- Written by Gordon Prentice
Mayor Tony Van Bynen has many fine qualities but leading from the front is not one of them.
He is a process and procedure man above all.
He is good at chairing meetings. I marvel at the exaggerated civility he deploys when dealing with his bête noire, Maddie Di Muccio. He loathes her but (mostly) does not let it show. To most people (and I include myself) he comes across as agreeable and avuncular.
But, in Newmarket Council’s many closed session meetings from which the public is barred, there may be another Van Bynen I don’t recognise. A Van Bynen with a vision for the Town, with firm views and a sense of urgency, giving clear direction to staff. But I doubt it.
Glenway: a key example
Take Glenway as the premier, gold plated example of Van Bynen’s modus operandi.
Glenway isn’t yesterday’s story. It is part of a continuing drama that is still playing out and it tells us volumes about Van Bynen’s approach.
Glenway isn’t a marginal or trivial issue of little consequence. I don't live in Glenway - nowhere near - but I imagine myself in the position of the many who do. Hundreds of Glenway people are going to see their lives turned upside down next year when the bull dozers and dumper trucks start appearing in the middle of their hitherto quiet residential neighbourhood. Property values will be hit. The quality of life will be dramatically impacted.
And the person most directly responsible for this tragedy is the Mayor, Tony Van Bynen.
In 2011, we learned the Town’s Planning Department allegedly couldn’t cope with the workload of the secondary plan. An outside planning consultant, Ruth Victor, was hired to handle the Glenway file - with disastrous consequences.
She sided with the developer, Marianneville, arguing there were no planning reasons why the former golf course could not be developed. She was hired to give a her professional opinion. But her recommendation to allow development became a de facto decision.
By the time councillors belatedly decided to back the Glenway residents (25 November 2013) and with the OMB Hearing looming, the die was cast.
Town paid consultant planner sides with developer
Victor, paid by taxpayers’ dollars, was summoned to the OMB Hearing by the developer, Marianneville, and became their star witness. The developer’s lawyer, Ira Kagan, told the adjudicator on 27 March 2014 that he was tempted just to call one witness, Ruth Victor, so compelling was her testimony.
“If I was really bold I would not have called another witness but I was scared not to.”
Kagan told the adjudicator that Victor had told him that Town planning staff “shared her opinions”. This, of course, was never tested because planning staff boycotted the Hearing.
The hands-off Mayor
Which brings me back to the Mayor.
When did the Mayor first learn that Ruth Victor was minded to write a report backing the developer, Marianneville?
What did he do about it? Did he have a view? Did he try to give her a steer? What discussions did he have with the Director of Planning, Rick Nethery, to decide the best way forward? Did he discuss the implications with other council members?
Was Van Bynen content to let Ruth Victor, in effect, determine the Town’s policy on Glenway?
The blunt truth is yes.
Van Bynen is famously hands-off leaving the professional staff to do the spade work, and call the shots. As a retired banker of 30 years standing, he is fixated on process and procedure. He follows the rules. And we know he contracts out to the professional staff key policy decisions that should be his and those of elected officials.
And he parrots, uncritically, the scripts written by others.
The Clock Tower on Main Street South
Hundreds of hours of Newmarket planning staff time (paid for by the taxpayers) have been devoted to Bob Forrest’s notorious condo project which, had it been allowed to proceed, would have wrecked the Town’s priceless historic downtown. (And it is not absolutely settled yet.)
Did Van Bynen have a view on how the historic downtown should be protected from developers determined to destroy it? If so, we didn’t hear him.
It was clear early on that Forrest’s project could only proceed if Town-owned land was made available to the developer. The Town had an absolute veto on this monstrous project. Did Van Bynen ever ask councillors if they wanted to sell Town-owned land to a developer whose project was inimical to their own Historic Conservation District policy? Or was he simply content to let things play out over many, many months?
