What did City Council do?
COVID Community Improvement Plan Update/SOLER Extension
The CIP that was approved to provide funding to local businesses to help cover COVID related costs had some funding remaining at its end. Council approved shifting that funding to the Green Infrastructure Fund (within our Capital Reserve Fund) in the amount of $350,000. Additionally $200,000 was split between our Key Cultural Institutions and the Uptown BIA. Council also approved the extension of our SOLER program (Support Our Local Economic Recovery) through the end of 2022. This program is what permits the patio extensions we are seeing throughout the City. In 2021, this included 28 private, 12 public and 10 Uptown sidewalk patios. I look forward to this initiative continuing to grow in 2022 and would support seeing this program continue permanently.
Waterloo North Hydro Merger Update
The Waterloo North Hydro proposed merger with Kitchener-Wilmot Hydro continues to progress. Last month I was eager to review the comprehensive public engagement that was undertaken by the team. The majority of the feedback to the proposed merger was positive, with no major community concerns highlighted. I was excited to see that there were a number of comments from community members highlighting the opportunity this merger presents with respect to helping achieving our Climate Action goals. As mentioned previously, this is the primary justification for merging from my perspective. In particular a merger is likely to help achieve synergies of resources and grow partnerships with Sustainable Waterloo Region and Waterloo Region Community Energy. Crucially, I also believe this is likely to help us with innovation and new technology when it comes to things like battery storage, solar arrays, electric vehicle charging and more.
2022 Budget and 2021 Asset Management Report Cards
In December, Council confirmed the third year of our three-year budget for 2022. The tax increase for 2022 is 3.1%, which is inclusive of a 1.8% inflationary increase as well as a 1.3% increase related to service level increases and to help close the infrastructure deficit. I have spoken about the infrastructure deficit many times and the work that Council is doing to close that gap. The 2021 Asset Management report cards highlight the work that we’ve done and the work that remains ahead. As a refresher the City owns $2.7 Billion of assets across 13 asset classes ranging from transportation assets representing 29.1% of that infrastructure to fire assets representing 0.3%. The total annual infrastructure gap in 2021 is $20 Million thanks to the work of staff, Council and our residents we have decreased that gap from $24.9 Million in 2020. To keep our assets in good shape in the long run we are facing gaps within these asset classes of $13.2M in transportation, $1.2M in facilities, $1.0M in parks and $3.7M in storm water to name a few. I am proud of this Council’s commitment to closing these gaps over time to ensure that we are not kicking this can down the road and to ensure that future residents of the City are able to enjoy everything the City has to offer without being burdened by significant future financial obligations.
Two specific things that were also tweaked through the approval of this year’s budget include the creation of a new Green Initiatives line item within our Capital Infrastructure and Reinvestment Reserve Fun and a motion to direct staff towards considering options to accelerate Climate Action within the 2023 budget via debt policy. Both of these are positive steps forward towards ensuring that our financial budget is aligned with the priorities the City has set out with respect to both our internal Corporate Climate Action plan and the Community Climate Action Plan (TransformWR).
Columbia Forest/ESPA 19 Land Donation
I wanted to take some time to thank the family of Patricia and Raymond A. Bauer, whose estate has donated nearly 11 acres of land within the Environmentally Sensitive Protected Area (19) adjacent to the Vista Hills subdivision. As everyone who lives in Ward 2 knows, the forest is such a vital asset to the City, not only as a passive recreational asset for hiking its many trails, but also as a crucial natural resource to the City and Region. The environmental stewardship of the family in maintaining this previously private land is appreciated and they have shown leadership for the many residents who own private property in this area as to how these lands should be treated. That said, I have always believed that true and lasting environmental stewardship/protection requires public ownership and for the family to have ensured the preservation of these lands for future generations is incredible. On behalf of residents of Ward 2 and across the City, thank you very much.
Introduction to the City of Waterloo Indigenous, Anti-Racism, Equity and Accessibility Team
Council had the great pleasure of being introduced to the newly created Indigenous, Anti-Racism, Equity and Accessibility team.
I am so pleased to see the formation of the team and to have them share their priorities with us, which you can see in the above link. We don’t have to look far to witness the horrific realities that historically marginalized groups are facing today. Although there are always international headlines and troubling events within the country, I think it is important to recognize that the seeds of racism and hate are planted within our own communities and within our own neighbourhoods. As a result, we need to tackle these issues from the ground up. We are seeing too many instances of hate filled symbols and rhetoric being tolerated. We need to continually stand up to ensure those folks do not feel comfortable spreading their hate within our City, equally we need this team to have uncomfortable conversations with us about the systemic racism and barriers that exist. Reconciliation, relationship building, restorative justice, policy development and program evaluation are all vital to ensuring that we build the inclusive City where everyone has a sense of belonging, which we are all striving to achieve. I’m excited for this group to help us get there.
Additionally, Council approved committee appointments, renewed the lease of the Waterloo Potters, approved the Uptown BIA budget, released additional funding needed for capital works at the cemetery and more. If anyone would like to chat further about these or any other topic, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Outside of the Council Chambers
The Region of Waterloo licensing committee recently approved the property owner of 515 Erbsville Road to remove a large quantity of trees on their property. Residents in the surrounding area received letters highlighting the proposal and this has led to some speculation about potential future plans for the property. I took some time this month to knock on some doors and chat with folks who live in the area of Royal Fern, Wild Ginger, White Birch and surrounding properties that back onto the site. If you live in one of these areas and didn’t get a chance to chat, I’m sorry I missed you, but I’m more than willing to set up a time to chat, please reach out. Here are a few of the things I wanted to highlight to folks in this area:
- Although this property owner owns property well into the Environmentally Sensitive Protected Area of the forest, the tree removal applies only to trees privately planted by them in the 1970’s. These trees are distinct from the native deciduous forest and are not of similar size, health or ecological quality/sensitivity.
- The ‘non-forest’ part of this property is currently zoned ‘Future Determination’. This is essentially a placeholder zoning designation that acknowledges that future development may be appropriate in this area, however no redevelopment is permitted without a public meeting. At such a meeting, Council, staff and the public would have the opportunity to review a thorough plan from the applicant. This would include how the neighbourhoods connect, the type of housing proposed, parks and trail locations, environmental protections and more. This process is driven by the landowner and is something that they could look to initiate today or it could take several years at their discretion.
- From an Official Plan perspective the area is contemplated for low-density residential housing. This designation would include anything from fully detached homes to four story apartment buildings. Should the applicant look for any housing type beyond that it would require them to apply for an Official Plan Amendment, in addition to the above zoning process.
- From my perspective, should the application proceed while I am on Council, my priorities for the area would be:
- Public ownership of the forest – bringing more of the forest into public hands, taking down the fencing and potentially creating new trail connections for all residents to enjoy!
- Neighbourhood cohesion – thoughtful connectivity of the Columbia Forest and Laurel Creek neighbourhoods, creating an active transportation (walking/cycling) connection from the Columbia Forest, Clair Hills and Vista Hills neighbourhoods right through to the high school, ensuring that the road network is not creating a high speed throughway.
- A community hub – I would love to see Blue Beech Park expanded through this process in order to create a larger ‘hub’ park for the Columbia Forest/Laurel Creek neighbourhoods.
I recognize that there are downsides that come with development of the area and a changing neighbourhood fabric. That said, I think there are some fabulous benefits for the entire community, beyond just welcoming new friends and neighbours to the area. Although the timeline for any proposal is unclear, I wanted to highlight how the process works and offer to connect with anyone who would like to discuss this or anything else in further detail.
Take care, stay safe and get vaccinated!