Town Hall on Homecoming – Update, Questions and Answers

This letter was sent to those who attended our Ward 5 Town Hall on Homecoming.


Ward 5 Town Hall on Homecoming Issues – Update, Q & A
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Dear Residents

This letter is to update you about the ongoing activities since the Ward 5 Town Hall in November regarding Homecoming and large nuisance parties.

You are receiving this update as you provided an email address when you signed into the November meeting. If you do not want to receive any further updates please click on the ‘unsubscribe’ link at the end of the email.

The purpose of this letter is to provide answers and clarifications to some of the question/issues that were raised at the November meeting.

In early March, we intend to bring you a final update of the new strategies and actions that will be implemented to address the issue. As your Ward 5 Councillors, we are committed to continue working with all stakeholders to find strategies to deal with the increasing number of large nuisance parties that are having a negative impact on the well-being of residents. It is evident that due to a number of factors, including the use of social media to promote parties, there is a need to step up enforcement and develop new approaches to both prevention and response to the problem.

The University of Guelph has set up a Homecoming Working Group 2018, chaired by Brenda Whiteside – VP of Student Affairs. On the committee, representatives from the U of G, near-campus neighbourhood groups and the City have been discussing strategies to respond to the growing number of off campus disturbances associated with Homecoming.
The Town and Gown Committee will also be meeting in February with a focus on preparing for St Patrick’s Day. This group, chaired by Kathryn Hofer – Manager of Off-Campus Living, has been meeting regularly for a number of years with representatives from By-law, zoning, U of G, neighbourhood groups, police, City Councillors and student associations.
In November, Councillor Downer participated as a panelist in a Webinar hosted by the Town & Gown Association of Ontario (TGAO) titled “How do Town & Gown communities respond to large scale post-secondary student street parties?” She and other panelists from Kingston, Hamilton and Waterloo explored the trends and best/emerging practices on how to deal with this growing problem facing University cities. Kathryn Hofer is the President of TGAO. She facilitated the webinar and will be bringing some of the suggestions back to the Working Group and the Town and Gown Committee for further discussion.
McElderry Community Meeting: Thursday, February 22, 7 pm at the Jean Little School, Youngman Drive. They have invited representatives of the Guelph Police Services and City By-Law Department to share their plans for St Patrick’s Day and large student parties. All are welcome.

November Town Hall Questions and Issues

Registered parties – does this mean it is sanctioned by the U of G?

A registered party is not a sanctioned party by the University of Guelph. Students participate in a consultation that provides students with an opportunity to ask any questions that they may have about by-laws and infractions. Tips to reduce the negative impact of the party on the community are provided, which, when followed, in turn reduce the chances of receiving neighbourhood complaints. Students also receive information and resources about alcohol consumption, sexual violence, and host liability.

When registering, students agree online to the terms of party registration, and these terms are discussed during the consultation. The terms identify that the party is neither condoned nor sponsored by the University of Guelph. The terms identify that the party host is responsible for complying with federal, provincial, and local laws, including but not limited to paying any fines or fulfilling any legal obligations that may come their way.

How many student “home visits” have occurred over the last three years?

These are the stats from the U of G.
Approximately 400 student households in near-campus neighbourhoods are visited annually, the weekend prior to Homecoming, through the Right Foot Forward program.

Fall Semester 2017
36 contacts initiated by community members, resulting in 27 visits to students homes
23 address visits initiated through joint enforcement identification

2016-2017 Academic Year
55 contacts initiated by community members, resulting in 41 visits to student homes
35 of these contacts were initiated during the Fall Semester
5 address visits initiated through joint enforcement identification

2015-2016 Academic Year
20 contacts initiated by community members, resulting in 28 visits to student homes
15 of these contacts were initiated during the Fall Semester
7 address visits initiated through joint enforcement identification

2014-2015 Academic Year
58 contacts initiated by community members, resulting in 64 visits to student homes
38 of these contacts were initiated during the Fall Semester
9 address visits initiated through joint enforcement identification

How is U of G collecting and communicating to students about the impacts (Photos, personal statements, etc.) ?

Meetings of the Homecoming Working Group are currently under way and recommendations brought forward by this group will be incorporated into the communication strategy for Homecoming.

Can students be fined by U of G?