In April 2013 I urged the Mayor to bring in a By Law immediately to protect the downtown from predatory developers. I was told this was something for the 2014 budget. It was only after a huge public outcry that Van Bynen was persuaded to act with some rare urgency.
In truth, Van Bynen enjoys being on the bridge but is not overly concerned about the ship’s destination. He is a man who lets things drift.
Lack of Transparency
Transparency and openness are recurring themes in this year's Municipal election.
Many of Van Bynen’s critics point to Newmarket’s debilitating culture of secrecy. A keen readiness to go behind closed doors to discuss matters that should be debated out in the open.
Plainly, there are legitimate reasons for going behind closed doors and to pretend otherwise, as the paranoid Maddie Di Muccio does, would be absurd. But in-camera meetings should not be used at the drop of a hat to shield the Council or any of its members from embarrassment or legitimate scrutiny and criticism or to protect fragile reputations.
I shall return to this.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The Town of Newmarket has now released its Public Information Report setting in context the confidential memo on the Glenway West Lands that was leaked on Tuesday by Ward 7 hopeful, John Blommesteyn.
Blommesteyn is married to the excitable Ward 6 councillor, Maddie Di Muccio, who made a big song and dance about the memo which, she said, should be made public.
The leak caused a great kerfuffle and councillors decided on Monday (29 September) that the contents of the leaked memo should be set in context and be published today (Friday October 3).
Entertain an offer
The confidential memo, dated 5 September, 2014, was from the Chief Administrative Officer, Bob Shelton, describing his approach to Marianneville to see if they would “entertain an offer” by the Town to purchase the Glenway West lands.
The developer told him the lands were not for sale. Then Shelton tells councillors:
“After further discussion, I was advised that the developable 22 acre piece of property is proposed for development and thus not for sale, however they may entertain offers by the Town to purchase portion(s) of the remaining approximately 30 acres of land. This 30 acre piece is also intended for development, subject to certain successful studies being carried out. From my conversations it would appear the owner will not be acting on any of the west lands until late 2014 or more likely 2015.”
Nowhere in today’s context report is there any indication of what “development” Marianneville has in mind. Reinstating a golf course could, in theory, be “development” but that is probably for the fairies.
The Public Information Report does a pretty poor job of setting the leaked memo in context. Why didn’t it remind us of Marianneville’s final settlement offer of November 20, 2013?
Marianneville was desperate to get the Town to drop the OMB challenge. If the Town would agree to the Glenway development, Marianneville would offer the Town a chance to buy the Glenway West lands. The full details can be read here.
Town offered a ten year option to buy
Under its terms, the Town would have been granted a 10 year option to purchase approximately 57 acres of Glenway west lands for $5,500,000, the price fixed for ten years. And during the option period the land was to be maintained by Marianneville as “passive open space” allowing public recreational use.
The final settlement offer from Marianneville’s Ira Kagan continues:
“Given that approximately 26 acres of the option lands (ie the Glenway West lands) are developable, the fixed price for these lands may save the Town and its taxpayers tens of millions of dollars (in today’s dollars). There is no telling what the land will be worth in ten years.”
The settlement offer has been in the public domain for over ten months, buried in the Town’s website, and it does, I think, provide the necessary context. That’s probably why councillors went back to the developer to sound them out.
Glenway residents are likely to be up in arms at the prospect of further development of the west lands. But, of course, we are not privy to the nature of the development Marianneville has in mind.
For their part, Marianneville is probably spitting feathers that its intention to develop at least part of the Glenway West lands is now out in the open and a matter of public record - possibly months before any application to develop the lands would have been lodged with the Town.
And the Town’s official bureaucracy will now be concerned that anything marked “confidential” will leak like a sieve.
So, should the confidential memo have remained confidential?
More to come.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
I have never been hostile to the idea of the Council helping community organisations, providing the deal is transparent and can be justified.
