What has happened to Newmarket’s Bogart House is a disgrace. 

For years it has been rotting away, a victim of cavalier neglect by the owner, the developer Forest Green Homes, and paralysing inaction by the Town of Newmarket. 

In the Town’s “Council Highlights” a few weeks ago the Town says Bogart House is a designated heritage house and is one of the most important heritage buildings in the community.

It is so important they let it get to the point where a puff of wind could blow the old house down.  

When I contacted the Town in 2015 to alert them to the dreadful state of this historic property nothing happened. I was told there was no specific Heritage Property Standards By Law and the Town’s legal department was too busy to draft one. But I shouldn’t worry as the general property standards by law covered all the bases and would do the trick. 

Bogart House in happier times

Life continued much as before with the old house becoming ever more ruinous

Finally, in November 2017 the Town stirred itself and updated its Property Standards By-law and there is now an extensive section dealing with heritage properties – from section 50 onwards. 

Curiously, the Town’s Information Report of 31 January 2018 which told us the developer wanted to demolish the old house makes no reference to the updated Property Standards By-Law which contains a slew of new provisions relating to heritage properties. Why? 

Of course, the Town would have to agree to demolition (and they have now made it clear they won’t) but why was nothing done over the years to stop the rot?

The City of Brampton and lots of other municipalities have make it crystal clear that demolition by neglect is never OK. We should be equally robust.

The Clock Tower boarded up for years

The Clock Tower and the heritage buildings on Main Street South owned by Bob Forrest have been empty and boarded up for years.

I shudder to think what kind of state they are in. 

      From Council Highlights: Putting a spin on disgraceful inaction.

Why can’t we take a leaf out of Hamilton’s book when it comes to protecting vacant buildings

Municipal Law Enforcement Officers proactively inspect vacant buildings at least 4 times a year and will enforce by-law violations. Failure to comply with all directions of the by-law will result in fines of $10,000 for an individual and $50,000 for a corporation upon first conviction and fee for Inspection costs.

I do not want to hear the Town of Newmarket tell me in the months (or years) to come that, after detailed inspection, the heritage buildings south of the Clock Tower are too far gone and cannot be saved.

The Town should be looking under the tarpaulins and getting inside.

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Update on 18 April 2018: 

The new Property Standards By-Law was considered by the Town’s Committee of the Whole on 6 November 2017, almost three and a half years after the Town’s Heritage Advisory Committee had urged the Council to act to prevent the demolition of heritage properties by neglect. The report to councillors said this:

On June 3, 2014 Council approved the Heritage Committee’s recommendation that a by-law to prevent demolition of heritage properties by neglect be considered for the Town of Newmarket and that Council direct staff to conduct the necessary research and analysis to include in the Property Standards By-law. 

The Ontario Heritage Act permits municipalities to utilize a Property Standards By-law to prescribe minimum standards for the maintenance of heritage attributes of properties that have been designated under Parts IV and V of the Ontario Heritage Act. Amendments to the Act also removed the right to demolish a building or structure on a designated property without Council’s written consent. 

The amendments proposed to the Property Standards By-law only apply to properties designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, not to listed heritage properties. 

We all know there is a housing affordability crisis in Newmarket. 

Redwood-onYonge -on old Slessor site
Redwood on Yonge. On the old Slessor site.

The question is: what can we do about it?

In 2016 a fifth of all residential property up for sale in Newmarket was bought as an investment according to a recent article in Macleans. 

Where does this leave the people who want to buy or rent a property to live in? They are being run out of town by speculators who are pricing homes out of the reach of thousands of local people.

Last week, in a bid to address the issue, the Province announced it was:

“Paving the way for more affordable housing by giving municipalities the ability to require that affordable units are created in new residential developments.

“Inclusionary zoning is a planning tool that allows municipalities to require developers to include affordable housing units in residential developments…Under the new regulations, municipalities will be able to mandate that affordable units for low-and-middle income families are included in new housing developments to create mixed-income communities.” 

This is welcome progress but we are not going to see the results tomorrow or, indeed, any time soon. There will be more hoops to jump through before we get there.

Big but unaffordable 

At the moment, the Town has on its plate two very big planning applications which, together, will deliver hundreds of new housing units. 175 Deerfield Road – at Davis and Parkside Drive – promises 462 units in two 15 storey towers and one 9 storey tower. (Deerfield details here at page 178). 

John Taylor with Rose Corporation's Andrew Webster at the open house on 26 February 2018

York Region wants 25% of new development along the Yonge/Davis corridors to have affordable housing with 35% in the so-called Provincial Urban Growth Centre – basically around the intersection of Yonge and Davis.

The developer, the Rose Corporation, has told the Town that they are:

“prepared to meet the Town’s affordable housing target of 25% of the units being at or below the price threshold – if certain financial incentives are provided.”

They want the same kind of deal they negotiated for 212 Davis Drive, sweeteners which deferred Development Charges for three years as well as application fees and much else. The rentals there go from $1,505 to over $2,270 per month.

