- Written by Gordon Prentice
Newmarket’s Secondary Plan has been gestating for years and now we are assembling to see what is going to emerge.
On Monday evening (28 April) the Council Chamber is packed for a “special public meeting” but people seem curiously listless. There is no outrage or indignation.
Are people enthusiastic? No.
Are they satisfied? No. Probably politely sceptical.
Do I sense a feeling of weary resignation and acceptance? Yes.
Darryl Wolk, who dreams about taking over from John Taylor as regional councillor, comes in late with a giant Tim Horton’s in one hand. He sits on the steps. I see him from time to time tweeting and taking photos on his smart phone. He seems strangely preoccupied. He is more interested in recording the event than in participating.
Taylor’s Height Cap
John Taylor deserves a mention in despatches for getting the earlier draft of the Secondary Plan amended to scale back the proposed bonusing provisions – something introduced into the plan very late on. If we had known what was in the planners’ minds at the beginning of the process – a Newmarket studded with 25 and 30 storey towers - it would have altered the whole subsequent dynamic. But the sting has now been drawn - though I, for one, would have preferred a strict height cap of 15 storeys. This was Taylor’s original proposal. We have now drifted up to 17 storeys with a maximum of 20 with bonusing.
The meeting now gets under way. We start with a slide show and commentary on the revised draft secondary plan by Jason Thorne from the Planning Alliance, the outside consultants brought in by the Town to do the spade-work. Thorne has lived and breathed this plan for ages and his presentation appears effortless.
Future Transit Plans
Chris Emanuel is first up and asks about the Draft Plan’s recommendation for a proposed Mobility Hub Study of the GO rail station at Davis and Main. Would this also include the GO Bus terminal at Davis Drive West that is also within the Secondary Plan area?
Planning Chief, Rick Nethery, gives one of his classic cliché ridden non-answers telling Emanuel that, beyond the work on the Mobility Hub and the active transportation network “there is certainly the opportunity to identify and conduct additional work if necessary”. Taylor, too, asks for more detail on the proposed Mobility Hub study and what might be included. Would the Study look at relocation or co-location of the transit stations?
Marion Plaunt, the Stakhanovite senior planner responsible for the Secondary Plan, tells us
“One of the considerations in (the Mobility Hub study) is how do we, as we plan forward, integrate the bus station and the GO train station; whether they should naturally be joined at some point, at one location. That is part of the analysis identified within the Mobility Hub Study criteria.”
I see Chris Emanuel silently mouthing “Wow!”
Marianneville’s lawyer, Ira Kagan, told the OMB Glenway Hearing on 27 March:
“There is not a shred of evidence that the Town, Region or GO Transit want to move this bus terminal (at Davis Drive West, next to Glenway). This terminal is identified in a variety of planning documents that the various witnesses reviewed and never once was it identified for relocation. Mr McDonald (the Glenway Preservation Association’s planner) may think it should move but no-one else seems to agree with him. Even the ongoing OPA 10 study (ie the Draft Secondary Plan for Newmarket’s Urban Centre) is not proposing that the GO transit bus terminal be relocated.”
Are the population figures realistic?
Now Taylor is asking about the population figures for the area around the intersection of Yonge and Davis. With so much of the area already occupied by Upper Canada Mall (which isn’t going anywhere anytime soon) is it realistic to project a population of 13,000 there? A good point that reminds me how many of the figures are speculative or tentative.
Now Joe Sponga is asking a blank faced Marion Plaunt about a new East-West road connection. We learn this road exists only in Joe’s imagination. Marion tells him “it hasn’t been identified to date”. He moves on to ask what is affordable housing, which is a very real issue. I hear guffaws around me when we are told affordable means $400,000 “and change”.
The Mayor is fretting over the time councillors are taking to get through all their questions to the planners. He wants a break to allow people in the audience to say their piece.
A string of members of the public from Walter Avenue, north of Davis Drive, have questions about the last minute inclusion of their street in the Secondary Plan area. What were the implications for them? Are they going to be redeveloped? What will happen to their homes? What about the effect on their property values?
Others from the Hollingworth Arena neighbourhood make the case for open space. Now there is talk of angular planes and height limits and where shadows fall. Marion Plaunt and Jason Thorne explain everything with politeness and precision.
