By Doug Hallett
City council has endorsed the vision of a local citizens’ group that wants to turn part of the former provincial jail lands into a hub devoted to “green” pursuits, including environmental education.
The unanimous vote supporting the Yorklands Green Hub group’s vision for about 36 acres of land came as council gave final approval Monday to a secondary plan for a 1,077-acre plot of land known as the Guelph Innovation District. City hall has been working since 2005 on the plan for developing this area south of York Road and east of Victoria Road.
City hall originally wanted the land, mostly owned by the province, to be used primarily for new employment. However, the end result is a plan for a mixed-use area that the city is describing as a “one-of-a-kind development.”
The multi-year planning has seen “many twists and turns along the way,” Mayor Karen Farbridge noted.
The newly approved secondary plan calls for creation of a new community that is expected to be home to close to 7,000 people and 9,000 jobs. The mix of land uses it sets out includes a new “urban village,” a mixed-use main street, a research park and two new recreational parks.
It calls for adaptive re-use of the area around the historic reformatory complex, which operated as a jail for about 90 years before closing.
The plan “pays careful attention to the conservation and adaptive reuse of existing cultural heritage resources, such as the decommissioned Guelph Correctional Centre and the protection and enhancement of the site’s extensive natural heritage system, including the Eramosa River valley and Clythe Creek,” says a city news release.
Pedestrians, cyclists and transit users are to get priority over motor vehicles in the new development area, Joan Jylanne, a senior policy planner at city hall, told council.
She said typical building heights in the Guelph Innovation District will be two to six storeys, but buildings as high as 10 storeys will be allowed in some spots.
Lin Grist, a member of the board of directors of Yorklands Green Hub, said the focus of her one-year-old group is on land east of the two large ponds on the jail lands, south of York Road.
Her group submitted its plan to Infrastructure Ontario late last year, and “they said no initially,” she told council.
However, the group continues to pursue small-scale projects there as a way of working towards its larger vision for the 36 acres, she said. The group’s goal is to “create a self-sustaining education, demonstration, innovation and research hub that will focus on sustainable local food production, wise water use and water protection, and energy conservation and renewable-energy technologies.”
“I just love this project,” said Coun. Maggie Laidlaw, and Coun. Lise Burcher called it a “fantastic idea.” Laidlaw’s motion that council support in principle the group’s vision carried unanimously.
Business uses that the city wants for the Guelph Innovation District include the environmental and agriculture technology sectors, as well as communication and creative media companies.
Jylanne said a “block plan” approach will be taken to ensure that development proceeds in an “orderly and cost-effective” way in the Guelph Innovation District. The timing of development isn’t being dictated, but rather will depend on landowners wanting to move forward with development of a particular block of land, she said.
Peter Cartwright, the city’s general manager of economic development, said the city’s current Memorandum of Understanding with the province expires at the end of 2014. The city wants it to be replaced with another MOU dealing with implementation of the new secondary plan, he said.
The ways of marketing land in the district could range from sticking For Sale signs in the ground to issuing Requests for Proposals, he said.
Coun. Karl Wettstein struck a note of skepticism, though, asking how long it might take the province to get to the point where something might actually get built in the Guelph Innovation District.
After 10 years of talk about the future of this land, Wettstein said he saw no “sense of urgency” from the province in working with the city to get development started. “Are we sure this is real?” he asked.
Cartwright challenged the idea that it’s not a priority for the province to get its land there developed. The province “does not want it to be an underperforming asset on their books,” he said.
However, the process to be followed by the province in dealing with the issue is different than what it would be for a private sector landowner, he said.
By Doug Hallett