Redwood on Yonge (on the old Slessor Square site) will have 527 rental apartments in three towers. There are currently no plans for any of the apartments to be marketed as “affordable”. The Town is no doubt in discussions with the developer so that may have changed. I hope so.

In 2016 the rental affordability figure for York Region stood at $1,496 per month.

Caption: Newmarket's Secondary Plan area

Affordability target

The Town's Secondary Plan reflects regional policy by stipulating that a minimum of 35% of new housing units in the Provincial Urban Growth Centre (which includes Redwood on Yonge) shall be affordable to low and moderate-income households.

The planning staff tell us:

"This 35% is not intended to be achieved on each individual application but rather within the Provincial Urban Growth Centre as a whole."

How is this expected to work in practice?

In February I talked about a different approach being tried next door in East Gwillimbury which will impact many people living in the north of Newmarket. 

East Gwillimbury’s draft Secondary Plan for Green Lane says: 

“A minimum of 35% of the units developed in the Green Lane and 2nd Concession Major Local Centre will meet the definition of affordable. The 35% affordability criteria shall be applied on a per property basis, except where multiple properties are being considered for development concurrently.”  (My underlining).

The Major Local Centre is the area around the East Gwillimbury GO Rail Station.

East Gwillimbury capitulates

Alas, this innovative approach was short lived. It was shot down in flames by Redwood Properties who told the Town it would be impossible to implement:

“This is difficult if not impossible to implement. Applying it on a per property basis and not in a district or area basis exacerbates the problem. The Regional Official Plan calls for 25% affordability, except 35% at Regional Centres. We recommend reducing the requirement to 25% and removing the “per property basis” requirement.”

The Town’s planners folded and will tell councillors tomorrow:

“The wording has been corrected… The 35% affordability requirements have been updated to remove the requirement related to “per property basis”.

Instead

“Applicants shall demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the Town, how the 35% target can be achieved in the Major Local Centre.”  

Part of the proposed Deerfield complex

Delivering on the target. 

How on earth is this going to work in practice? Will developers just kick the can down the road saying it is for others to deliver on affordable housing – but not them? 

Will the same thinking be applied in Newmarket? If the 35% is not going to be applied to the huge Redwood on Yonge development in Newmarket will the developer be expected to explain how that target will be achieved elsewhere in the Provincial Urban Growth Centre (around Yonge and Davis)? 

Redwood on Yonge (like Deerfield) is to be built in three phases. Don’t be surprised if the developer tantalisingly holds out the promise of affordable units in years to come when phases two and three actually materialise.

People can’t wait ten years for affordable housing.

Developments over a specified size should include affordable housing units.

No ifs or buts or maybes.

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The Information and Privacy Commissioner’s Office calls me today to say the Town cannot answer this simple question of mine:   

“When did the Director of Planning first realise that the true Floor Space Index (FSI) of the proposed Clock Tower development was greater than the figure (2.9) that was in the documents presented to councillors and the public on 28 November 2016?”  

Rick Nethery
Rick Nethery

That was when councillors were being asked to decide the fate of Bob Forrest’s planning application to redevelop the heart of the Town’s Heritage Conservation District. The Mayor, Tony “$212,000” Van Trappist, was very much in favour.

The Town’s senior staff say there are no records indicating when the Director of Planning, Rick Nethery, first realised the information being presented to councillors on the Clock Tower was false. 

And, in any event, they say the FSI – a measure of the development’s density – is less important than height and massing.

Just ask him. 

Why doesn’t the Chief Administrative Officer, Bob Shelton, simply ask Rick Nethery when he first realised the developer’s figure was false? He could jot down the answer, thereby creating a record.

Deputy Mayor and Regional Councillor John Taylor among others now says factors such as height and massing are more important than the FSI.

So, perhaps he can ask Rick Nethery? 

Why is this important?

I have taken the Clock Tower issue to the Ombudsman on the basis that information known by senior Town employees to be false should never be put before councillors and the public. 

The fact that our elected officials – other than the Mayor – voted against the Clock Tower development on 28 November 2016 is neither here nor there.

The issue at the heart of the matter is whether reports prepared by senior Council staff are truthful and do not seek to mislead or deceive.

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A report tucked away at the back of today’s Committee of the Whole agenda impertinently suggests the Town may wish to cut the pay of its councillors. (Agenda item 17)

Associum consultants say the councillors’ base salary at $49,385 is 32% above the market comparator which is $37,181.  

Mayor Van Trappist who rakes in over $200,000 in pay and perks escapes opprobrium because his base salary is $95,631 which is only 9.8% above the market comparator of $86,240. This conveniently ignores the cash he gets from York Region and Newmarket-Tay Hydro. He’s been living the life of Riley for years.

We learn the Deputy Mayor’s base salary from the Town is $55,304 which is 8.6% above market salary of $50,549.

