- Written by Gordon Prentice
This morning, I am off to Mulock Drive for the OMB hearing on Slessor Square, wearing a suit and a tie as befits the occasion.
The Town has approved the development in principle but the final decision lies with the OMB in the shape of the tie-less Mr Reid Rossi who moves things along at a brisk canter.
It is all very jolly in a slightly stilted way. Everyone seems to know everyone else. But Mr Rossi is the man who matters. His light-hearted jokes get the loudest laughs.
Slessor’s lawyer, the ebullient Ira Kagan, knows it is all over bar the shouting. He has lots to smile about but, first, certain boxes have got to be ticked for the sake of propriety.
He boasts that the Slessor’s Settlement Offer was made public so the Town could consult with the residents. This, he suggests, is virtually unprecedented. Most “without prejudice” offers would be kept under wraps until agreed between developer and Town. At that stage, he says, the public would be told what was going to happen.
Let’s hear a round of applause for the Slessors!
Now Kagan calls Brad Rogers to the stand.
Brad, from Groundswell, looks slightly flushed. Not totally relaxed. We discover that John and Peter Slessor approached him when their car dealership was closing. Brad tells them the land is deemed higher density and he introduces them to Bob Forrest who is now the project manager.
Kagan then rattles through a series of questions.
Does the development comply with the Provincial Policy Statement?
Does the development comply with the Regional Official Plan?
Does the Town’s Official Plan deal with the issues of compatibility?
Is the development good planning?
Is this development the greatest thing since sliced bread?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes says Brad. (I made up the last bit.)
Brad is programmed to agree with Kagan.
Brad says the development will have 818 suites in a total of four blocks. The towers on Yonge (blocks B and C) will be 19 and 21 storeys. The retirement residence (block D) 8 storeys and the other condo building (block A fronting George Street) will be 9 storeys.
And there will be publicly accessible open space in Yonge and George streets and in the internal courtyard. Whoooo!
Now Newmarket’s senior planner, Marion Plaunt, takes the stand. She is the consummate professional. She immediately corrects Brad. Block A is not a 9 storey maximum but 8.
How on earth is it possible for Brad to get something as basic as this wrong?
Now my friend Bill Chadwick is asking a series of questions while an indulgent Mr Rossi allows us to ski off-piste with some questions not strictly relevant to the matter at hand.
Bob Forrest takes the stand, apologising for having no tie. He didn’t expect to be called.
We discover that the underground car park, which is to extend below the entire site, is to be built in phases starting under what is to be the retirement residence at the southern end of the site.
There is to be no single gigantic hole in the ground, Rather a series of holes.
But, significantly, we learn there is no absolute commitment to build the retirement residence first.
When Bill presses Kagan on this, we hear the Slessor’s lawyer say he cannot give an assurance that the towers will not be built first.
So, we are all in the dark on phasing – except for one point.
The development, says Kagan, is too big to be built in a single phase.
In my mind’s eye, I see columns of dumper trucks queuing in residential streets in the early morning, engines idling in wintry weather, waiting for access to the giant construction site. Year after year.
Now I ask about Street A which bisects the development.
I have had a bee in my bonnet about Street A ever since I discovered no forecasts had been made of likely traffic volumes on this private street. The Slessors’ own traffic gurus, Cole Engineering, say they didn’t do any forecasts on the grounds no-one would use Street A to get from Yonge to George. Hmmm.
I want to know if this private street, maintained by the developer, will be a public right of way, in perpetuity.
We are told there will be no “Private Thoroughfare” signs. A clear answer to a simple question.
Now we turn to the question of Holds.
Brad tells us earlier “there are numerous holding provisions at every stage. And more than a dozen triggers for Holds to be lifted.”
But can we be sure the Holds will not be lifted prematurely?
We ask for non-voting participant status at the site plan meetings where these things are determined.
At this stage, it is best to be bold.
We want to be able to contribute to the conversation and engage in the debate rather than sit at the back of the class like potatoes, observing.
Mr Rossi says it is not a matter for the OMB but for the Town.
So we ask the Town’s top lawyer, Esther Armchuk-Ball, who says she is going to take our request away and get back to us.
In the meantime, the Town has cut a deal with the Slessors who have agreed
“to conduct a non statutory meeting with a maximum of four (4) representatives of the community (that represent those that have been a party or a registered participant at the OMB hearing) at each of the site plan stages in order to solicit public input.”
We say we are not in a position to select people outside our own group.
So, why not invite everyone?
No says Kagan. No way.
The number is not negotiable.
The message is quite clear.
Like it or lump it.
Just like Slessor Square.
