ELORA – Growth and parking dominated discussion at the Mayor’s Town Hall on Sept. 20 at the new MacDonald pavilion outside the Elora Centre for the Arts.
It was the third town hall hosted by Centre Wellington Mayor Shawn Watters; the first was in Belwood early in the year and the second at the Centre Wellington Community Sportsplex in Fergus in the spring.
Watters told the 50-some people who attended on Sept. 20 the population of Centre Wellington is to double in size in the next 25 years – from 30,000 to 60,000 – and most of that growth will be centred in Elora and Fergus.
Growth targets are mandated by the province and allocated by Wellington County. So it’s not a matter of if, but where and how to manage that growth, Watters said.
“Our problem is how to craft that,” Watters said.
He noted that when he first moved to Elora some 30 years ago, the community reached out and was very welcoming.
“We want to continue with that feeling,” he said. “Once the community stops caring, it’s not a great place to be anymore.”
Watters invited questions from the audience and there were many – about how to include affordable housing in that growth; how to protect the heritage feel of the downtown; how to regulate short-term rentals like Airbnbs; and parking.
Melanie Fagan said she has reached out to Premier Doug Ford, former housing minister Steve Clark, and staff at Wellington County.
“My concern is nobody is addressing this, but everybody says it needs to happen,” she said.
“What you say is probably the most important thing,” Watters agreed.
“We will need relationships with different levels of government. It’s a problem for everyone. Developers will be a part of this too.”
Watters said a mix of housing – single family homes, apartments, condos, micro-homes, townhouses, and infill – are needed “to provide a variety of opportunities.”
He said planning applications come in, they are reviewed by staff, and when deemed “complete,” they make their way to council.
“We look at everything as they come in on a case-by-case basis,” he said in answer to a question on process. “It’s not the wild, wild west here.”
Short and long-term rentals
A question was asked about “ghost hotels,” meaning Airbnbs and what the township is doing about regulating them.
Residents often have problems with short-term renters, who don’t necessarily clean up after themselves or respect their neighbours.
And short-term rentals remove long-term rentals from the supply, which everyone knows is already short.
CAO Dan Wilson fielded that question, saying staff is investigating controls on short-term rentals and will present council with a plan by next May.
There are approximately 150 short-term rentals in Elora, Watters added.
Resident Dave Sharp said he is opposed to allowing taller buildings in the heritage core of Elora.
“Height is not appropriate,” he said. “I would like the three-storey (cap on height) maintained.”
Sharp said the heritage areas in Centre Wellington make up 10 per cent of the township. “Build up in the other 90%,” he said.
Watters noted much of that 90% is farmland, and that needs to be preserved and protected too.
Former councillor Ian MacRae said he remembered when the cap on height was two storeys in the heritage districts.
“I remember people protesting three storeys back in the day,” he said.
MacRae suggested that with the south Fergus secondary plan still under development, that’s a good place for high density construction.
“Build multi-storey buildings with lots of parks, stores – make it walkable,” he said.
He added high-density development in the south end will reduce traffic through Fergus as many of those future residents will head south on Highway 6 for jobs in Guelph or further south to Highway 401.
Managing director of planning and development Brett Salmon said South Fergus is already being planned with high density in mind, with 60 people and jobs per hectare, compared with the current requirement of 45.
The township has retained R.J. Burnside to conduct a parking study and propose a solution for the parking issues that plague local residents, employers, employees and tourists in downtown Fergus and Elora.
Following the town hall was a public information centre (PIC) inside the arts centre on that topic.
Attendees could write their comments on sticky notes and place them on maps of downtown Fergus and Elora. Among the comments:
- the intersection of Princess and Colburne streets was singled out as having sightline issues because parking spots were too close to the intersection;
- a parking structure was suggested for Fergus, perhaps where the municipal lot is on St. George Street;
- ensure more, not fewer parking spaces with new builds; and
- consider parking passes or stickers for downtown residents who don’t have a designated parking spot.
Burnside project manager Gordon Hui said he drove through Fergus and Elora and took the weekend shuttle himself before the study commenced.
It’s given him some understanding of the parking issues first-hand, “and I thought the shuttle was great,” he said.
One resident told him there is potential for more parking by the LCBO in Elora if things are reconfigured.
“I didn’t realize that,” Hui said.
In terms of solutions, “supply is one of the issues and the shuttle program – we’ll explore that more too,” he added.
Hui said his team is meeting with both the Elora and Fergus BIAs to understand their perspective, and the information gathered at the PIC is invaluable.
“Right now we’re on a fact-finding mission,” he said, adding a report will go to council before the end of the year detailing the results.
Then, early in 2024, a second report will go to council with recommendations.
Councillors have previously stated they’d like a parking plan in place before tourism season gears up next spring.
For those who didn’t make the meeting, comments on the downtown parking strategy can be made at connectcw.ca.