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Frank Scarpitti, the tease

Markham's mayor, Frank Scarpitti, has wisely decided that discretion is the better part of valour. 

He passed on the chance to represent Markham-Thornhill in the House of Commons where a by-election is to be held on April 3. The vacancy was created when the previous MP, John McCallum, was appointed Canada's ambassador to China.

The Liberal standard bearer, Mary Ng, has taken leave of absence from her job as the Prime Minister's head of appointments.

Scarpitti may run for Chair of York Region in 2018 - the first time the position will be up for election involving the voters at large - but who knows? It could be another dance of the seven veils.

Wayne Emmerson, the incumbent who was appointed by his Regional Council colleagues in a 16-4 vote in December 2014, has already declared he will run next year

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The Newmarket Chainsaw Massacre

Yesterday (21 February) "protected" trees at 181 Beechwood Crescent (off Park Avenue in Newmarket) were clear cut and immediately removed with only the stumps remaining.

I am told the trees on the front and side of the property included a 125 year old Heritage Sugar Maple and several 75 year old beech trees. But how can they be protected when they have just been chopped down?

The photos below show (a) the Google street view of the property in 2015

and (b) the scene of the crime earlier today.

As I understand it, under the Town's planning regime, the property is big enough to be divided into two parcels for redevelopment - but the trees got in the way.

(The lot has a frontage of 39m and a lot area of 2,300 sq m. The zoning (R1-C) stipulates a minimum frontage of 18m and a minimum lot area of 743 sq m.)

The trees at the front of the property have now gone and, after the demolition of the house, the ones at the rear of the lot will, presumably, be next.

Unless someone, somewhere, does something about it.

The trees can't cry out for help.

In 2013, York Region passed a by-law

"to prohibit or regulate the destruction or injuring of trees in The Regional Municipality of York"

but we all wait to see what relevance it has to 181 Beechwood.

I am told that the treed area at the back of the lot falls within the area covered by the by-law.  

In a bitter irony, the first item on the agenda of the Town's Committee of the Whole on Monday 27 February is a PowerPoint presentation by planning staff on

"Tree Removal and Protection Policies and Regulations".

The timing is enough to make the poor old willow weep.

Included in the report's recommendations (at page 49) is one directing staff to  prepare and bring to a future Council meeting a by-law regulating and protecting significant trees on private property.

It is already too late for some.

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The Future of the Christian Baptist Church on Main Street South

Increasingly my thoughts are turning to religion.  

Yesterday, the ERA newspaper unusually delivered a bombshell straight to my front door.

We are told the Christian Baptist Church on Main Street South is up for sale. With its magnificent steeple pointing heavenwards, the Church is a Newmarket landmark.  

Former Newmarket councillor, Joe Sponga, now described as a "special projects" sales representative, says it is listed for $3.1m

This news comes like a bolt from the blue - at least to me.

I am sure there are good reasons why the congregation feels it may have to move out of this delightfully bright and airy historic Church but I pray they have second thoughts.

But if they do decide to sell up and go - and I hope it doesn't come to that - the building itself will survive. It is protected under the Heritage Act.

There is a very extensive literature available on-line from all corners of the globe on the re-use and adaptation of redundant churches. Just Google "redundant churches".

In my home town of Edinburgh, for example, there used to be churches absolutely everywhere - sometimes one on each of the four corners of an intersection. But, over the years, congregations have dwindled and church buildings have found a new life, perhaps as a restaurant or nightclub or converted into apartments.

For me, this is very much a second best. If a Church - or indeed any building - can fulfil its original purpose then we should stick with it.

But if that purpose disappears, for example with armouries and drill halls, they morph into something else.

In a booklet published a decade ago, the Scottish Civic Trust, asked the question: Why save a Church building?

There are a zillion compelling reasons but I pick out one or two. There is the historic importance of the Church and the continuity this represents. The cornerstone of the Christian Baptist Church was laid by a former Governor General of Canada, the Earl of Dufferin, in 1874.   

There is its aesthetic and architectural merit. Many church buildings

"express a wealth of architectural detail and decoration both externally and internally. Church buildings are often valued as works of art in themselves".

This is certainly true of the Christian Baptist Church. The stained glass windows are superb. How, I wonder, would these survive adaptation and re-use?

"And Church buildings make a key contribution to the sense of place... the social and cultural importance of a church building’s connection to past events cannot be underestimated."

But who knows what is going to happen?

Joe imagines an art gallery, convention centre or banquet hall.

Maybe Joe will find a buyer who makes an offer the Church can't refuse.

We'll take it from there.

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Development Charges and their impact

Background: Tomorrow (16 February 2017) York Regional Council will rubber stamp the report on the proposed new 2017 Development Charges which will now go out for public consultation with a meeting on 9 March 2017. Then on 18 May 2017 the Regional Council will enact the 2017 Development Charge By-law which comes into effect on 17 June 2017. 