There are a variety of outcomes and penalties through the Community Standards Protocol. The determined approach is case by case and is assessed on a variety of factors. If a case moves forward to a judicial process, receiving a financial penalty is one possible outcome.

Question: Would the U of G consider cancelling Homecoming?

The experiences from other post-secondary campuses in Ontario that have piloted the cancellation of Homecoming tell us that students will host off-campus events in response to a cancellation, resulting in a “Fake Homecoming”. A Fake Homecoming is likely to be just as large, or larger, and has the potential to be more disruptive due to the ‘backlash’ nature of events like this.

Question: Can the U of G hold all events on campus?

The strategy of hosting additional events on campus is being discussed by the Homecoming Working Group.

Question: Can the U of G suspend or expel a student who participates or organizes a nuisance party?

If a case moves forward to a judicial process, receiving a suspension/expulsion is one possible outcome, but is unlikely for an off-campus incident. Charges and penalties under our Nuisance Party by-law may be more effective.

Question: If U of G judicial/off campus protocols are voluntary, can they made mandatory?

Five of the six options on the response continuum of the Community Standards Protocol encourage the voluntary participation of students. Voluntary participation encourages active engagement in the process and follow through with a change in behaviour. If students do not voluntarily participate in the options, then a non-voluntary option comes into play. A review of the Community Standards Protocol is being discussed by the Homecoming Working Group.

Question: Why doesn’t the U of G Build more on campus housing?

The current demand for on-campus housing for students is being met. After first year, the majority of students have a preference to live off campus and will choose to do so even if on campus residence is available.

Question: Can there be student communication that pop-up parties are not permitted and use social media to broadcast consequences?

This strategy, and other communication solutions, are being discussed by the Homecoming Working Group.

Question: Can we distinguish between number of individual calls and number of ‘calls for service’?

Bylaw -If a party is ongoing and three neighbours call, this is only recorded as one incident. However, the complaints would be added onto the call for service to indicate that more than one call was received. This usually changes the priority of the call and officers are sent ASAP.
Police – If multiple people call in for the same incident then it is only entered in as one call for service. Otherwise the stats would be distorted and not in line with the requirements with Canada Stats. They do not track how many people call in for one incident. There might be an entry in the call that multiple people called but it is not captured to be made available as data.



Guelph Natural Heritage Action Plan – have your say

Ward 5 is host to a number of significant Natural Heritage features – the river valley, Hanlon Creek Park, the Arboretum. The City is looking for your help to prioritize actions and create an implemation plan for the NHAP. No expertise needed….just a desire to make Guelph a better place now and in the future.

There are workshops on Jan 16th and 18th.

More info here:

New Main Library- have your say!

Coming Soon

The Guelph Public Library Board is hosting two open house meetings to present updated information regarding a new Main Library. The new facility is intended to be part of the proposed Baker District Project. KPMG has been contracted to present a business Case for a new facility to City Council on February 13th, 2018.

When: Tuesday, January 9th 2-4 pm and 6-8pm
Where: Main LIbrary, Programming Room (2nd Floor), 100 Norfolk Street

Why come to the open house?

This opportunity is to reintroduce the idea of a Main Library. Please share what you want to see within a new Main Library.

– Bring your ideas for the best use of public space.
– We will review the major elements of our August 2017 (updated) Functional
– We will discuss examples fo how other cities in Ontario, and Canada have
developed their main libraries.

For more information:
Steven Kraft, CEO, Guelph Public Library
519-824-6220, ext. 224


The Learning Curve on Electric Vehicles


My trusted Matrix took its dying breath on the Hanlon a few weeks ago.  Saying good-bye was harder than I thought it would be, because so many memories with my kids happened in that car – road trips, camping, horse shows, and teenagers learning to drive with their G1.   But I won’t miss the roll up windows, the familiar rattles and the gas mileage in its later years.

And so I began the search for my next vehicle… and learned quite a few new things along the way.  The installation of new electric car charging stations  — Stone Road Mall, University of Guelph and the County of Wellington office on Wyndham Street  — made the idea of buying a full electric vehicle (EV) worth considering.  The more I looked at buying an EV, the more sense it made.

