Big night at council for student issues

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

  • The coat of arms for the City of Guelph (from guelph.ca)

    The coat of arms for the City of Guelph (from guelph.ca)

Written by Greg Beneteau

Monday’s lengthy council meeting was dominated by discussion on various student-related issues, including a proposal to fund pissoirs in the downtown core.

Council voted in favour of providing $8400 as part of a pilot program to reduce incidents of public urination in the downtown. Most of the money will be used to install and maintain two open air urinals on MacDonell Street for eight weeks, starting in September.

Mark Rodford, chair of the Downtown Guelph Business Association and a member of the Night Life Task Force representing downtown stakeholders, told council the pissoirs were a “practical, attainable” way to address public peeing when coupled with education and enforcement of anti-fouling bylaws.

Considering there is a “lack of public facilities” available downtown, “it will be difficult to run a three-tiered program without providing an alternative place for people to go,” Rodford said.

The project was timed to “coincide with the return of our student population,” when drinking in the downtown tends to peak, he added.

The Task Force agreed to provide $4200 for the project, including $3500 from the Downtown Guelph Business Association for an advertising campaign.

Council quizzed Rodford about various aspects of the plan, which is intended to gauge the public’s acceptance and use of open-air urinals.

Leanne Piper wanted to know what criteria would be used to determine the pilot project’s success.

“Is it as simple as litres?” Piper asked, prompting some chuckles.

Rodford said the amount of urine collected would make a good measure of how frequently the pissoirs were being used. Tracking the number of complaints and clean-up requests compared to the same period last year could also determine if the urinals were preventing public urination, he added.

Derek McCaughan, the city’s Director of Operations, also agreed to track how much time was being spent responding to clean-up requests during the pilot project.

Staff worked about 100 hours so far this year cleaning urine from downtown infrastructure, costing the city $2500, he noted.

Councilor Mike Salisbury asked if there were plans to extend the program if it was successful.

However, McCaughan said the urinals would likely have to removed at the end of the trial period for legal reasons, since the current models aren’t accessible to women or persons with disabilities.

“I don’t see how the units could be kept in place… until we address issues of accessibility and gender neutrality,” he said.

Council would also need to find money in the budget to keep the urinals in the long-term, McCaughan added.

One councillor decried using public funds to solve a problem he said was largely created by Guelph’s bars.

“Why we should step in and assist these businesses is beyond me,” remarked Councilor Bob Bell.

He said council had already “taken steps” to address the problem, such as seeking approval from the province’s Regional Senior Justice public urination fines from $245 to the maximum of $500. Such a hit to the wallet would prevent the kind of outdoor loittering that leads to late night urges, Bell suggested.

“It won’t take long for the thought to propagate through the drinking community that when you’re done drinking, you go home.” 

Nine members of council voted in favour of funding the pilot program. Councillors Bel and Gloria Kovach voted against. Councillors Maggie Laidlaw and Christine Billings were absent from the meeting.

“Loophole” for common student lodging to be closed, bike plan approved

The city also took steps to address the propagation of unregistered two-unit houses in Guelph, following an outcry from local homeowners.

In the unanamous motion, council directed staff to amend the city’s bylaws to require registration of “four up, two down” rental houses - so named because of the maximum number of rooms allowed on each level – in the same manner as high-occupancy lodging houses.

Under the proposed changes, landlords would also be required to renew registration on their lodging houses every three years, and apply for a business licensing in order to operate a lodging house.

Ward 5 Councillor Leanne Piper, who seconded the motion, told thecannon there were likely “thousands” of the units in the city, which are popular among landlords because they skirt existing registration requirements and zoning bylaws for lodging houses.

Since 2005, the city has required landlords to obtain a lodging house permit if there are more than four unrelated people living in the same residence. However, homeowners are not required to register fully-equipped accessory apartments that have separate entrances, such as basement apartments.

The rules were intended to make it easy for homeowners to rent out an apartment to a student or family member in their primary residence, Piper explained.

Instead, she said landlords are converting the main floor and the basement into separate rental units for students – “using the loophole of accessory apartments to get six people into a house without any registration requirements whatsoever.”

Since the units are not covered under the city’s bylaws, building inspectors can’t ensure they’re safe and legal residence, placing students at risk.

“With these new requirements, we could make sure these houses are compliant, at least, with the fire code,” Piper said.

The new rules would also require “four up, two down” units to be spread out like lodging houses, which have a minimum separation distance of 100 metres.

Piper predicted the new bylaws wouldn’t be ready until next year, giving landlords time to either apply for a lodging house permit or reduce the number of rooms in their houses.

Members of the Old University Neighbourhood Residents Association petitioned council to adopt the changes, saying the high density of two-unit rental houses in their area was having a negative effect on the community.

“When you have so many two-unit houses in a neighbourhood, it becomes an all-out business venture,” said local resident Unto Kihlanki. “It no longer serves as a stabilizing function.”

Toward the end of the five hour meeting, council also approved committee recommendations for bike lane development, making bike lane construction automatic when renovating arterial roads.

The proposal would also see bike lanes installed on popular cycling roads such as Gordon Street and Stone Road.

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