Guelph council approves new library, Baker Street redevelopment

After a push for a new library that began almost 15 years ago, Guelph City Council has given the go ahead for a re-design of the Baker Street District.

On Wednesday, council unanimously approved a plan for a new public library and two new high rises on a lot on Baker Street.

The new three storey Guelph Public Library will be built off Chapel Lane and replace the current facility on Norfolk Street.

“The library board is very excited about this, it’s the culmination of legitimately 30 years of work in anticipation,” said Scott Butler, Guelph Public Library Board Chair.

Hundreds of parking spots in the current Baker Street lot will soon become two 15 storey residential buildings with commercial space on the bottom.

Also in the plan, some green space as well as private and public parking. Although some at the council meeting felt the 200 public spaces in the new plan, which is about half of what’s available to the public on the lot now, isn’t’ enough.

“It is taking away from the public parking inventory and that is a disappointment,” said Marty Williams with the Downtown BIA.

Board members with the Downtown Guelph BIA also expressed disappointment over a lack of recreation space included in the plan.

“We think Baker is too good of an opportunity to just be a condo development,” added Williams.

The amount of public parking is also a concern for many councilors, but city engineers say they're up against a problem that's partly natural.

“We're constrained with the adjacent buildings, we're constrained with bedrock below the ground, and then we're restricted by the view corridor above,” explained Antti Vilkko with the City of Guelph. “Part of that bedrock that we do face here in Guelph is really what makes underground parking quite costly.”

In the end, the decision also came down to the city's $15 million portion of the cost.

"My first one is to Tara, our CFO. Tara can we afford this?” asked mayor Cam Guthrie during the meeting.

“Yes, with the budgets that have already been approved, and the budget before you tonight, and how it's being funded, we can afford this,” answered chief financial officer Tara Baker.

The development passed unanimously. Council also agreed to take a deeper dive into the parking master plan next year to see where more spots can be made available.

This building is also promising to be carbon neutral, with construction planned for 2022. The entire development should then be done by 2025.