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Clock Tower: How did we get to where we are now?

Three years ago to this very day, on 24 June 2013, Newmarket’s Committee of the Whole meeting in closed session “agreed in principle” to a land swap at the Clock Tower.

Clearly, this decision did not come out of the blue.

On 19 April 2016, I asked the Town – using Freedom of Information legislation - to let me have sight of any correspondence and details of the land exchange at the Clock Tower requested by Bob Forrest in the period up to 24 June 2013.

You can access the material here. (Clock Tower Information Request 19 April 2016) The material has been heavily redacted to protect the confidentiality of staff discussions, on-going negotiations, personal information and such like.

According to Regional Councillor John Taylor most confidential information will become available at some point in the future. He told the Council on 29 September 2014:

“…in-camera discussions go through a process and most of them eventually, if not all of them, eventually, come out of camera. You go through a process that takes time and staff review it and they report back to us how to bring it out in its entirety or partially and at what stage.”

This is wishful thinking. There is no Council policy automatically to declassify confidential papers after a set number of years. The Council’s decision not to buy the Glenway lands in 2008 only became public knowledge recently.

A number of reports on the Clock Tower have been withheld in their entirety including one from the CAO, Bob Shelton, which went to the closed session of the Committee of the Whole in June 2013 when agreement in principle was given to the land swap.

But, for the moment, such information as we have tells us that Forrest plays a very long game. He outlined his plans for the Clock Tower at a closed meeting of the Committee of the Whole on 27 June 2011 – almost five years ago.

The Forrest Group website tells us

Municipalities regularly accept Bob’s input and recommendations on zoning and planning issues.

Forrest gets results

 by leveraging our strong reputation and existing relationships with municipal staff and politicians.

Forrest does this by getting close to planners and senior staff, acting as a conduit, passing on the views of councillors and other people of influence. He knows that municipal wheels turn slowly but if they are going in his direction he is prepared to sit it out.

Taken in the round, the documents show how it all works. Forrest first outlines the concept and then painstakingly builds consent, seeking advice and comments on his project, making incremental changes as required, slowly getting staff and politicians on-side.

His planning application to redevelop the Clock Tower site and demolish historic commercial properties in the heart of the Heritage Conservation District goes to councillors for decision on Monday 29 August 2016.

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The Clock Tower Documents released on 10 June following my FoI request. See (Clock Tower Information Request 19 April 2016)

Confidential minutes from 2003 show the Council was looking at parking and various related issues in Market Square. The next reference is in 2011.

16 February 2011. (FoI bundle 4) Memo to Town Solicitor from Michele Brymer, a law clerk employed by the Town headed: “Library and Market Square Parking Area: Boundary Ownership and Town Agreements.” She tells the Town Solicitor the files reveal

“That the redevelopment of Market Square parking area (the “project”) was approved through Public Works Report 2003-57 for infrastructure improvements which received Council approval on June 23, 2003. This report included all of the parking areas between Park Avenue and Botsford Street and some work relating to Clock Tower parking lot.

"That 1508164 Ontario Inc is the property owner of 184-194 Main Street South and their property extends over part of the project lands.”

Most of the rest of the memo is blacked out.

27 June 2011. (FoI bundle 5. Heavily redacted) A hand written note of the closed session Committee of the Whole where Bob Forrest gives a presentation on the “Clock Tower concept”.

The rest of the note is redacted.

5 July 2011. (FoI bundle 6. Heavily redacted) This is a hand-written note of a staff review of Forrest’s Clock Tower proposal. Present are Bob D, Rob Prentice (since retired), Esther Armchuk, Rick Nethery and Mark K. It is heavily redacted.

“Information required to comment on proposal. Rob wants to set up a balance sheet. Benefits for Town vs Costs for Town.”

22 July 2011. (FoI bundle 7) Another hand-written note which is heavily redacted. It is a “Clock Tower Update meeting” involving Rob Prentice, Dwayne T, Bob Shelton, Alan L, Chris K, Esther Armchuk and Linda T.