Now we are talking about delays to the VivaNext programme with the completion of work on Davis Drive slipping from 2014 into 2015. There is concern that work could begin on the Yonge Street rapidway before Davis Drive is completed. Don McKee, a smiley-faced lawyer from Lancaster Avenue, tells councillors that the Town should minimise inconvenience to current residents otherwise they will be urinated off! I hear some suppressed giggles around me.
Plan will be tweaked to address vulnerabilities
There are a few more contributions from the floor and then these dry up. Now we are back with the elected officials. In her matter-of-fact way, Maddie Di Muccio says it is inevitable that some property owners will challenge the Town’s plans. Nethery tells her the document may need to be tweaked “ensuring there are as few vulnerabilities as possible”. (A good example of planning-speak)
Jane Twinney wonders how it is possible to change the proposed built form so dramatically (getting rid of the very tall towers) but sticking pretty much with the original population projection (down 1,000 or so). A good question.
The answer, which I have now forgotten, nevertheless satisfied me at the time.
The Ring Road that isn’t
Ward 4 councillor, Tom Hempen, is now asking about George Street and Kingston Road that have been designated as part of a new ring road. Jason Thorne tries to reassure saying the road will have the functionality of a ring but it is not a thruway or anything like that. Personally, I am not convinced. And how do the traffic engineers and planners stop traffic bleeding into the adjacent residential area?
Hempen wants to know if the roads will be widened or changed in any way. Marion Plaunt assures him that whatever happens in future will occur incrementally as development proceeds. (Translation: no need to worry. You will hardly notice any change at all.)
Now Chris Emanuel is focussing on parks and recreation. The loss of Glenway’s open space is still an open wound. How does the Town manage expectations if the open space promised doesn’t materialise – either because the owner is not prepared to negotiate with the Town or the Town is unwilling to expropriate?
Affordable Housing that isn’t affordable
Tom Vegh picks up Sponga’s point about the affordability threshold for affordable housing and is asking whether this is enforced in any way. Marion Plaunt tells us the Town will have to work hard with the development community to put affordable housing on the ground. There are, she confesses, no easy answers.
This provides the perfect cue for Newmarket’s old man of the sea, Dave Kerwin, who tells us sewage is responsible for rising real estate prices.
The old teacher grabs our attention by holding a report up in front of him as he speaks. It has the memorable title:
Upper York Sewage Solutions
He tells us (quite frequently, in fact) he bought his house in the middle of the last century for $30,000 and now properties are going for anything up to $800,000. He thunders the question: Why?
Sewage, we learn, costs hundreds of millions of dollars to deal with and someone has to pay for it.
With this image fresh in our minds, the Mayor wisely chooses to close the meeting, assuring everyone that they will have an opportunity to comment on the latest comments. He asks the Planning Chief, Rick Nethery, about the next step.
This was a special public meeting. Apparently we have already had the statutory public meeting. Is another meeting needed to sign everything off?
Maybe, says Nethery.
It all depends.
Update (1 May 2014) on Next Steps
Here is the exchange that took place at the end of the meeting on 28 April.
Mayor: Mr Nethery, before we adjourn, just briefly again for the benefit of our viewing audience and the people who are still here. Next steps and what is the likely timing of those next steps.
Rick Nethery: Mr Mayor, we will need to assimilate what we heard tonight and as I mentioned as well we have to try to wrangle through some of those Agency comments and other comments and we will need to come back to you at some time. I think Marion optimistically said May so we’ll hold her to that. Our goal is to see if we can have this back to you in a final formal way by June at the latest so if folks have left contact information and they are still interested we can make sure people are made aware of when it is coming back.
Mayor: Now, earlier in my comments I indicated this was not a Statutory Public Meeting so there will, once we address all the points, issues, be a report to the Committee of the Whole with a recommendation for a subsequent Statutory Public Meeting. Is that correct?
Rick Nethery: That will be up to Council. We have already held the Statutory Public Meeting and we’ve had a number of informal meetings. This one, even although it was structured very much like a Statutory Public Meeting, was another one of the informal meetings so it will be up to Council to decide and, frankly, that will probably have a lot to do with what the nature of the changes, if any, are coming out of it.