So when some people were getting in a complete frazzle over the $2.8m loan to Newmarket Soccer Club last year, I was altogether more relaxed.
I see the Town has now confirmed that the loan has now been taken over by a commercial bank and the Town will have collected more than $125,000 in interest above the $2.8m loan which will be repaid in full.
Sounds OK to me.
The Newmarket Era - which regularly fails to see the big picture - had serious reservations at the time. The Town, it said, had "jumped the gun".
Councillor Maddie Di Muccio, foaming at the mouth, denounced the rescue deal in her blog on 5 September 2013. She wrote:
“In what can only be described as one of the most bizarre and unprecedented decisions Newmarket Council has come up with this term, Mayor Tony Van Bynen, Regional Councillor John Taylor, and Councillors Emanuel, Twinney and Hempen decided that it would be a brilliant investment to pay off a 2.8 million dollar loan to save a floundering Newmarket Soccer Club that nobody else – including banks – saw fit to invest in. Myself, Councillors Sponga and Kerwin voted against the deal; and Councillor Vegh was absent.”
Most of her venom was directed at the Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, and Regional Councillor John Taylor. But she is a woman who doesn’t forget.
Seven months later, still fulminating with rage, she was reminding her Twitter followers:
@RockNRollCroll let’s not forget the other councillors who supported this taxpayer fiasco: Tom Hempen, Chris Emanuel and Jane Twinney.
4.37pm – 28 March 14
Meanwhile, Newmarket Soccer Club seems to be on the way up.
And good luck to them.
24 days to the election.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Bob Forrest’s plans to build a giant condo in the middle of Newmarket’s historic Downtown were, fortunately, thwarted when councillors belatedly - and under pressure from citizens’ groups and concerned individuals - brought forward a By Law to put in place the Lower Main Street South Heritage Conservation District. The policy had been gathering dust for years, awaiting an implementing By Law.
Forrest appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board against the By Law in its entirety, not just for the properties he owns (180-194 Main Street). He affected outrage by claiming his plans for the condo had been with the Town long before the By Law was enacted. In fact, the guiding policy for the downtown heritage area had been settled in 2010.
The Town and Forrest’s lawyer made representations to the OMB which issued an Order dated 19 August 2014 bringing the By Law “into full force and effect” as from 31 October 2013 except for the properties under appeal (180-194 Main Street).
I am told Forrest, who is a slippery fish, does not intend to proceed with his OMB appeal until the Council makes a decision regarding a re-zoning application for the lands.
The planners tell me they are waiting for a response from Forrest to their comments. “Once that information has been submitted and reviewed, we may be in a position to report to the Committee of the Whole with an application.”
A stake needs to be driven through the heart of Forrest’s condo. Killing it stone dead, once and for all.
At the packed Statutory Public meeting in February this year, the vast majority of those present condemned the proposal as ill-judged and out of place.
Five months ago I reported that Ward 5 councillor, Joe Sponga, has been telling people nothing would happen before the election on October 27 and then Forrest would press ahead, hoping to get a green light from the new Council.
Joe Sponga is not the man to put a spoke in Bob Forrest’s wheel.
He had many chances to speak out clearly and unequivocally about the threat to our historic downtown. But all we ever heard were mumbles.
Forrest put the Clock Tower and his other Main Street properties up for sale on 19 June 2014.
26 days to the election
(Just after this blog was posted Joe Sponga was in touch to say he has always made his position clear on the Clock Tower issue and his views are set out in his Facebook pages. He says people can contact him on 830 9895 if they have concerns.)
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Back story: The GO Bus Terminal at Davis Drive West figured prominently in the Glenway OMB Hearing. The Terminal is next door to Glenway and much of the neighbourhood is within 500 metres of it. This close proximity is, in planning terms, highly significant. Ira Kagan, the developer’s lawyer, told the OMB adjudicator, Susan Schiller, in his closing submission on 27 March 2014, there was not a “shred of evidence that the Town, Region or GO Transit wanted to move this Bus Terminal”.
