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Farmhouse debate ends in demolition

By Doug Hallett
Guelph Tribune
Many years of uncertainty about what to do with a historic north end farmhouse ended Wednesday. City council voted decisively to demolish it and add the land to an adjacent neighbourhood park.
Council voted 8-3 to defeat a motion by Coun. Leanne Piper that would have seen an ad hoc committee of council struck to closely examine a couple of proposals for re-use of the farmhouse. Then it voted 9-2 in favour of the demolition option recommended by city staff.
Piper was joined by Coun. Maggie Laidlaw on the losing side of both votes. Ward 2 councillor Ian Findlay, whose ward contains the farmhouse, voted with them on the motion to strike an ad hoc committee. Councillors Lise Burcher and Todd Dennis were absent.
Council didn’t debate for long after hearing from 15 delegations on both sides of the highly divisive issue. Approving Piper’s motion would likely lead to the city issuing a Request for Proposals for re-use of the farmhouse, and this process could take so long that the current council wouldn’t be in a position to make a final decision on the farmhouse’s future, council was told.
“What we are being asked to do with this (Piper’s) amendment is kick it (the farmhouse issue) down the road again, and that is not fair to the next council,” which will be elected in October, said Coun. Jim Furfaro.
The two proposals that Piper wanted an ad hoc committee to closely examine both involve using the farmhouse for a combination of community purposes and as a demonstration centre for green home technologies. They were among five proposals submitted in response to a council motion passed last November, directing city staff to issue a Request for Expressions of Interest for the sale or lease of the farmhouse for community or residential use.
Coun. Bob Bell said Guelph could benefit from a facility showing residents how to make their homes more energy-efficient – like the REEP House for Sustainable Living in central Kitchener. However, the farmhouse on Simmonds Drive is the wrong location for such a facility, he contended.
Mayor Karen Farbridge agreed. “It would be great to have a REEP House” in Guelph, she said, “but why here?” A better location, she suggested, might be the area south of York Road between Victoria Road and the Watson Parkway, which city hall calls the Guelph Innovation District. Farbridge also said she was concerned about “compatibility” and parking issues related to the proposals for re-use of the farmhouse, and she worried about financial risk for the city as well.
Laidlaw said the Wilson farmhouse “could become a valuable asset not just for the neighbourhood, but for the entire city.”
Findlay has long promoted the idea of re-using the farmhouse for purposes along the lines of a REEP House, and he has been working with one of the groups whose proposal would have been examined if Piper’s amendment had passed.
The other Ward 2 councillor, Andy Van Hellemond, has long pushed for demolition of the farmhouse as being what the neighbourhood wants. He voted for demolition Wednesday.

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