By Doug Hallett
After a series of 6-6 tie votes Monday that left the fate of the Wilson farmhouse totally unresolved, it’s now up to Coun. Leanne Piper to try to come up with a way to break the deadlock.
At the end of Monday’s marathon city council meeting, Piper served notice that she will bring forward a motion on the north end farmhouse at a future council meeting.
However, she said she doesn’t know what kind of motion it will be.
“We need to bring back something” to council after Monday’s non-decision on the farmhouse’s fate, Piper told reporters after the meeting. “We can’t leave it at a stalemate.”
She said she would have to “carefully consider” what sort of motion might get council’s approval. “And I don’t know what that is yet,” added Piper, a strong opponent of demolishing the city-owned historic farmhouse.
Coun. Lise Burcher, who voted against demolition at the committee level on Sept. 17, was absent from Monday’s meeting. Her absence set the stage for several tie votes on various motions put forward by councillors, after they’d listened to impassioned pleas from nearly 30 delegations on both sides of the issue.
Several neighbours of Wilson Farm Park, members of the Northern Heights Liaison Group, implored council to back demolition of the farmhouse that sits at one corner of the park. “This bitter debate is pulling our community apart,” said one of them, Michelle Sperle.
Some opponents of demolition who live in the area were also there to speak to council, along with heritage advocates and civic activists who strongly urged council to save the farmhouse.
The local Habitat for Humanity organization, which builds homes for people otherwise unable to afford them, told council in a letter that it’s interested in renovating the farmhouse for such use. “This option needs to be thoroughly explored before you swing the wrecking ball,” civic activist Susan Watson told council Monday.
Stacy Collison, who runs a north end daycare, has also told council she’s interested in buying the farmhouse as expanded premises for her business and as a residence for herself.
Deeded to the city, the farmhouse is boarded up and hasn’t been lived in since 2005. Heritage Guelph vice-chair Mary Tivy said the pioneer Wilson family bought land there in 1836, farmed there for 107 years and are believed to have built this farmhouse in the 1880s.
The first council vote came on an amendment suggested by Coun. Todd Dennis, who proposed that the farmhouse be put on the market for 180 days. He wanted to see what offers the city might get to have the property severed from the park and sold “for single-family residential or community use purposes,” with a heritage designation to protect its significant features.
Dennis said Collison’s daycare proposal would fit with his amendment.
But his amendment was defeated in a 6-6 tie vote, with Mayor Karen Farbridge voting no along with councillors Bob Bell, Jim Furfaro, Cam Guthrie, Gloria Kovach and Andy Van Hellemond.
When a demolition motion came to a vote after a lot more debate and other non-successful proposals, it was also defeated 6-6. Councillor Dennis, Piper, Ian Findlay, June Hofland, Maggie Laidlaw and Karl Wettstein voted no to the demolition motion.
“I believe we have a completely stymied council,” Farbridge declared at that point.
Even a subsequent motion to defer the matter to the next meeting of council – when all 13 councillors might be present – was defeated on one of the night’s other 6-6 tie votes.
By Doug Hallett