- Written by gordon prentice
Last night, Newmarket Council gives the go ahead to the massive Slessor complex opposite Upper Canada Mall that will take up to a decade to complete. It sets the precedent for future development in central Newmarket.
One by one, the councillors give their reasons.
Personally, I find this compelling stuff as, even after all this time, I still don’t know what some of them really think about it all.
The dance of the seven veils begins…
An agonised Tom Hempen is desperately looking for a way out. He wants assurances from the traffic experts that everything will work out in the end. That way, he can vote for Slessor and look his Ward 4 constituents in the eye. He pleads with the Town’s traffic consultant to throw him a lifeline. More traffic studies are on the way. Phew! What a relief!
No surprises from Maddie Di Muccio. She is the developer’s friend. No need to guess whose side she is on. She reminds us we have long known intensification is coming. And now it has arrived. Get used to it.
Joe Sponga deserves a pat on the back for taking the trouble to engage with the issue. He asks probing questions rather than sit passively, saying nothing, like a lump of lard. He wants the Council to take the decision rather than leave it to the OMB which could, he says, land us with an even worse development than the one proposed. He says it is showing “leadership” to vote for Slessor.
Ward 7 councillor and Glenway champion, Chris Emanuel, realises he is between a rock and a hard place. Despite clear misgivings about the process he has got to choose. He votes for Slessor.
John Taylor tells us earlier he is leaning towards supporting the Planning Staff recommendations but he is upset that councillors may be cut out of future decisions. He worries that the developer and planning staff will decide things. It is another one of these process issues that conveniently divert discussion away from the central point which is, in this case, density.
But, eventually, he gets round to it.
If it were up to him he would go for a 25% reduction in density. Alas, he doesn’t have the power to insist on this. He has got to take this and that into account. And weigh everything up. It is all very difficult. He, too, votes for Slessor.
Now it is the turn of Jane Twinney. In a rare intervention she asks if it is true that the density of the development can change after approval in principle is given. Yes, says Marion. But there is a height cap. The developer can’t go above 21 storeys.
Dave Kerwin now launches into a long paean of praise for the Slessors. He is concerned that further delays could bankrupt the developer. It has already dragged on for two years. He is firmly in the Slessor camp. Always was.
Now I hear Tom Vegh extolling the new options for seniors that Slessor will provide. There is a lot of congratulatory stuff . Staff and councillors, working tirelessly right up to the wire, wringing concessions from the developer. Much back slapping.
Now it is the turn of the Mayor who reads something from a script prepared earlier. Then the roll call vote is taken. It is unanimous.
So what did they vote for?
Our councillors have given “approval in principle” to the largest development Newmarket has ever seen. But we don’t know the final density. That could change. We don’t know the number of apartments. Or the nature of the commercial and retail units that are integral to the complex. Or the traffic impact on the adjoining neighbourhood and town more generally. Or the phasing of the four stage development.
Earlier, in the afternoon session, Slessor’s Project Manager, Bob Forrest, sporting eye catching bright orange shoes, tells us he wants the retirement residence to be built first. Hmmm. I wonder how many older people want to spend their golden years in the middle of a construction site.
I’d take a bet on the towers going up first.
He tells councillors “We want the flexibility to build what can be built.”
And that means eliminating, so far as possible, public involvement. The developers don’t want to find themselves at some point, further down the road, calling for another zoning by law amendment.
“A by law amendment is often questioned by the public” says Bob.
If we just deal with the planning staff “there is no need to be nervous”.
Councillors are seduced by assurances from their own planners and lawyers that the multitude of outstanding issues parked in the so-called Holding Zone will be considered with meticulous care and that the Holds will not be prematurely lifted.
Innocents abroad, I’d say.
Anyway… all eyes now shift to the OMB which will convene in the Council Chamber at Mulock Drive at 10.30am next Tuesday for the so-called “settlement hearing”. The OMB is the “approval authority “ and it is up to them to decide what happens next. But with councillors, planning staff and developers all whistling the same tune, don’t expect any surprises.
- Written by Bill Chadwick
It is decision time on the Slessor Square application.
Please come out and show your support against approval of the grossly oversized Slessor Square development, located at ground zero for gridlock in Newmarket.
Where: Newmarket Town Council Chambers, 395 Mulock Drive
When: 1.30pm and again 7pm Monday February 11th (Committee of the Whole ruling, followed by final decision at the evening Council meeting).
What: Town staff just released their report recommending approval of Slessor’s “Without Prejudice” settlement offer, which contravenes our Bylaws!