In fact, the revised and final version of Newmarket’s Urban Centres Secondary Plan, adopted by the Council on 23 June 2014, which goes up to York Region for approval in the new year, allows for this as one of a number of options to be studied as part of a separate, wide-ranging transit and transportation review. On completion, this review will, by amendment, be folded into the Secondary Plan and become part of it.
The earlier version of the Secondary Plan – put before the OMB Hearing and dissected by Kagan– was silent on this crucial issue.
The Glenway Preservation Association’s professional planner, Nick McDonald, told the OMB that Marianneville’s application to develop Glenway was premature. Major transit and transportation issues still had to be addressed. He called for a Town led study which would include the GO Bus Terminal and the Upper Canada Mall site. He was ridiculed by Kagan for suggesting such a thing.
“Mr McDonald may think it (the bus station) should move but no-one else seems to agree with him.”
If the Director of Planning, Rick Nethery, and the Town’s senior planners had revealed their intentions earlier, (that the Upper Canada Mall study would look in detail at transit integration) it would have fundamentally changed the dynamics of the OMB Glenway hearing.
The OMB Hearing, reportedly costing the Town over $700,000, was boycotted throughout by Newmarket Planning staff.
The Chronology in outline
September 2013. Newmarket planning staff receive the GDH Transportation Study which the Town had commissioned to inform the Secondary Plan. Section 4 of the Executive Summary talks about the possibility of relocating the Bus Terminal but that “the current vision for the existing GO Transit/YRT Bus Terminal south of Upper Canada Mall is to remain in its current location”. It goes on:
“If the bus station is relocated to the UCM site, the volume of associated buses should not significantly impact future operations compared to leaving the station in its current location. Furthermore, the relocation of the bus station to the UCM property may even serve to reduce future net effects given potential reductions to pedestrian crossings of Davis Drive. The impact of such a change in operations has not been specifically modeled in our study, so any bus station relocation should include a detailed evaluation of transportation impacts and requirements.”
The GDH Transportation Study was eventually put into the public domain six months later, on April 2, 2014 - after my third request for it to be published and after the OMB adjudicator had made her decision in favour of the developer.
November 25, 2013 Councillors vote unanimously to back Glenway at the OMB.
March 2014. With the OMB Glenway Hearing under way, Newmarket’s Draft Secondary Plan is circulated for comment. (See Urban Centres Secondary Planning Process at www.newmarket.ca) It mentions two “Mobility Hubs” – one at the Tannery (a so-called Gateway Hub) and another at Yonge and Davis (a so-called Anchor Hub). The Gateway Hub is identified on the Secondary Plan’s maps with a giant circle. The Anchor Hub is represented by a tiny red dot. There is reference to a study of the Upper Canada Mall site and in paragraph 5.3.4 (ii) (e) it talks blandly of the “integration of transit into the site and between the site and the Yonge Davis Rapidway Station.”
March 27, 2014. In his closing submission to the OMB Hearing, the developer’s lawyer, Ira Kagan, ridicules Nick McDonald, the professional planner hired by the Glenway Preservation Association to put their case to the Board.
McDonald says Glenway shouldn’t be looked at in isolation. He argues for a wider study going beyond the Glenway lands, taking in the GO bus terminal and the Upper Canada Mall site. McDonald tells the Hearing that the Town had not identified major transit areas in its draft Secondary Plan and that more work was needed. In view of this he says “it would be premature to consider the Marianneville application in advance of a Town led process”.
Kagan tells the adjudicator:
“There is not a shred of evidence that the Town, Region or GO Transit want to move this bus terminal. The terminal is identified in a variety of planning documents that the various witnesses reviewed and never once was it identified for relocation. Mr McDonald 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 bus terminal be relocated. Accordingly, the addition of these two parcels of land to a Town led study is not supported on the evidence.”