  • no gas!
  • up to $14K rebate from Province (lease or purchase)
  • a rapily-growing network of charging stations in Guelph and across Ontario
  • evolving technology means batteries can be swapped for higher-range versions
  • zero emissions

I’ll admit that I did have “range anxiety” at first.  This is a common initial hesitation of many potential electric vehicle consumers.  Over the course of two weeks, I did a mileage audit of my frequent trips and realized most of my driving is local, and even GTA or KW trips can be accommodated with planned parking where an EV charging station is available.  I even found a cool mobile app (PlugShare) where EV owners offer to share their home charging stations with other EV owners.

The next step was a trip to the Plug ‘n’ Drive EV Centre in Toronto.  Plug’n Drive is a non-profit organization that offers information on electric vehicles, but is not a sales centre, so the information is unbiased.  They have test drive vehicles from a variety of manufacturers (yes, they have a Tesla on site too).  I was able to test drive three different EV (Nissan Leaf, Chevy Bolt and BMW i3).   The staff are knowledgeable about all of the benefits, models and incentives programs.  I followed up this field trip to the closest Kia dealership with an EV in stock (Burlington) to test drive the electric Soul.

After a test drive, I was sold on the Soul.  It’s been three weeks with my new EV and so far so good.  Most public charging stations (such as County of Wellington building) were free until July 1, but are now recouping their costs by charging or flat or hourly rate.  Charging at home is now the most economical option.  As an added bonus, there is a $1000 provincial rebate for new owners to install a home charging station.  Incentivizing the purchase of an electric vehicle is based on the same principle as low-flush toilet and washer rebates — there is a great social or environmental benefit to promoting a cultural or technological shift.

Since becoming an EV owner, I have discovered even more benefits….

  • Regenerative brakes help to extend range (they recharge the battery on deceleration), so cool
  • Three different charging levels (1, 2 and 3) means I can fully charge the car in 25 minutes, or 24 hours, depending on the hook up
  • No oil changes, no engine fluids…my first maintenance check is at 30,000 km
  • So quiet!  A combustion engine sounds very noisy to me now!
  • EVs in Ontario come with green licence plates, which can be used in HOV lanes
  • There are many mobile apps that map the location of EV charging stations and I have not had any issues finding a location to charge
  • Pick up acceleration is amazing, even on the Gordon Street and Eramosa hills
  • People love to ask about the EV and I have had many great conversations with other EV owners and curious EV future owners

Transportation infrastructure is changing. Climate change and the transition to clean and renewable energy in Ontario is driving (forgive the pun) a new economy.   New EV models are coming in the fall — the VW e-Golf and the Hyundai Ioniq for example.  Auto manufacturing in Canada could see a new future if we are able to produce electric cars here at home.   Volvo recently announced it will only make EVs and hybrids as of 2019.

Guelph has always been on the forefront of the shift to green technologies.  EVs are the future in my opinion.  I see a role for the municipality in building the infrastructure to support this shift sooner than later.  EV charging stations are planned for the future Wilson Street parking facility.  This is just the beginning ….


Committee of the Whole 101

Much ado has been made lately in the press about Council’s Committee of the Whole (CoW).  Opinion within Council is divided — some love it, some hate it — but most of the public don’t even understand it.  Here’s the low-down:

Any council or board normally has some kind of committee structure.  The purpose of a committee is to review and debate items before they come to Council.   Then, the committee makes a recommendation to send to Council for a final vote.

Having a committee review, debate and make a recommendation before going to Council is a good idea. Stakeholders and citizens can come and share their input before Council makes a decision.  Like anything, the background work done well at committee makes it easier down the road.

Guelph used to have a Standing Committee structure.  There were five (5) committees, as follows:

  • Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise (such as roads,sidewalks, water, business Development and downtown renewal)
  • Public Services (such as tourism, recreation, emergency services, transit, etc.)
  • Corporate Services (such as human resources, finance, legal,  city-owned real estate)
  • Audit (make sure money is being spent as planned)
  • Governance (strategic planning, accountability, transparency, CAO review)

In the old standing committee structure, four councillors (and the mayor) sat on each committee.  Meetings were scheduled at standardized times and, typically once per month.  At the end of the month, all of the committee recommendations are presented to Council and ratified.

In the Committee of the Whole structure, all of these committees meet on the same day, one after the other, and all 12 councillors (and the mayor) are members of all the committees.

On the surface, it appears simple.   Proponents say it is more efficient because there is only one meeting, instead of five meetings.  Technically, this is true.  However, so far, CoW meetings have been longer than all five previous standing committee meetings put together.   This is because all 13 members of Council are present, which tends to mean more questions of staff and longer debate.

