Fourthly, fast forward to the staff recommendation to demolish. Wow, now suddenly there is a city wide brouhaha. Preservationists are pitted against demolitionists. Council is divided. The September 30 Council meeting brought it all out formally in the Council chambers. Long hours of delegate presentations, most good stuff, some of it needlessly confrontational. More long hours of Council debate. The simplistic analysis of that debate would say they were divided 6:6 as preservationist versus demolitionists. I beg to differ, and suggest that it was much more complex. Councillors were divided in multiple ways about the kinds of things they were prepared to entertain; and several thought the time for all discussion was over, and demolition was the only option on the table.

    I am convinced that the 12 members of Council were as surprised as the audience when they ended up deadlocked 6:6 on the main motions (demolish or not), and then in all subsequent efforts to find a way out of that dead lock, even the putatively obvious motion to put the matter over to the next meeting when all 13 might be present.

    Fifthly, we come to the November 4 Council meeting. My admiration for Guelph’s City Council experienced a significant uptick that evening. Going into that meeting we had a known 6:6 split on the staff recommendation to demolish immediately, and it was very well known that the missing Councillor, Ms. Lise Burcher, was a staunch supporter in general of heritage issues. On the face of it, therefore, one could count on a 6:7 defeat for immediate demolition. If our Council had played raw power politics, it sure looked like the preservationist side had the upper hand.

    Facing that, all fair minded citizens ought to be amazed at the carefully crafted motion Councillor Leanne Piper brought forward. Her motion granted one last chance to the preservation side to come up with a viable plan, a plan that will pass muster before this sceptical Council, but in the very same motion, she granted the demolitionists finality in a short 120 days. The default option is demolition—no more reprieves, no more fiddling while the farmhouse deteriorates.

    Following the comments here on the Deuce, before and after the decision, I have just got to wonder if some demolitionists are incapable of accepting a gift horse. Can they not read tea leaves? Did they not get that the raw power is aligned 7:6 against them? Is there any sanity at all, in this context, going before Council and arguing for immediate demolition, the very position defeated on September 30. Compromise was essential, if the demolitionists were to have any chance at getting what they want. Some appear to have refused to consider compromise, even after Councillor Piper offered them an excellent deal.

    Thanks heavens our Council knows that politics is the art of the possible. The compromise is brilliant, and notice, oh please notice that it passed 11:2 (Furfaro and van Hellemond dissenting). From deadlock to a strong majority position. And still some in the neighbourhood having WON the best possible deal with a 7:6 hand against them, are not happy with their victory. They want to crucify the other side, they want Heritage Guelph to go away. How incredibly ungracious.

    There is actually more to the decency of the Council we have in this wonderful city. According to standard operation procedure, Leanne’s motion should have gone through a Council committee first with a potential delay of 60 days before coming before Council. That would have been another black eye for the demolitionists, so the mayor intervened to bring the matter directly to Council. But there was a very real chance that another deadlock could emerge should one councillor be absent. Again the Mayor Farbridge intervened and, against all standard procedure, caused the City Clerk to poll Councillors to be sure all 13 were present at the meeting that would consider the Piper Motion. Another special effort in favour of the neighbourhood and their very strong desire for their agony to end, and still some are grumbling about the Heritage Guelph.

    Give me a break.

  4. Jim H.

    When all is said and done taxpayers in Guelph will be left holding the bag for many millions of dollars to “save” a mold and animal invested building.

    Let me predict a two headlines coming inside the next two years:
    1) Restoration of Wilson Farmhouse to cost more than expected.

    2) NGO walks away leaving Guelph taxpayers to pick-up the ongoing costs of Wilson Farmhouse and their guaranteed debt.

    I hope I am wrong, but seriously doubt it. Dennis is correct about one thing, the decisions of this Council are predictable and some members certainly need to be replaced.

    • Dennis Galon

      @Jim H.

      I would accept a bet against your prophesy. No way this Council will buy into a proposal for the Wilson that leaves us holding the bag of millions of dollars.

