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Belwood town hall meeting addresses growth, communication
by Mike Robinson
BELWOOD - About 14 members of the public and 11 Centre Wellington staff members and councillors attended a town hall meeting here on Feb. 8.
The attendance numbers led Mayor Kelly Linton to state, “I think we screwed up a bit in not getting the notice out.”
He said social media alone did not seem to be a great way to provide notice.
As he asked whether notice should include posters at stores, additional signs or ads on the radio or in the Advertiser one resident wondered why there was no mention in the mayor’s monthly message in the newspaper.
“It is important we make people aware of these meetings,” Linton said.
“We have so much potential in Centre Wellington, we have to do whatever we can to unlock that potential.”
Linton provided a brief overview of the township’s accomplishments and its roadmap for the future.
“Everyone knows Centre Wellington is a great place to live - but it is always nice when we are recognized by an independent group,” said Linton.
He cited Money Sense magazine’s annual list of “Great Places to Live in Canada,” which in 2016 ranked Centre Wellington 34th of 219 communities across Canada. The ranking is up from 52nd in 2015 and 59th in 2014.
“I think we have a lot more potential yet,” Linton said, noting the township’s strategic priorities include: reliable infrastructure, economic prosperity, healthy growth, pride of place and good government.
To address local infrastructure, the township initiated a 2% capital levy bridge rebuilding program that will result in three more bridges being rebuilt in 2017, he said.
These bridges are located on the 7th Line, 4th Line and Sideroad 20.
Overall, Linton said the levy “put us on track to rebuild eight bridges this term of council.”
He clarified this work does not include the St. David Street bridge in Fergus or the Victoria Street pedestrian bridge in Elora.
Water master plan
Linton said the township’s Long Term Water Master Plan is also slated to begin in 2017, rather than 2019.
“We always knew we had to do a long-term water master plan; we thought the time was now to look at our long-term water needs,” said Linton.
He added the move aligns with the province’s two-year moratorium on commercial water-taking and leverages the GRCA’s Scoped Tier 3 Water Study.
He said starting the Centre Wellington project early will mean it will be completed by 2019, before the two-year moratorium is over.
Linton briefly spoke of the township’s ongoing pavement management program.
“I’m sure you’ve seen some really bad roads in Centre Wellington. We are trying to make a dent on fixing the worst roads,” said Linton, who acknowledged that will never be accomplished as fast as people would like.
Linton asked “How do we ensure Centre Wellington continues to be a place we can all be proud of?”
He said one of the things people are concerned about is how fast the township is growing.
“One thing we do know is that Centre Wellington is growing. Right now the township has a population of just under 30,000. In 2041, the population will be close to 52,000,” said Linton.
He stated approximately 50% of Wellington County’s forecast housing growth has been allocated to Centre Wellington and it is estimated that 48% of the county’s employment growth will occur in Centre Wellington.
He added that by 2041 the township will have to accommodate 20,425 more people, 7,905 more households and 10,810 additional jobs.
He said Centre Wellington has vibrant urban cores that attract locals and visitors, and, “We have to do everything we can to keep those downtown cores healthy and vibrant.”
Linton said protecting and enhancing heritage assets is also a priority.
He pointed to work on refurbishing the Irvine Street bridge and at the Elora Brewing Company, which was supported by the township’s community improvement plan.
At the same time, Linton said healthy growth represents a balance of residential and industrial/commercial growth.
“We don’t want to be just a bedroom community for K-W or Guelph,” said Linton.
To bring in jobs, there needs to be land for new businesses or existing businesses to expand, he said.
While Linton stated the township cannot do everything it wants, the township’s growth management strategy should be completed within the next few months to provide a plan as to how, when and where Centre Wellington will grow.
Linton said the township is also working on a transportation master plan, urban design guidelines and tree management master plan.
Possibilities being investigated include a ring road around Fergus and/or additional/different bridge crossings.
“We cannot control everything, but the things we can control, we have to strive to do them well,” said Linton.
Lobbying the province
Although the province has set out growth/density targets, Linton said there are now rumblings the province wants to increase denisty targets.
“If we thought it was difficult to meet density targets now, the province is talking about significantly increasing [them],” said Linton, adding the township is meeting with provincial officials to make Centre Wellington’s concerns known.
“These (new targets) will affect our small-town feel and quality of life. These new intensification targets are not going to work for Centre Wellington.
“Although they seem perfect for the GTA, they are not a good fit for Centre Wellington.”
On actions to attract jobs and investment, Linton stated the first step was establishing an economic development task force.
Though it includes municipal representation, Linton said it is primarily driven by the private sector - “Bringing the right people to the table is critical.”
Its focus is to provide recommendations to council to take action to establish and maintain an environment that enables businesses to prosper, grow and create jobs in Centre Wellington.
He noted the task force has reviewed fees and charges and will be coming to council to recommend reductions in development fees for employment lands.
Another group was set up to look at providing shovel-ready serviced employment land. Linton said that late last year council accepted a recommendation to move ahead with a business case for the township to buy, service and sell employment lands.
He said staff also have a priority of completing reviews of employment-related development projects and remove process bottlenecks by simplifying the approval process by delegating authority.
Linton also stated one of the task force working groups centres on the agri-food industry to assess the potential business opportunities and current barriers to expand the sector in Centre Wellington.
The task force is also undertaking a review and assessment of future opportunities and current barriers to the remediation and redevelopment of high priority brownfield/underutilized properties in Centre Wellington.
Linton said it is really important to connect better with township citizens.
“It’s not easy because some people never listen to the radio, read the paper or connect to social media. People interact in very different ways,” the mayor said.
He added it is up to the municipality to offer a variety of communication strategies to meet the needs of its residents.
“One thing that will never change, is that you can always contact a member of council directly,” he said adding that he also does weekly radio spots on The Grand 101.1 as well as a Mayor’s Monthly Minute in the Wellington Advertiser.
Linton added the township’s numbers on social media are going up as well.
Survey says ...
He also released very preliminary results of a recent survey that asked identical questions to those asked in 2015. He found it interesting to compare the preliminary results to those gathered previously.
Regarding quality of life, responses of excellent had jumped from 33% (2015) to 41% (2017) among those responding.
On a question of confidence in the township’s spending tax dollars, “very confident” responses rose from 9 to 13%, while those somewhat confident jumped from 61 to 67%.
“We’re hoping to get significantly more responses to the 2017 survey,” said Linton.
February 17, 2017
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