The Mayor and councillors say they believe in transparency. So I invite them all voluntarily to disclose any contact they have had with Bob Forrest and Chris Bobyk concerning the controversial Clock Tower development and the associated land swap. I plan to address the issue at the Committee of the Whole on Monday 18 April 2016.

Here is a copy of the letter I sent to them earlier today:

Wednesday 13 April 2016

 By hand to 395 Mulock Drive and by email

 Dear Mr Mayor

The proposed development at the Clock Tower and contact

with Bob Forrest and Chris Bobyk

I should be very grateful if you would give the dates and details of any private or one-to-one meetings you may have had with Mr Bob Forrest and/or Chris Bobyk concerning (a) the proposed land swap and (b) the development more generally, including height. To be clear, the meetings I have in mind would be those where a member of the Town’s staff was not present. I should like to know what was discussed.

Additionally, I should be grateful if you would let me have the dates and details of any emails and/or phone conversations you may have had with Mr Forrest and/or Mr Bobyk where the emails were not copied in to Town staff and where the phone conversations were not conference calls involving Town staff.

I hope to address the Committee of the Whole on Monday 18 April 2016 on this matter and it would be helpful to have your response before then.

I am writing to the Mayor, regional councillor and all councillors in the same terms and I am copying this to Mr Shelton, the Chief Administrative Officer, and to Mr Brouwer, the Town Clerk.

I am most grateful.

Yours sincerely

Gordon Prentice


Newmarket’s Mayor, retired bank manager Tony Van Bynen, has finally nailed his colours to the mast.

Van Bynen, so often a master of softly modulated equivocation, bluntly tells the Era newspaper today that the controversial Clock Tower development (which will blow apart the Town’s heritage conservation district) “is a great example of the intensification we need”.

Van Bynen is disarmingly frank. He believes the Clock Tower can be fine-tuned in a way that will apparently satisfy everyone – including the developer.  He says he wants the council to be given an opportunity to take an objective view but it seems to me he has already made his mind up. There is nothing remotely “objective” about the views he has expressed. He has staked out a position before the public meeting and before the Town’s own planners have submitted their comprehensive report on the Forrest application.

Van Bynen tells Era reporter Chris Simon:

"What's being recommended is that we go through the public process."

"I know there are a lot of people who have varying degrees of opinion about the clock tower. To make Main Street sustainable, we need to have intensification. The clock tower is a great example of the intensification we need. It's just a matter of finding out what is workable, in terms of being sympathetic to the heritage district. I'm optimistic we can make the clock tower work; there may need to be some fine tuning on how we get there. But this is the kind of invigoration Main needs if it truly intends on being sustainable in the longer term."

"Let's give council the opportunity to take an objective review of what's available. Let's review this within the context of what the objective of revitalizing Main was all about. The fact is there’s been modifications talks about the desire for the developer to find something that will work. We’ve learned through Glenway that polarity doesn’t help anybody."

I allowed myself a wry smile when I read of Van Bynen’s reference to Glenway. He doesn’t want any “polarity” or unpleasantness. Tell that to the people of Glenway whose once leafy neighbourhood is being chewed up by earthmovers, even as I write. Van Bynen never told the OMB that the Town had considered buying the Glenway lands in 2008. Must have slipped his mind.

As we all know, Van Bynen has never given an honest account of what happened at Glenway. And until he does he should steer clear of words like “polarity”.

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Newmarket councillors have had private one-to-one meetings with the Clock Tower developer but what was on the agenda? We need to know.

Did Bob Forrest or his side-kick, Chris Bobyk, try to find out from councillors what height would be acceptable for their brutal new development in the Town’s heritage conservation district whose three storey height cap is entrenched in a By-law? Would five, six or seven storeys work for you, councillor? Did they discuss the tenure – owner occupied or rental? And what about car parking standards? Could these be tweaked?

In a democracy such as ours, people have every right to lobby their elected officials. But – if it is happening – it shouldn’t be done furtively or in secret.

No one-to-one meetings. It’s garbage

Last December, when the Council was discussing the process for awarding the garbage collection contract for the Northern Six municipalities, councillors made it very clear they didn’t want to be individually lobbied by those seeking the contract. They queued up to proclaim the virtues of transparency.