(The Statutory Public Meeting on the Draft Secondary Plan took place on Monday 28 October 2013.)
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Slessor Square's lawyer, Ira Kagan, last night told the Ontario Municipal Board that the project is "on hold".
The OMB was expecting a status update on 24 March on the conditions of draft plan approval. This date had been agreed between the Parties.
Kagan told the Board:
"I have not obtained instructions from my client with respect to your enquiry below. (ie OMB request for update)
I am advised that the redevelopment project is on hold at this time. Accordingly, and for the time being, my client will not be finalising the conditions of draft plan approval nor seeking that the Board issue its Order (on the draft plan) at this time. My client appreciates the Board's understanding in this respect. Thank you."
We wait to hear from the Town.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Why is the Clock Tower saga dragging on with no resolution in sight?
Almost two months ago, members of the public blew a giant raspberry at Bob Forrest’s plan to dump a nine storey condo in the middle of Newmarket’s historic downtown.
We were led to believe a staff report on the outcome of that Statutory Public meeting on 3 February 2014 would go to the Committee of the Whole this month (April).
Instead it has vanished into the big black hole that is Newmarket’s Planning Department.
We know it is impossible for Forrest to build his 9 storey condo without securing Town owned land. Forrest’s right hand man, Chris Bobyk, told the Statutory Meeting that, if they were to stay within the boundaries of their own land, the underground car park would have to go down four levels and the soil is too wet down there for the concrete to set. The alternative is to have a shallower but wider footprint taking them outside the curtilage of the land they own and this means doing a deal with the Town.
No date set for report back to councillors
I am told that the studies submitted by the developer – and matters raised at the Statutory Public Meeting - have thrown up issues that need to be examined by the Town’s planners and this accounts for the delay in reporting to the Committee of the Whole. As yet, no date has been set for a report to councillors.
No wonder people are thoroughly disillusioned with the whole, rotten planning system where developers simply refuse to take no for an answer. My spies tell me that Ward 5 councillor, Joe Sponga, has been telling people that a decision on the application is likely to be delayed beyond the election on 27 October. And then he predicts Forrest will press ahead, hoping for a quick approval of his 9 storey monolith.
Sponga could derail these plans if he were so minded. In this election year, when he has a serious contender or two challenging him, why doesn’t he say publicly that he is against the nine storey condo? And why can’t he say he will not support any proposal to make Town owned lands available to a speculative developer whose project would make a mockery of the Town’s heritage conservation area?
The joke is on us
Unfortunately, our dysfunctional planning system allows developers to keep coming back with re-worked drawings and endless “iterations”. And the joke is on us because we, the taxpayers, are paying for this.
The Town’s professional planners must have spent a huge amount of time on the Clock Tower proposal – even before it was formally submitted to the Town as a complete planning application.
At the moment, our Town planners do not record on a time sheet the amount of time they spend on development proposals – both before and after any development application is submitted. This should be standard practice. And the client (ie the developer) should be billed, if only notionally. But, more importantly, this information should be made public.
Bob Forrest’s lawyer, the ubiquitous Ira Kagan, already has two significant Newmarket scalps on his belt – Slessor Square and Glenway.
We cannot allow the Clock Tower to be added as his third.
It is time for councillors to take the reins and lead on this issue rather than allowing the Town's Planning Department to negotiate yet more pointless iterations for a development proposal that should be killed stone dead.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Yesterday, the Ontario Municipal Board gave its seal of approval to the settlement on Glenway negotiated by Marianneville’s Ira Kagan and Mary Bull for the Town of Newmarket. It gives the developer everything they asked for.
Curiously, the number of residential units increased from 730 to 742. We learn from the Town’s outside consultant, Ruth Victor, that an easement affecting water mains “constrained development” so the “pattern of easements was rationalised”. Magic!
The transformation of Glenway will, of course, not happen overnight. The Town has put “Holds” on various aspects ensuring the development cannot proceed until the Town is satisfied that Marianneville is carrying out their side of the bargain.
This approach was used with Slessor Square and now seems to be a standard in the planners’ toolkit. If it can’t be sorted out now, kick the can down the road and sort it out later.
