On the subject of uncomfortable moments at the recent city council meeting, Maggie Laidlaw wasn't the only one left feeling a bit frazzled.
As reported in the Guelph Tribune, Ward 4 councillor Cam Guthrie was raked over the coals for perhaps being a bit too florid in his responsiveness to the developers of the Costco site in the city's west end. After receiving an e-mail from the Costco project manager the week before expressing concerns that construction had been delayed by July's rainy weather, Guthrie spent a few hours on Sunday doing a door-to-door straw poll of the people in the area of the construction site to see how they'd feel about allowing heavy construction on Sundays to allow the workers to play catch up.
According to a staff report, Costco's original request for a noise bylaw exemption to allow construction run six days a week till 9 pm and then on Sundays from 9 am to 6 pm as of August 1. Costco's request to Guthrie was that it need an exemption for the hours between 7 am and 10 pm seven days a week so that the store could open as scheduled for the busy holiday shopping season. The motion for extended hours was defeated by council in a vote of 10-1 against, but a 6-5 vote allowed construction to proceed two extra hours Monday through Saturday from 7 am to 9 am.
Now it seems that Guthrie kind of took it on the chin from some of his fellow council members in terms of his advocacy for Costco. “You have put your colleagues in an uncomfortable position,” said Mayor Karen Farbridge in regards to the new motion. Ward 6 Councillor Karl Wettstein added that Costco, or their contractors, should have been in the room if they needed more time than previously discussed rather than going through one of his colleagues to “bring these things to the table if they are not even in the room.”
A couple of days later on his Ward 4 News blog, Guthrie clarified his point of view on the matter and the criticism he's received. "After contacting the construction company to see how things were progressing, I asked them if there was anything I could do to help," Guthrie wrote. "They mentioned that the weather had been hitting them harder than expected, and delays were putting stress on their completion dates. Even with the extensions already passed at the committee level almost a month earlier, they indicated anymore time can always be helpful."
"More time" is a familiar mantra on any construction project as anecdotally-speaking they never seem to be finished on time. And I, for one, don't doubt that the majority of the people in the area of the future Costco are generally unopposed to longer construction hours in order to finish the project fast for some of the reasons Guthrie himself outlined, "they wanted to apply for jobs, stop driving to Cambridge and wanted more choice in shopping," he point out. (I personally think that "more choice for shopping" is misnomer because for hardcore shoppers no shopping will ever be enough, but my own thoughts on the issue are well-documented.)
"Some may try to frame my request Monday night to council as some sort of sneaky, back-door request from a construction company that was somehow forcing me into doing their bidding," said Guthrie. "That's being disingenuous at the very least."
Disingenuous perhaps, but sometimes politics is appearance, and for anyone glancing at the issue, it seems that Guthrie is putting in overtime hours for Costco. The people may want it, and it may have been an innocent request from the company, but for a minute there Guthrie looked like lobbyist and not a city councillor. I've never shopped at Costco, I don't plan on shopping at the Guelph Costco, but I understand that some people are looking forward to it, and I do get the idea of stemming the tide of people who take their shopping dollars to Cambridge and the Costco there and instead keeping them in Guelph if we can.
Before signing off Guthrie added, "I do wonder though, if this same request came forward for a development in the commercially non-existent East end of Guelph, even without surveying the residents, or following exact 'processes' what the outcome might have been?" To borrow a phrase from the councillor, fair enough.