Why: Council need to see that residents care about traffic nightmares, and want to stop developers who try to bully a favourable decision.
Please spread the word to anyone who cares about Newmarket’s future. This development is more than 3 times the density and 2.5 times the height limit of current Town Bylaws, located at the worst spot in Newmarket for gridlock. Is this the precedent you want for Newmarket?
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Our objects are to secure a reduction in the density and height of the proposed development of Slessor Square and, more generally, to promote sustainable development throughout the Town of Newmarket.
The Town will be making a far reaching and irreversible decision on Monday 11 February if councillors rubber stamp a Planning staff recommendation to approve Slessor "in principle".
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Last night (4 February) Newmarket councillors put off a decision on the controversial Slessor Square development until 11 February.
After a marathon three hour session, they conclude there are too many issues – especially on traffic – left up in the air.
The Slessors want a zoning by law amendment that would allow them to build a huge complex on a scale, height and density currently prohibited by the Town’s Official Plan.
Nevertheless, Councillors can give the go ahead but only if they are satisfied the development will be compatible with the adjoining residential neighbourhood and that the traffic impact is manageable. That’s a tough call.
The Town’s Planners are recommending approval “in principle” with all the unresolved issues (and there are many) parked in so-called “Holding Zones” for resolution later.
To my mind, it is an unusual way to proceed, storing up problems for tomorrow that should be dealt with today.
We now know more about these Holding Zones thanks to some probing questions by the mercurial Maddie Di Muccio and Joe Sponga.
Maddie asks if a development which is agreed in principle can be subsequently altered, perhaps in height or density, if matters in the Holding Zone don’t turn out as expected.
Marion Plaunt, the planner in charge of the Slessor file, nods in agreement.
Yes, she says.
After an agreement in principle the development can be stopped or changed at any stage, depending on whether the matters in the Holding Zone have been satisfactorily dealt with, or not.
Joe Sponga, who has five developments in the pipeline in his Ward 5, wants to know if the developer can appeal to the OMB if something in the Holding Zone – for example, transport assumptions - doesn’t go their way.
Yep! That’s the zany way it will work.
We can all look forward to zillions of appeals to the OMB as projects approved “in principle” continue to morph endlessly.
For multi-phase projects that take years (Slessor will happen in four phases over 8-10 years) we are introducing a whole new level of uncertainty into the planning process.
Tom Hempen, is in good form. He manages a kind of suppressed outrage on behalf of his Ward 4 constituents whose residential streets will be clogged with traffic. He doesn’t want yet another report to read. He wants answers now.
Alas, answers are in short supply.
Regional Councillor John Taylor asks a series of insightful questions about the matters referred to the Holding Zone.
Councillors are being asked to rely on holding provisions which are lifted when the Town and developer reach agreement on the question at issue.
He wonders aloud how councillors can lift the hold when everything is so vague.
He calls for more precision.
He zeros in on traffic, a major concern.
The Town’s own traffic consultant, Burnside, has a long list of questions the developer has yet to answer. Here is one…
Traffic volumes may be understated as the trips generated for the Commercial Retail component was based on general office which is generally lower than retail uses.
Marion states the obvious: different uses generate different traffic.
The uses, she admits, are “not nailed down at this stage”.
Henry, the Town’s consultant from Burnside, tells us he has not received comments from the Slessors on his long list of concerns (page 73 of the report to councillors).
Here is another one…
The Planners say the settlement offer promises greater connectivity between Yonge and George but in all the traffic scenarios that have been number crunched, there are no traffic forecasts whatsoever for Street A which bisects Slessor Square.
Now a moment of light relief when the Slessor’s cheery lawyer, Ira Kagan, full of bluster and bonhomie, tells us a traffic report was sent to the Town’s Planners at the end of January. Marion and her colleagues look totally blank.
More evidence, if needed, that the whole thing is being rushed through at breakneck speed.
Ward 7 councillor, Chris Emanuel, picks up on this, regretting the timetable for the OMB hearing was fixed to suit the Slessor’s lawyer rather than allow adequate time for the proper consideration of the issues raised.
Chris wants to know if the developer will make any more concessions to address residents’ concerns.
No, says Kagan, smiling. His clients have bent over backwards to accommodate the Town. That’s it.
It is now after 10pm and the Mayor takes the vote to defer consideration until the Committee of the Whole next Monday.
He wraps up the meeting and, in so doing, gives residents’ spokesperson, Bob Bahlieda, a poke in the ribs for his sustained attack on planning department staff.
Bob accuses the planners of leading residents up the garden path and of caving in to the developers at every turn.
My view too, but I wouldn’t have put it so indelicately.
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