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Council Round-Up June/July 2023
A snapshot of what's happening in council chambers around Waterloo Region
We may find ourselves in the middle of summer, however, there are still many things happening at local councils that are worth keeping an eye on.
Have you been enjoying some of Cambridge’s parks this summer yet? The City of Cambridge is currently working on it’s 30-year Parks Master Plan. “The goal of the plan is to provide a framework to manage existing parks and develop new parks in a way that reflects the needs of Cambridge’s growing community.” Feedback so far includes a desire for more: shade, seating options, washrooms, and spaces for pickleball, tennis, and cricket. If you have thoughts on what that should look like, have your say!
In case you missed it, a few weeks ago I wrote about a surprising Cambridge Council decision to essentially ignore the recommendations of the Integrity Commissioner to remove the Committee of Adjustment’s Chair for a significant breach of the city’s code of conduct.
The Region is now including in its minutes, how each councillor votes on all motions, “to ensure transparency and accountability.” While this may seem like a minor change, for folks like myself who follow these meetings closely, this is great news! I hope it will make it easier to learn how individual councillors voted on a particular issue, rather than simply knowing if a motion passed or failed. I hope other local councils will soon adopt this practice as well!
Regional Council is fast-tracking the expansion of automated speed enforcement in school zones after seeing success with the program to date. Currently, there are only two cameras in operation, which rotate through 16 different locations in the Region. However, by the end of this year the Region will add another 16 automated speed enforcement zones. Then, beginning in 2024, they plan to implement an additional 25-30 cameras per year, and “the goal is to have fixed cameras at 175 school zones by 2028.” That’s a lot more cameras and with that “80 new staff members would need to be hired over the next five years to manage the cameras on site, as well as the processing and administration of infractions.” It is important to note though that the program is expected to pay for itself with ticket revenue.
Staff note that the program, “has shown very clear results with significant reductions of average speeds up to nine kilometres on average and 63 per cent more compliance with the speed limit.” This WR Record article states that, “In 2021, 2,244 tickets were issued. That jumped to 9,788 tickets in 2022 and it’s projected to increase to between 20,000 to 30,000 tickets in 2023 after extra sites are added.”
If that’s not enough to convince you that speed cameras are worthwhile, a recent review also “found a general reduction in collisions near speed cameras, with most jurisdictions reporting a drop of 14 to 25 per cent. There was a corresponding reduction in injuries and deaths.” Sounds like a good investment to me!
You may recall that the Region had announced the closure of bus route #2 earlier this year, due to low ridership. Many folks who would be impacted by that decision reached out to the Region to express their concerns. After two public input sessions were held, the Region decided to change route #34 beginning this fall to incorporate some of the #2 route. View the staff report here.
At the June 26th council meeting, several development proposals were approved, totaling over 5000 new homes! Proposals approved include:
3,985 residential units at 321 Courtland Ave. (the former Schneider’s facility). It was great to see council push for more density and affordability here (145 affordable units plus a $1 million donation to the Working Centre). I’ll be sharing more about this project next month but you can read the staff report here.
462 residential units at the southwest corner of Victoria and Park streets. The mixed-use development consists of a 45-storey tower with 30 affordable housing units. Read the report.
211 residential rental units at 130-140 Highland Rd. E. The mixed-use development includes a 17-storey tower, commercial space, and ground-floor live-work units. Here’s the report.
There were a couple of other interesting discussions at that council meeting as well. In the discussion regarding Kitchener’s response to recent provincial planning changes, council discussed the staff report that recommended ‘digital first’ meetings. These meetings occur online, however, people without internet access can phone in instead. Councillor Chapman raised concerns that this approach may cause challenges for some who would attend an in-person meeting, but not one online. She suggested that hybrid meetings should be implemented instead. Staff noted that online/call-in meetings have allowed staff to offer a meeting for every development proposal coming to council and that they have seen more variety in the folks attending these meetings, especially those with young children at home. You can read more about that discussion here.
The other vote that stood out to me at that meeting was on the issue of inclusionary zoning (IZ). The city of Kitchener, along with Waterloo, Cambridge, and the Region have been working on an inclusionary zoning policy for months now. While I see why IZ is appealing, I don’t believe it to be the solution that some seem to. I wrote previously about IZ here.
However, what stood out to me was the actual vote on the inclusionary zoning motion. Everyone voted in favour of it except for the two downtown councillors, Chapman and Clancy, who I would consider strong supporters of IZ. In fact, Councillor Chapman noted, prior to the vote, “I’m in full support of IZ, but can’t support this version of it.” You can read more of my thoughts on that surprising vote, here.
Waterloo Council recently approved the Laurel Greenway Master Plan, “a dynamic, long-term guide for future expansion and improvements of the Laurel Greenway”. According to the press release, “the Master Plan presents a phased-in approach to making the Laurel Greenway a destination that offers valuable parkland and amenities to provide a continuous, playful and immersive public space for all to access and enjoy”.
Waterloo Council has also approved their new strategic plan which outlines priorities for the next four years. The plan includes a new vision for the City of Waterloo: A leader in sustainability and a future-ready community for all.
The five strategic priorities are:
Reconciliation, Equity, Accessibility, Diversity and Inclusion
Environmental Sustainability and Climate Action
Infrastructure and Transportation Systems
Innovation and Future-Ready
Commenting on the new plan, Mayor Dorothy McCabe said, “It is a bold statement of our shared values and commitment, where diversity and inclusion are valued, and sustainability and the future are our focus.”
And lastly, even though we are enjoying summer weather right now, Waterloo council has been making plans on how to better ensure clear and walkable sidewalks in the winter. After an internal service review, council workshops, and community input, council approved the Winter Sidewalk Maintenance Service Enhancement recommendations (starting on page 93 of the linked report).
The plan will be implemented over three years. For the 2024/2025 winter season, we should see the city:
Prioritize clearing of City-maintained multi-use trails within 800 metres of a school zone within 12 hours of a snow storm.
Clearing of windrows (snow left behind by plows) from crosswalks at intersections.
Additional accessibility supports for people with disabilities.
Assisted services contract for people with a physical and/or financial need.
Customer service support to improve the complaint reporting system.
By-law enforcement (the current service level of three enforcement officers, piloted in 2020, would become permanent).
According to the press release, “Services will expand further in the 2025/2026 winter season to include snow loading and hauling to clear 30 km of curb-faced sidewalk, and in the 2026/2027 winter season to include clearing an additional 25 km of sidewalk along regional roads.”