The consultants observe:

“From the market analysis findings we note that the base salary for two council roles (Mayor and Deputy Mayor) is within an acceptable market position (ie +/- 10% variance to market). However, the Municipal Councillor role is significantly above market (32%). This role also has the highest incumbent count. Given the proportionately higher payroll cost for this role, based collectively on incumbent count and market position, the Town should focus on this role as a priority.”

Seems to me this is a load of old garbage. 

Are we seriously being asked to believe Van Trappist (at $212,000 pay and perks and not the phoney figure of $95,631) is worth more than four Newmarket councillors?

The Associum Report refers to 

“The Town of Newmarket Environment Scan 2017 – Members of Council”

which is relied upon as it gives a recent “market competitive assessment”.

I can’t track down this key report so I’ve asked the Town’s Treasurer, Mike Mayes, for a copy.

And which are the comparator municipalities? In different reports over the years I’ve seen 9 mentioned. Then 10. And on occasion 11. They include Ajax, Barrie, Aurora, Markham, Oshawa and Richmond Hill. Why were they chosen as suitable comparators?

Van Trappist says his salary is determined by a council compensation policy adopted ten years ago.

Hair Shirts

I don’t expect elected officials to wear hair shirts. And neither do I expect them to vote to cut their own salaries. But, as a quid pro quo, I do want compensation to be fair and transparent.

And as we know from Van Trappist’s long running three card trick, salary figures can be opaque and misleading.

We need good, engaged and competent people to take important decisions on our behalf. We can’t do it ourselves. They should be paid the rate for the job.

The consultants round off their report in this way:

“Finally, to ensure a high level of process transparency with respect to setting pay for elected officials, we would recommend forming a Citizens Compensation Committee to review/vote on any proposed changes as part of the implementation process.”

Can’t see the old banker voting for that one.

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It is standing room only in the Council Chamber last Thursday (5 April) as a team of people from Metrolinx unveil their plans for the proposed new GO Rail Station at Mulock Drive.

Grade separation has been abandoned. That is a humungous change from the original concept when road and rail on Mulock Drive would be separated. 

There are also plans for more parking. Up from the original 550 spaces.

The evening starts with the Town’s senior planner Adrian Cammaert conversationally setting the scene and introducing the Mayor and councillors to the audience. He gets to Dave Kerwin who is perched at the back of the public gallery, leaning forward on the edge of his seat like an ancient gargoyle. And Adrian blanks!

How is this possible? Kerwin is unforgettable.

Those of us who have been victims of his trademark cloying flattery shout out. 

“That’s Dave Kerwin!”

It’s not about trains. It’s about parking.

Now the Metrolinx people are introducing the station plans to the crowd drawn largely from the immediate locality. They broadly divide into two categories. Those who want more parking and those who are concerned about all the traffic at peak times clogging up the roads and infiltrating residential streets looking for short cuts.

The questions come thick and fast. I need a map on my lap to keep up. What about the proposed new access road to Steven Court? What about the business owners who currently park there? The man who is gonna lose his parking is exasperated:

“This whole thing to me is ridiculous!”

Now someone wants to widen Mulock and Bayview to accommodate the increased traffic making for the station’s 700 parking spaces.

Now we are on to a question about parking at East Gwillimbury. No-one seems to know how many new parking spaces are being created there. An assertive John Taylor rises to his feet, making sweeping gestures with his outstretched arm, demanding figures by the end of the meeting! Whatever happened to Mr Reasonable? The man who bends over backwards to be accommodating. Is he back on the double espressos?

Now someone is ridiculing walking and cycling as a means to get to the station. (The professionals call walking and cycling “active transportation”.) 

He says

“This is Newmarket!”

and gets gales of laughter.

Soon we are hearing about “sweaty joggers”. And suggestions that shuttle buses could take comfortably crisp and dry commuters from parking at the Magna Centre (where there are lots of empty parking spaces during the day) to the new station.

Now we are back to Silken Laumann where people are worried about train whistles. Metrolinx has been asked this question about whistles a million times and the response, endlessly rehearsed, is polished. Federal regulations etc etc. Toronto has gotten rid of whistles but, as a quid pro quo, takes over liability for whatever tragedy may happen as a result of their absence.

The Wind and the Whistles

I learn the prevailing north-west winds carry noise into Silken Laumann. There are calls for a sound barrier but it is not on offer.

The audience throws questions at the Metrolinx people about journey times, double tracking and express trains and much else. We are told the answer is to be found in some other study which is not on the table for discussion this evening or the Metrolinx people present don’t know the answer. Traffic management, for example, is a matter for the Town. 

Adrian Cammaert, memory back and sharp as a blade, says everything’s covered. Traffic studies are part of the new Secondary Plan for Mulock Drive.

Nothing to worry about then.

gordon.prentice@shrinkslessorsquare

Metrolinx calls time on free parking at GO Rail stations.

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