The OMB Adjudicator rules in favour of the developer, Marianneville.
April 22, 2014 Councillors Maddie Di Muccio and Chris Emanuel call for a meeting to consider the lessons to be learned. The motion is carried without opposition:
“That Council direct staff to organize a public meeting after the Ontario Municipal Board releases its written decision and within this term of Council, on what has been learned about the Official Plan Amendment, Zoning By Law Amendment and Draft Plan of Subdivision for Marianneville Developments Limited (Glenway) process and the effects of future development as York Region prepares for growth.”
April 28, 2014. In its response to the March draft of the Secondary Plan, Metrolinx specifically asks the Town to show in the Schedules the area to be covered by the Yonge/Davis Mobility Hub study. It seems to me unlikely a study of the proposed Mobility Hub area at Yonge and Davis would exclude from it the GO Bus Terminal, a stone’s throw away.
In its comments on the March draft Secondary Plan Metrolinx says:
“The four plans in Schedules 3 (land use), 4 (height and density), 5 (street network) and 6 (parks, open space and natural heritage) identify the two Mobility Hubs within the Newmarket Urban Centres and the conceptual Mobility Hub Station Area Plan Study Area for the Newmarket GO train station. It is recommended the conceptual Mobility Hub Area Plan Study Area for the Anchor Hub at the intersection of Yonge Street and Davis Drive be detailed on the Schedules.”
This recommendation is rejected.
On the very same day (28 April 2014) Marion Plaunt, the senior planner with responsibility for the Secondary Plan file, tells councillors at a meeting on the revised draft Secondary Plan:
“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 criteria.”
June 9, 2014. At the Council Workshop to update councillors on the revised draft Secondary Plan, Marion Plaunt tells councillors that while Metrolinx believes the mobility hub principle should apply to Yonge and Davis:
Regional Councillor John Taylor quizzes Ms Plaunt on the Mobility Hub issue but doesn’t follow up with: Why not?
The answer is straightforward. A line on a map showing the Mobility Hub study area would inevitably have to include the GO Bus terminal.
June 23, 2014. Newmarket councillors agree the revised draft Secondary Plan which now goes up to the Region for final approval.
Instead of a Mobility Hub study area delineated on the Schedule maps, as requested by Metrolinx, we have a Regional Shopping Centre Study Area focused on the Upper Canada Mall site. Paragraph 5.3.4 (ii) says:
A Master Plan for the Regional Shopping Centre Study Area as identified on Schedules 3 (land use), 4 (height and density), and 5 (street network) will be prepared by the landowner(s) in co-operation with the Town, York Region, Metrolinx and other relevant partners to address, as a minimum, the following:
(e) mobility hub study considerations including, but not limited to, integration of transit into the site and/or between this site and the Yonge Davis Rapidway, the GO Bus Terminal and GO train station in accordance with the Metrolinx Mobility Hub Guidelines.
The words in bold show the changes from the earlier March draft.
“clear, direct, and short transfers between transit modes and routes, including accessible conventional and specialized transit, by minimizing walking distances and removing physical and perceived barriers within transit stations.”
A Mobility Hub at Yonge and Davis on the UCM site north of Davis Drive West with the GO Bus Terminal on its existing site on the South side of Davis Drive West is unlikely to be considered “seamless”.
What does all this mean in practice? The study requested by Nick McDonald, and dismissed by Ira Kagan as fanciful, will go ahead - but without the Glenway component. The irreversible transformation and blighting of a quiet and peaceful Newmarket neighbourhood is about to begin.
Meanwhile, in another part of town…
While there is no big circle at Yonge and Davis on the Schedules, there is one at Mulock Drive which, according to the final version of the Secondary Plan, is the site of the proposed new GO rail station.
Metrolinx, told me only last week: “While the Town of Newmarket supports a new station at Mulock Drive, GO Transit has no plans to build a station in this location.”
You really couldn't make it up.
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