Ward One and squeaky wheels in the driveway

(26 June 2018) – Parking, pets and participation. When I was living in, and later working for, housing co-operatives, these three issues would not go away. They were the most constant causes of community trouble and strife.

Housing co-ops are owned by the members who occupy them, people with a responsibility to participate in making decisions. Most don’t. Those who do complain loudly about those who don’t.

Dogs bark, cats wander, and neighbours complain.

The one person in this world you don’t want to be is the one who leaves a car in a parking spot assigned to someone else. To paraphrase a cheesy old comedian, you can take my spouse, you can take my money, but don’t ever take my parking space.

This troika of concerns now grips the city. We complain about low voter turnout and participation in the democratic process. The city recently tightened dog licensing and widened the obligation to cat owners. Now, just in time for the upcoming city election, parking is emerging as an issue.

The city’s zoning by-law contains all the rules and regulations about driveways. What size they must be. How many and apartment building or townhouse complex should have. All that and more. There are good reasons for all of them. Some are utilitarian, such as storm water run-off. Others are aesthetic, such as where they are located. To prevent the city from looking like the set for Trailer Park Boys, for example, the by-law prohibits parking on your front lawn.

Parking at home on the eastern edge of Guelph’s Ward 1 has suddenly become a public issue. What lies behind the problem is a bit confusing at the moment, but the table is set for a motion of forgiveness in September. A month before the election, councillors will vote on a motion by Ward 1 councillor Dan Gibson The motion will instruct the city to stop enforcing certain sections of the zoning by-law that result in fines for homeowners.

(Hmm. A month before an election. A motion to stop giving by-law infraction tickets to voters. I wonder how it will go.)

On the face of it, the tickets are either because the driveways are too wide, or cars are improperly parked on them. If it’s the former, the problem isn’t with the homeowner. It’s the home builder who ignored the rules. If it’s the latter, the problem isn’t with the city. These sorts of by-laws are dealt with on complaint. In a harmonious neighbourhood, lots of by-law blemishes are forgiven and go unreported.

I suspect the latter. I’ve asked three of our councillors about it. It seems that in some cases, cars are parked side by side with two wheels of one car sitting on the grass at the edge of the driveway. Apparently there’s at least one person out there who ignores the tickets and has run the bill into the area of $700. My first thought is that he must have done something to really piss off his neighbours. Throwing gasoline onto a fire never cools it down.

However this runs its course, there will be a review of the zoning by-law by the incoming city council. It should take a long, hard look at three substantial issues bubbling under the surface.

One of these is the symbiotic connection between decisions. Provincial growth regulations resulted in more in-fill. New urban homes are on smaller lots. Driveway dimensions are set at a percentage of lot width. It’s all a matter of how the neck bone is connected to the ankle bone. Anything that changes one alters the other.

A bigger question has been ignored in all the fuss about driveway widths. What does city council plan to do about the very real need for cars in outlying parts of the city? Why does a family in the Grange Hill Neighbourhood need three or four cars? The simple answer is that the family has two working parents and a couple of older sons or daughters who also either work or drive to school. Two incomes are needed to afford to own a home these days, and children are staying in the home longer.

It’s not just Grange Hill, either. New developments on the edge of the city are designed with wide boulevards between the sidewalk and the street. They often exceed the length of a car, resulting in a couple of extra parking spaces in each driveway.

A more substantial answer will consider the efficiency of public transit and the availability of shopping. The eastern side of Guelph is poorly served on both counts. The highly occupied sections of Wards 1 and 2 on the other side of Victoria are barren deserts in terms of retail opportunities. It was this way 15 years ago when I stood for city council. Not much has changed since.

I know people who bought houses out there under a real estate agent’s promise that retail would be developed soon. It never was. Back in the day, city council radically changed the official plan to allow for massive retail hubs on the four edges of the city. North, south and west got them. East didn’t. A library branch is there and schools have been built. Loblaws still owns a huge chunk of land on Watson opposite the library but has backed away from plans to develop it.

The east side of Guelph suffers because of Walmart. It is just too close, as the car drives.

There are no easy questions, or simple answers, when it comes to city design and planning. Problems resulting from the width of a home owner’s driveway will not go away if the bylaw is not enforced. Ignoring the complicated back story will only make it worse. Squeaky wheel politics can never bring lasting results.