A CoW governance structure can often work well for small boards or councils.  Larger councils get bogged down in discussion and debate, and this is why larger councils tend to do most of their work using a standing committee structure.

When the CoW structure was first proposed for Guelph, I did not support this new model.  I have been consistent in my opposition, up to and including the Council meeting on May 23, 2017, where I voted against continuing with the pilot project.  Council voted to continue to evaluate the CoW process for another six months, so this is the plan moving forward.  I do not think it is a good move for Guelph, for the following reasons:

  • longer committee meetings
  • repetitive discussion
  • false sense that committee recommendation will pass at council
  • not as accessible for constituents to attend daytime committee meetings
  • councillors can’t focus on one area, must attend all meetings

It remains to be seen whether the CoW will continue beyond the spring of 2018.  As we move forward, if the CoW structure is to remain, we need to see evidence that our citizens understand and feel included in the decision-making of the city at the committee level.  As always, I welcome your thoughts…


National Planning Conference: Learning how to build a great city

Last week, I had the privilege to attend the 2017 National Planning Conference (NPC).   Each year, city councillors are allocated budget funds for professional development which can be used to attend courses, conferences and/or other learning activities related to our role as members of Council.  Each year, I try to choose something different, based on the needs and challenges facing our city.  Over the past few years, as we grow ever upward and outward, I took the opportunity to learn more about how cities like Guelph are doing things differently from a planner’s perspective.

During the second day, I was sitting with a small group of planners and was asked “why is a city councillor at a planning conference?”   My response, “we are your partners in city building. We need to speak the same language.”  In other words, when our city planners bring us ideas and recommendations, it is essential that we, as decision-makers, understand their vision and the lens through which they see our city.   We have more in common than we realize.

Cities across North America are facing similar challenges:

  • how do we build resiliency in the face of climate change?
  • how do we rebuild our aging infrastructure for sustainable and alternative energy?
  • how do we encourage active transportation and improve transit ridership?
  • what are the current best practices in developing and redeveloping public space?
  • what types of public space best contribute to social interaction?
  • how does public space generate and contribute to economic prosperity?
  • how do we provide affordable housing when we gentrify our downtowns?

The NPC provided some great innovative ideas and inspiration.  Over the next few days, I will reflect on what I’ve learned and share it here, with a bit of added Guelph context.

The Value of Public Space

When planners look at a new development, the need for quality public space is always top of mind.   The social interactions and economic benefit of high-quality public spaces (streets, parks, trails, squares, boulevards, libraries, recreational facilities, etc.) are, in many ways, more important that the private portion of the development.  Public space is the glue that holds it all together.

Humans like to gather in public places.  If we provide the basic essentials, the people will do the rest.  What are the essentials?

  • places to sit (ie. benches)
  • places to eat (ie. food cart)
  • places to reflect (ie. greenspace)
  • places to work (ie. wifi)
  • places to look (ie. public art)

20170508_140959 (1)

Bryant Park (NYC) is a great example of all five components working in tandem.  It’s also one of the most highly-used public spaces in New York City.   Once a neglected urban space plagued by drug deals and other criminal activity, Bryant Park is now a hum of activity for all ages and an economic driver for businesses located on its perimeter.   It is located adjacent to the New York Library, so outdoor reading areas and free lending libraries have been added to promote literacy. Games (bocce, ping pong, chess to name a few) keep visitors engaged for hours.   Loose park furniture (yes, even in a big city) allows for visitors to shift with the sun and find shade under a tree, alone or in large groups that can congregate and talk about local politics.

In Guelph, our next significant public (and private) space development will happen along the river lands on the site of The Metalworks.  The opportunity to link our rivers and trails is something that our planners (and councillors) were really excited about when we saw early plans for the massive redevelopment of the 5 Arthur Street site.  The city will play a role in planning for a bridge linkage over the Speed River, and connecting the future “river walk” with our existing trail infrastructure.   At NPC, we heard about successful projects where riverfront lands were reclaimed and restored for public space.


Planning a great city — and great public space — must always engage the community. Build in layers.  Keep intact what our citizens currently value in our public spaces, and build upon that.  Add amenities here and there. Test ideas and innovations.  Adapt and evolve.  Watch how people interact.  And then adapt and evolve again.