Regional Councillor John Taylor led the charge. He doesn’t like the idea of one-to-one meetings with any of the bidders, local or otherwise. Even our secretive Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, agreed with Taylor “out of an abundance of caution and a desire for transparency”

So why doesn’t this thinking extend to one-to-one meetings with developers?

In Australia, many municipalities have public registers detailing contact between developers and councillors. In the Town of Vincent, for example, its register lists email, face-to-face, or phone contact between councillors and developers. In the UK it is not unusual for municipalities to publish notes of contacts between councillors and developers.

In every case, the aim is to remove suspicion of bias and make the whole process as transparent as possible.


Here in Ontario, under the Municipal Act, municipalities have the option of establishing a public register of lobbyists. “Lobbying” includes seeking planning approvals. The Register for the City of Toronto says this:

 “Public office holders and the public should be able to know who is attempting to influence City Government.”

Newmarket’s recently approved Code of Conduct ignores lobbying activity. A covering report from the Deputy Town Clerk says “there is no jurisdiction to mandate lobbyists with the Code”. However, it is perfectly open to the Town to establish a Lobbyist Register. Councillors simply decided, for their own reasons, not to.

The Deputy Town Clerk, Lisa Lyons, told councillors on 25 February 2016 (agenda item 4):

“The Municipal Act 2001 allows municipalities to pass a lobbying bylaw setting out definitions of lobbying and lobbyists and to provide for a lobbyist registry framework and appointment of a lobbyist registrar responsible for registration functions, education and enforcement. Many public institutions have adopted related policies or practices which support similar lobbying rules or guidelines envisioned in the lobbying legislation.”

“Currently, Council has put in place measures which respond to lobbying large dollar value procurement of goods and services. This was recently implemented for the Northern Six Waste Collection Contract RFP and these measures will continue to be considered as required.”

Accountability and Transparency

David Nitkin of Ethicscan, the outside consultant brought in to help the Town shape its new Code of Conduct, strongly pushed councillors to establish a Standing Committee on Accountability and Transparency (scroll to bottom and open Draft Code). At a Council Workshop last October he was very keen on the idea, saying it was used elsewhere "to very great power and effect". He said councillors could join with representatives of the media and members of the public and, perhaps, staff to look at issues on a regular basis. Councillors made no comment.

Nitkin’s proposal was subsequently formally rejected. The staff report on the Code of Conduct says this on Accountability and Transparency:

 “Not included in Code — alternate option recommended. Policies and practices related to accountability and transparency are brought forward to Council as a whole through Committee of the Whole and Council with an opportunity for public input. Council direction would be required to consider such a Committee.”

It is perfectly obvious from the debate on the garbage collection contract that Newmarket councillors understand the perils of one-to-one lobbying.

So I hope the Mayor and all councillors will tell the rest of us about any one-to-one contact they have had with Bob Forrest or Chris Bobyk as well as any meetings where Town staff were not present.

Time to let us all into the secret.

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The much anticipated report by the Town’s planners on Bob Forrest’s proposed Clock Tower development has now been published. The report goes to the Committee of the Whole on 18 April 2016. You can read it here at agenda item 6.

As expected, the planners recommend the application is referred to a public meeting. Planning staff will then bring a further “comprehensive report” to councillors, if required. Until then, Newmarket’s planners are largely keeping their powder dry.

The Town’s Engineers are less circumspect. The report highlights a parking shortfall of 91 parking spaces between Forrest’s development proposal (199) and what is required under the Town’s current by-law standard (290). The report says:

“Engineering Services have reviewed the report and continue to have concerns regarding the parking shortfall and cannot support the application until the identified issues are addressed.”

The agenda for the meeting on 18 April 2016 includes provision (at item 26) for the Committee to go into Closed Session “if required” to consider:

“A proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of land by the municipality or local board… related to item 6 of the Committee of the Whole agenda – Ward 5 Property – 180-195 Main Street.”

Councillors, if they had the gumption, could take this opportunity to torpedo Forrest’s plan for a seven story apartment block by simply refusing to make Town-owned land available to him.