The adjudicator’s written decision on the Hearing’s two phases will emerge at some indeterminate point in the future.
In the meantime, there are calls for a public meeting on lessons to be learned. The GPA’s Dave Sovran wants one. So too does Ward 7’s councillor, Chris Emanuel. Others such as Maddie Di Muccio have publicly called for such a meeting if only to say "I told you so".
I suspect the chances of this happening are close to zero. We would be asking the powers-that-be to lift a big, heavy moss-covered stone, allowing the rest of us to peer underneath.
There would have to be a succinct and to-the-point background report in plain English setting out the key decisions on Glenway taken by councillors, staff and others together with reasons and justifications. What alternatives were explored? How was the process managed and overseen? How would things be done differently in future?
Such a meeting could easily be organised within, say, two months but I simply can’t see it happening. It would be too destabilising.
After June, anything remotely controversial will be shunted into the marshalling yard and parked there until after the Municipal Election on 27 October.
But if, to my astonishment, we do get a public meeting I shall donate $100 to a local charity of the Mayor’s choice.
You can’t say fairer than that.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
This afternoon our councillors meet to consider a report on the terms of the agreed settlement between the Town of Newmarket and Marianneville Developments to concrete over large parts of Glenway, until now a pleasant and attractive place to live.
As I arrive in the Council Chamber I pick up a sheaf of papers, hot off the photocopier. A covering memorandum from Ruth Victor, the outside consultant brought in by the Town to handle the Glenway file, tells me a settlement has been reached “in accordance with Council’s directions”.
I’d like to see the details of these Council directions. The agreed settlement gives Marianneville 12 more residential units than before (from 730 to 742). I am left wondering if our councillors really expected their negotiators to give Marianneville more than they asked for.
So, what did the Town get?
The negotiators secured an additional 0.078 hectares of parkland. We are told that almost 25% of Marianneville’s development application area is protected as green space which is defined as including parkland, private amenity space and storm water management facilities and associated open space.
We are told all single detached units will be like-to-like. That the high density block will have a landscape buffer to make it fit in. There will be a “compatibility plan” to ensure new developments do not jar with what is already there. There will be fencing, height transitions and other worthy things lifted from the planners’ lexicon.
Now the Mayor calls the meeting to order and invites the excellent Dave Sovran to speak on behalf of the Glenway Preservation Association. After thanking Ward 7 councillor, Chris Emanuel, for all his efforts he states bluntly that the GPA is opposed to the negotiated settlement. Twice the GPA asked the Town to share with them their proposed approach to the negotiations with Marianneville. Twice they were rebuffed.
Sovran wants to know (a) how the GPA requests were dealt with (b) what is to happen with the West lands (c) what happened to their proposal for a green corridor (d) if the Town was prepared to purchase any of the lands and (e) whether this Committee meeting is going to be the last on the Glenway issue.
GPA completely ignored
He goes on to tells us the GPA feels incredibly let down and completely ignored. He wants a public meeting to brief residents and to bring closure. Ideally he wants a meeting before ratification of the agreed settlement.
Alas, councillors voluntarily gave up the option of ratification when they gave authority to their hired counsel, Mary Bull, to negotiate with Marianneville and agree the terms of settlement.
Now John Taylor is going on about the iniquities of the OMB, which is where the “majority of fault” lies. He says other municipalities are also affected. Newmarket is not unique. He trumpets the fact that the Town went to the OMB to test whether development at Glenway is permitted. But he omits any reference to the shockingly below par performance of the Town’s team at the OMB Hearing.
Taylor now bizarrely asks Sovran how he would define success given where we are. What would he like the Council to do at this point?
There is some talk about land expropriation and its feasibility but the Town’s solicitor, Esther Armchuk, gives a million and one reasons why this should be a matter of last resort.
Council directions - please amplify
Mary Bull, the Town’s negotiator-in-chief and legal expert, now sketches out the broad outlines of the agreement, reminding us all that it was done in accordance with Council directions. We learn the Glenway development cannot proceed until the servicing allocation (hooking up to the water mains and sewers) is agreed.