      On the other hand, I certainly recognize the pattern of expectations you propose as something that happens with excessive frequency.

      If I’m right, and the Council doesn’t accept something YOU judge as doomed to failure, will you join me in voting them back into office?

      I certainly have my favorites and a few I would prefer to see replaced, but over all we are blessed with a nice balance of left versus right; and we sure have a Mayor that has earned sufficient respect from all of them on all sides, so the wheels of government roll with generally positive outcomes.

  5. Leanne Piper

    Re: What and Who is Heritage Guelph?

    Hoping to add some clarity to the role of Heritage Guelph. Municipalities appoint “advisory committees” for a wide range of community issues. Elected officials are too diverse to have the expertise to be fully knowledgeable in all areas of jurisdiction. We are not all scientists, planners, lawyers or fluvial geomorphologists. That’s why we appoint advisory committees. Public notices are posted annually for citizens to apply to over 15 different committees. Citizens generally apply to a committee if they have an area of personal interest or professional experience. Some apply because they want to give back to the community, and other apply because it enhances their professional network and resume.

    The City of Guelph has advisory committees such as the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC), River System Advisory, Committee, Water Conservation Advisory Committee, Waste Management Advisory Committee and Heritage Advisory Committee (Heritage Guelph is the name used internally). All members are appointed by Council. Council sees the resumes and evaluates candidates based on their expertise and the needs of the committee. EAC has lots of science people, River and Water committees have lots of water experts, etc. Appointments are time-limited so that committee turnover can occur.

    Back to Heritage Guelph. This is a committee comprised of incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated VOLUNTEERS. The committee is blessed with an architect, an architectural historian, librarian/researcher, tradespeople, policy makers, real estate experts, and heritage property owners. They know their stuff. They know the Ontario Heritage Act. They’ve been inside the buildings they recommend for designation.

    Give them some credit. They have not sat idly by watching the Wilson Farmhouse fall victim to ‘demolition by neglect’. They have been asking and prodding to move the Wilson adaptive re-use forward. When the Notice of Intent to Designate came to Council in 2009, they thought this was progress. Eighteen months (18) months delayed progress while the designation was appealed to the Conservation Review Board (CRB). When the CRB decision came in, it upheld their recommendation to Council. It’s not their fault the farmhouse sat another year.

    Back to today. When the staff recommendation to demolish came to Council, there were really only three ways to go:
    1. Demolish immediately.
    2. Restart the whole process, craft a new community consultation process, and start over.
    3. Shorten the process, ask for EOIs and see if there is any viable use.

    Neither 1 or 2 would have been appropriate, in my opinion. The first solution ignores any possibility of compromise. The second one will delay and frustrate the neighbourhood.

    A 120 days period to imagine the possibilities is the compromise. There is either a viable adaptive re-use or not. The definition of “viable” is debatable, and Heritage Guelph does not define that. Each member of Council has a different definition of viable based on a wide range of individual perspectives — costs, community benefit, traffic, parking, neighbourhood impact to name a few — but ultimately, it will come down to a vote. A democratic process often leaves some happy, and others not. Consensus is hard to reach unless all sides are willing to give and take.

    Is consensus possible here? I don’t know. Might a future use be proposed that gets unanimous support from the neighbourhood and Council? Not likely. In the end, demolition may be the final fate of the farmhouse afterall. But at the very least, we can all say that the options were fully explored and found wanting.

    And then the healing begins.

  6. Dennis Galon

    Well said, Leanne.

    However, I think the healing has already begun. With an acknowledged 7:6 split on Council as the starting point, the fact you managed to craft a motion that got 11:2 support is nothing short of amazing, an act of healing.

  7. Ron

    So Councillor Piper says Heritage Guelph is doing what they are supposed to be doing and to “give them so credit”.

    Question: Who then do we hold accountable for the debacle that is the Wilson farmhouse?
    In my mind, council is responsible for dragging it’s collective feet on this issue and for pitting neighbour against neighbour.

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