Letter to Guelph City Council re: Lafarge property
I am unable to attend tonight's Lafarge lands decision at Guelph City Council as I am at a GTA West Environmental Assessment Community Advisory Group meeting in Milton at the same time. My wife will be reading a letter from me to council tonight on the topic.
While there are many more points I would like to raise in the letter, there is only so much time and space. I have made many of them before. Ultimately, though, I hope the city and the developers come to some kind of agreement in which the Lafarge land is preserved as a GO station, especially in light of GO's very recent announcements. This does not have to hinder the developers' ability to develop the land. Indeed, high-density residential on this property with parkland and a commercial section to service it -- there are no grocery stores within walking distance of downtown, for example -- would be ideal next to a large park-and-ride facility for GO transit. Everyone would win with this.
I am also concerned that the downtown transit hub is, as we say in the computer world, vapourware. According to a Via Rail representative I traded emails with, "VIA's Senior Manager of Real Estate [says] that there is no formal agreement at this time" with the City of Guelph. "There have been discussions for this proposal in the past years." I am concerned because, "VIA owns the Guelph station but the parking lot is under lease from CN." With no agreement with Via and no ownership of the station property, it would be a good idea for the city to clear up exactly how they plan to build the Transit Hub, which will be needed as a complement to both the downtown and the former Lafarge land GO station.
Anyway, here is the text of the letter.
Madam mayor, members of council,
I would have liked to be here today to make a few quick points about the former Lafarge land and how important it is to our future as a community neighbouring other communities.
As you are all by now aware, GO transit is taking our city's call for their service very seriously. While Guelph did not really figure in GO's 10-year plan just a year ago, the transit provider is now working to provide Guelph with 2 commuter trains on our existing tracks, which can easily handle them. Their published announcement five days ago reads in part, "The Study will review potential sites for the construction of new rail stations". A substantial portion of the Lafarge property must be set aside for GO Transit as it is by far the best place in the city for a Guelph station.
GO trains ran to Guelph from 1990 to 1993. Guelph was then a city in the midst of a recession that was barely over half the size it is today. As noted by Paul Tatham in a letter to the editor in the Mercury just a few weeks ago, one of GO's major failings then was a lack of parking.
The City hopes to get around this with the construction of a transit hub at the Via station across the street from City Hall. That station, currently host to a mere 30 parking spaces, would, if it is ever built, be the meeting point for our trains, city busses, and inter-city busses. Parking, already at a premium for the commuters riding Via's 7 AM commuter train, will be eliminated and people will be forced to take their cars closer to their destination.
Where does that leave us? When GO trains arrive, it leaves us on the 401.
The City has proposed to build a 500-spot parking garage on Wilson St., next door to us here. I have heard two conflicting explanations for what this lot will do. It will provide additional parking for downtown businesses, we are told, and it will provide parking for the transit hub.
If GO trains arrive in Guelph, whether or not our transit hub is built, a 500-spot lot will last no more than 2 months before completely filling each morning before Guelph's inbound commuters arrive, if Barrie's example is anything to go by. Such a lot would be of no use whatsoever to the downtown economy if it is made available to rail commuters. If it is not made available to those commuters, they will have nowhere to park and will simply continue to drive, or they will clog up downtown's other parking lots.
We do, however, have a solution to this problem, and it is the subject of your decision here this evening. It is not a new solution. It was first proposed the last time GO trains ran to Guelph, some 15 years ago.
The solution is simple. The former Lafarge land is perfect for a park-and-ride station for GO trains. It is located between 3 highways and 2 railway lines. This was once the very plan for this same piece of land. Our transit hub will be needed to connect trains to busses, both local and inter-regional, and to the downtown. But the Lafarge land, with its sheer size, location, and proximity to both highways and rail lines, provides the best opportunity Guelph will ever have for the commuter parking this city will soon need. There is only one other place in Guelph that would be suitable, but turning Margaret Greene Park into Margaret Greene Parking Lot would be both less advantageous as a location and less valuable to the city. Let's not use a greenfield when a brownfield is available.
The rail lines passing the Lafarge property should be considered an asset, not a liability, by all concerned. There are two tracks straddling the Lafarge property. One of them will soon be hosting GO service, and both have enormous potential as eventual light rail connections to Kitchener and Cambridge.
We need to provide adequate parking to drive people out of their cars. The GO trains are coming, and if we are not ready for them, they will fail for a second time, as ever more cars use the roads we keep building for them. We need only look at every existing station on GO's network. Many have parking lots in the thousands of spaces, and are building vertically to accommodate the constant growth in commuter traffic. Each car parking in each of those lots is a car not tying up our roads and highways each and every rush hour.  Commuter station parking lots are among the few parking lots that are actually beneficial to us.
We should not, however, consider the use of the Lafarge lands as a transit station to be at the expense of the planned downtown Transit Hub. Indeed, both are of critical importance and one does not in any way preclude the other. Many cities on the GO network have two or more stations. There is no reason for Guelph to be any exception. Stopping at the Lafarge lands to connect with cars, and at the downtown transit hub to connect to city and inter-city busses, and downtown residents provides us with the best of both worlds.
Send the developers back to the drawing board on this proposal. It does nothing for the long term viability of our community, our economy, our environment, or our connections to our neighbours. But the land has the potential to do all those things while working to the developer's advantage as well as our own. We need this station on the Lafarge land for the future of our transit infrastructure.
I thank you for the leadership you provide in fighting for what is right rather than what is expedient and I very much look forward to hearing the results of tonight's deliberations.
- City council voted unanimously to adopt City Staff's recommendation to oppose the development. This is not a final decision as it has been preemptively appealed to the OMB.
-  marks the spot where my wife was cut off by the buzzer and the presentation was truncated. A signed copy of the complete letter was turned over to staff.
- Council meeting was preempted by a call-in show about car repairs on local TV and reaired after everyone went to sleep. How... useful.
Posted at 21:59 on June 03, 2008
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