Now Maddie Di Muccio scents political advantage and is demanding a public meeting to consider the lessons to be learned. Bull is decidedly cool if it means fitting this in before the negotiated settlement is put to the OMB for approval. She tells us that way back in December at the pre-hearing the OMB ruled that everything had to be completed by this Friday, 25 April, the end of phase 2. (Bull is being economical with the truth in the way that lawyers are. The Hearing dates for Phase 2 which originally stretched into May were subsequently changed).
Now the Mayor is asking councillors for comments.
Progressive Conservative MPP hopeful, Jane Twinney, wants to know about expropriation and the criteria used. Armchuk whispers this should be discussed in camera.
Now Twinney tells us she always knew this would end in tears. Hesitantly, she says it was inevitable. Now I am listening to more worthless platitudes than I can take. Surely, as a prospective Member of the Provincial Parliament she can do better this this.
Chris Emanuel, the only councillor who comes out of this mess with his reputation intact, wants to know more about the process of the negotiated settlement. Was the green corridor discussed? How did things get on to the table?
The Town’s hired counsel, Mary Bull, tells us these matters must remain confidential. (If there had been an “issues list” exchanged between the Parties and available to the rest of us we would have known what matters were up for discussion). She tells us that the discussions she had with the developer must be private. If the details were later revealed it would run counter to public policy considerations where the objective is to facilitate a settlement. (This answer is simply not good enough.)
I tip my hat to you
Now it is the turn of Tom Vegh who speaks for all our councillors when he says he is disappointed at the outcome of events. He looks at the GPA people and says: “I tip my hat to you.”
But why, he asks Bull, don’t we go through the technical issues at the OMB Phase 2 Hearing rather than opting for a negotiated settlement? (It is a bit late in the day to ask this.)
Bull tells us there were very few technical issues remaining to be resolved. Vegh asks: Is anything outstanding?
No, says Bull.
Now Chris Emanuel is back, gnawing at the bone. Does the Municipality have the right to hear from Counsel (Mary Bull) on what she believed were the desired outcomes from the settlement negotiations? (Apparently it does.)
Now Bull is taking us through tomorrow’s agenda at the OMB at the Voyageur Hotel on Yonge Street. We learn that evidence will be given by Ruth Victor to the OMB adjudicator setting out “what has been achieved”. The Adjudicator, Susan Schiller, will make a decision there and then or, perhaps, reserve it for later.
Now it is the turn of Ward 4’s Tom Hempen who tells us it was a difficult decision for him to vote for the Town to provide funds to go to the OMB. He wants to know why negotiations cannot take place in open session with community groups involved. He wants to see more community engagement.
Too many people in the room
Bull, with commendable frankness, tells him that it is difficult to come to a settlement if too many people are in the room.
Chris Emanuel is rattling the bars of the cage again. He wants to know if the OMB Hearing can be delayed if the Council decides not to agree the negotiated settlement. Rob Prentice, from the Town’s Commissariat, weighs in. He reminds councillors of the status of the signed settlement agreement. If councillors want to reconsider things then they need to go into closed session to take legal advice. I scream silently at the proceduralism that is tying everyone up in knots.
Bull reminds councillors the negotiators reached a settlement with the developer following directions set by Council. (Please can we see those directions.)
Now we are in the middle of a long discussion about development in Markham where we learn the OMB decided not to intervene, leaving matters to the Municipality. This is in stark contrast to the OMB’s line on Glenway where the Town of Newmarket was hung out to dry. Why the inconsistencies in approach to Municipalities in the same Region?
Taylor gives Di Muccio what she wants
Now John Taylor makes a humungous mistake by referring to Di Muccio’s tweeting during the Committee meeting. All injured innocence, Taylor tells us she refers to her fellow councillors as hypocrites. Taylor’s intervention gives her the oxygen she needs to stay alive politically. Without it, she would be dead in the water.
This afternoon, Di Muccio has been more than usually inarticulate and incoherent, unable to string a sentence together without a thousand ums and ahs.
Now the Mayor steps in to keep the two apart and he does what comes naturally to him. He administers a soothing balm.
There is a process, he says.
It is appropriately administered and appropriately advised.
We have defended the planning process.
I am incredulous. I shake my head in disbelief at what I am hearing.
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