Development Charges was the main dish on the menu at last week's Committee of the Whole where members got a detailed presentation from Finance Chief, Bill Hughes. In reserve, is his colossal 352 page Background Study which gives reasons for the proposed policy changes. There are tables, figures and calculations. The Study is available here but, because of its size, it takes ages to load.

Bill Hughes can be counted on to display an effortless mastery of the subject matter. Every sentence uttered is right to the point with no superfluous words or phrases. He often pauses to think before replying to a question - even when the answer is straightforward. It is a theatrical device but effective.

But first we have to listen to Leo Longo, a lawyer, representing Pfaff Porsche who have a complaint about the development charges they are expected to pay. It is all about car parking spaces.

Stranger with a story

I am sitting next to a total stranger and, as a pleasantry, I make some comment about what we are listening to. I ask him if he is here for the development charges debate. He nods.

Are you going to be speaking?

He shakes his head. No.

And with this he thrusts a letter into my hand marked: "To Whom it May Concern". He says if there is anything I can do to help he would appreciate it.

Who on earth does he think I am? Flash Gordon?  

The letter tells me he owns and operates a prosperous business in Newmarket. They have 20 full time employees paying good wages. Most live in York Region. Twelve years ago he built a 11,000 sq ft building on which he paid $80,000 in Development Charges and $27,000 in property taxes. His business prospered and now he wants to build another 11,000 sq ft building alongside the first. He says the new Development Charge will be $300,000.

When he bought the land 14 years ago it cost him $320,000

He says the DCs are punitive.

He says

"All tax payers benefit from development and all should pay but you are asking too much from a section of the tax base that is creating jobs and goods and services for the Region."

As I read this, I tell him he should speak directly to councillors but he tells me the letter has already been sent to them - as if there is an equivalence. Now he smiles and gets up to leave - before he has heard the presentation by Bill Hughes. Then again, I suppose he has a business to run. But what a perfect case study for councillors to chew on.

Development Charges not a tax

Anyway... now I am listening to Bill Hughes as he explains the nuts and bolts of Development Charges with great clarity, making a complicated subject a bit easier for the rest of us to understand.

He tells us Development Charges are not a tax. DCs cannot be used to achieve policy objectives in the way that taxes can. DCs, he says, have to "reflect the draw on services".

Of course, the services we all rely on have to be paid for by someone. Personally, I don't mind paying taxes although I appreciate that in the eyes of most people this makes me either a saint or a fool. But taxes have got to be fair and equitable with no cheating allowed. That's my big thing.

Residential DC rates are going up by (a) 13% for singles and semis to $48,139 (b) 4% for Townhouses to $38,745 (c) 7% for "large" apartments over 700 sq ft to $28,161 and (d) 15% for small apartments under 700 sq ft to $20,555.

For all that, we learn that residential Development Charges represent a declining share of new housing prices. 

9,400 new homes every year to 2031

Now he is explaining how the rates are calculated, pointing to the Background Study which provides the detailed justification. Now we are hearing more about projected growth across the Region. 9,400 new residential units every year to 2031 and 12,000 new jobs every year to the same horizon.

The share of DCs coming from non-residential (retail, industrial, office, hotel) have either stayed the same or are falling. Industrial is falling 13%. As I am listening I am thinking about the business in Newmarket facing a $300,000 DC.

A slide tells me:

"The shift to residential will improve the likelihood of realising the development charge collections forecast."

I take this to mean there is a better chance of collecting the cash. But why are the forecasts so out of kilter with reality in the non residential sector? What am I missing? I am sure there is a simple explanation.

So it goes on in great detail and then it is all over. 

Fire hose

Markham's Jim Jones speaks for everyone when he says the presentation was

"like drinking from a fire hose".

Everyone is laughing.

The jovial Chair, Wayne Emmerson, is rocking back and forth with mirth.

Now there is much discussion about the 700 sq ft cut-off point between small and "large" apartments. Lots of comments about developers sticking with small apartments at 699 sq ft to save the extra costs of DCs on larger apartments. Frank Scarpitti wants the cut-off raised from 700 sq ft to 1,000 sq ft. Markham's Joe Lee - who says at some point he will down-size - agrees.

Aurora's latest attraction: The No Tell Motel

Now they are on to hotels with a new one opening in Aurora. Mayor Geoff Dawe tells us there is no truth to the rumour it is going to be called the "No Tell Motel".

This is news to me and I am glad the Mayor highlighted the rumour and then took the time to quash it! That's my boy!

Now, as he is winding up, Bill Hughes lets us into a secret.

He tells us he has never forgotten a comment made years ago by Vaughan's Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua who observed that growth doesn't pay for growth.

Hughes agrees.

Discuss.

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