They don’t owe Bob Forrest any favours. Not that I am aware of. But they do have a responsibility to protect the integrity of the Town’s Heritage Conservation District - a policy most of them voted for.

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Newmarket’s Heritage Advisory Committee did the Town a great service on Tuesday (5 April) when its members unanimously rejected Bob Forrest’s ill-conceived 7 storey apartment building at the Clock Tower, smack bang in the middle of Newmarket’s historic Main Street.  

But what happens next?

A report by Newmarket planners on Forrest’s Clock Tower proposal is expected to go to the Committee of the Whole on Monday 18 April 2016 at 1.30pm. They are the High Priests of the planning cosmos whose views can easily carry more weight than elected officials.

Planners say no

The planners can recommend the Forrest application is (a) rejected or (b) approved. If they recommend rejection they will give reasons, no doubt echoing many of the concerns of the Heritage Advisory Committee. If councillors accept that advice, Forrest’s ruinous proposal is dead in the water. If Forrest appeals to the OMB (he has an appeal lodged there but it is sleeping) he will lose.

Planners say yes; councillors say no

On the other hand, if planners recommend approval (perhaps attaching various conditions) and councillors disagree then the matter will, almost certainly, go to the OMB. Following the Glenway precedent, the Town’s own planners would boycott the OMB and the Town would have to hire outside planners to make the Town’s case.

Planners say yes; councillors say yes

If the Town’s planners and councillors agree to Forrest’s Clock Tower proposal they will, after the usual planning processes have been gone through, give development approval. It is likely that the report going to the Committee of the Whole on 18 April 2016 will recommend a second public meeting. The first was held over two years ago in February 2014 and Forrest’s proposal has morphed through a number of different forms since then.

The planners’ report is also likely to give details of the land swap, without which Forrest’s proposal cannot go forward. But, perversely, councillors will only decide on this after they have approved the development proposal.

Closed meeting on land swap

The developer has already drafted the land swap agreement. Forrest told close colleagues in September last year that the draft land swap would be reviewed by the Mayor and senior staff before going to the Committee of the Whole, meeting in camera. He told them an agreement in principle had already been given.

Councillors approved the land swap “in principle” on 24 June 2013 in a closed session meeting of the Committee of the Whole. We do not know the factors lying behind that approval. However, that decision does not mean the Council must approve whatever Forrest has now put on the table.

I believe it is in the public interest for details of that closed meeting in 2013 to be made public.

The public interest

Councils, on their own volition, can choose to make all or part of a closed session public. But, before doing so, they would take legal advice. There may be privacy and confidentiality issues or other considerations. Third parties may be named. Client/solicitor privilege, a cornerstone of our legal system, would probably be invoked to draw a veil over the discussions. All sorts of matters can be concealed from public view when, in fact, there may be a public interest in disclosure. (The Town discussed the possible purchase of the Glenway lands in March and April 2008 but this important fact was withheld from the Glenway OMB Hearing years later.)

A Freedom of Information request for details of the closed session on 24 June 2013 is likely.

Why rental?

Councillors may be persuaded to give approval on the grounds that Forrest’s apartment block is now rental. Forrest told his colleagues last year that he had settled on six storeys but, with rental, there was a “real chance” they could get seven storeys.

He says the Town retreated on their aggressive stand on cash-in-lieu of parkland. This is money paid to the Town (currently 5% for residential) if parkland cannot be provided by the developer. Theoretically, it allows the Town to buy open space elsewhere.

Forrest believes rental brings real advantages. He can negotiate the quantum of development charges. He says there is precedent in Newmarket for deferring development charges for five years without interest. He also believes rental can bring permanent tax reductions. We shall see.

Our heritage is worth saving

The Mayor’s speech to the Chamber of Commerce in April last year carried a photo of the iconic Clock Tower on its front page. Why? Because it symbolizes our Town. But for how much longer?

One week tonight – at 7pm on Thursday 14 April 2016 at Trinity United Church, Park Avenue - Catherine Nasmith from the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario will speak on how communities can fight back against predatory developers like Bob Forrest who target our most treasured historic areas.

All are welcome.

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