The Turf War is On

Tuesday, January 9, 2007


Written by Bre Walt

With another year, comes yet another conflict in Guelph. However, it seems thus far that citizens are not necessarily divided on the issue. What am I talking about? Drive down Victoria Road, and you will notice the 150 acre parcel of land with many kinds of grass growing on it.

The Turfgrass Institute, founded in 1987, conducts university and industry research as well as providing information on grass production and management. This piece of land, as well as that beside it, is owned by the province, though the institute itself is operated by the University of Guelph. The neighbouring land is home to the former Guelph Correctional and Wellington Detention centres.

For some time, the provincial government has been trying to sell the neighbouring land to a local developer, but it has been said that a piece of property with the old, empty centres still on it is not appealing enough to sell. Therefore, the province is working to try and sell the land around the 7,600 square foot institute, with the belief that the money from that sale will provide the funds to make it feasible to demolish the old jails.

Guelph-Wellington MPP Liz Sandals said that the government is looking at what the implications would be of selling the institute's land along with the swath of property that surrounds the former Detention centres. She notes that they are in the “very, very preliminary stages”, however, the city has yet to be contacted by the province about these plans.

Selling the land around the institute would mean that it needs to move elsewhere, and this would be extremely difficult. Clay Switzer, former Dean of the Ontario Agricultural College and Guelph resident, says that selling this land could destroy 15 years of hard work, since they would essentially need to start their work from scratch. Furthermore, it would prove extremely difficult to find a location with the exact same soil, temperature and light conditions to ensure that the plants are not harmed. By selling the land, the province will be destroying an institute and delaying future research that is conducted by faculty and students at the centre.

This institute is something that Guelph came together on to build, and Switzer points out that a lot of people and organizations donated money in the early 1990s for the construction of the 7,600-square-foot information centre that sits on the institute's property.

It does however seem that Guelph is not divided too much on the issue of whether the province should sell these lands. City Councilor Gloria Kovach does not want to see the research station close and was displeased in finding out the province was attempting to sell the lands. Newly elected Mayor Karen Farbridge has confirmed that the city will fight to protect the lands used by the Turfgrass Institute.

The city has stated in its York District Land Use Study that they believe the institute should remain where it is. And as per the land surrounding the old correctional institute, Farbridge says that the city would rather it be put towards commercial or industrial developments. It has been perceived by some in the community, and I would agree, that the province is likely to want to utilize the land for residential purposes.

The province hasn't connected and worked with the city on this, and therefore it is unknown exactly who they have been working with. The idea of turfgrass lands being used to recoup the cost of tearing down two old jails is ridiculous considering the impact the sale would have on our research community at Guelph.

City Council will be holding public sessions on the issue in order to receive input from citizens and organizations, which can then be forwarded onto the provincial government.

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