“Rob Prentice brought group up to date on various tasks to be completed.

Bob indicated that we may need to go “outside” to find someone specialized enough that could put together a proper package/proposal – feasibility. Bob has spoken to a company called “Altus” who may be able to assist with a proposal for a P3 arrangement.

Identify issues for upcoming Council meeting.

1.     Access and Access Rights. These issues have to be dealt with. You can’t simply cut off access to the rear of buildings by plopping a building on there if it means that access will be restricted/eliminated to other property owners.

2.     Clock Tower is designated under the Heritage Act. There is a By-law (Linda to locate). Would have to determine which components of the existing building would have to be  (redacted)

3.     Redacted.

4.     Parking issues. (Redacted)

“There is also a Heritage Conservation District Plan in place downtown – would impact adjacent neighbouring homes – need to have a proper interface b/t tall condo and smaller house.”

27 February 2012 (FoI bundle 13) These are the minutes of the closed session of the Committee of the Whole. The Committee heard from Bob Forrest.

“Concept plans were provided and the proponent identified that part of the proposal which includes the necessity of the (redacted) Town owned lands.”

The Committee received the deputation.  The item takes about 45 minutes.

30 April 2012. (FoI bundle 15) Chris Bobyk makes PowerPoint presentation to the Committee of the Whole in closed session.

7 May 2012. (FoI bundle 15 and 16) Special Committee of the Whole. Councillors consider a report on the Clock Tower and the proposed land exchange. On the land exchange, a proposal to exchange the land for a nominal $1 is replaced by the words “for a value to be negotiated”.

The meeting also agreed to tell Forrest that the Council

“does not take a position on the proposed development at this time and directs staff if and as necessary to rectify ownership in the Market Square parking lot…”

The Committee declared surplus a portion of the parking lands abutting the rear of 184-194 Main Street conveying them to the owner of 184-194 “for a value to be negotiated”.

5 June 2012. (FoI bundle 9) This is an email chain which tells us the Town and Bob Forrest agreed to pay $17,500 (split 50-50) for an appraisal of the value of the strata lands proposed to be transferred from the Town to the developer.

5 June 2012 (FoI bundle 10) This continues the email chain. On 28 June 2012, Chris Bobyk says the purpose of the appraisal is “to assist in negotiating agreed land values”. On 27 June 2012 he tells the Town: “The appraisal should be addressed to both the Town and Main Street Clock Inc so its findings can be relied on us both. This will negate the need for a reliance letter.”

7 May 2013 (FoI bundle 11) Chris Bobyk tells Bob Shelton:

“Bob thanks for meeting with us today. It is very important we secure the land swap clearance which would include the Town public parking opportunity at the earliest opportunity and no later than this month…”

22 May 2013 (FoI bundle 11) Chris Bobyk reports to Bob Shelton on the views of Jackie Playter and Athol Hart.

“Both were supportive of our plans and efforts regarding the six storey building option that has been proposed. This included the additional step back enhancements made along Main Street and around the Clock Tower between the podium and the condo building. We also incorporated a step back between floors 5 and 6 in the building that extends towards the library building. This was suggested by Joe in our last meeting.”  

4 June 2013 (FoI bundle 11) Another email chain between Chris Bobyk and the Town’s legal services people concerning proposed parking allocations at the Clock Tower. Emails are heavily redacted.

17 June 2013. (FoI bundle 8) This is a hand-written note by Town staff on Chris Bobyk’s presentation to the Committee of the Whole.

“Redesigned Clock Tower development. 180-194 Main Street South. 12,000 sq ft of new commercial space. Below grade public parking and residential condo. Town would acquire 80 new underground parking spots.

Public open house on April 3, 2013. 200+ in attendance. Comments include – reduce building height. Mass and design/scale.

Revised six storey concept. Step backs from store frontages. Balcony set-backs. More glass on building. Elongated footprint of building in order to reduce the height.

Rough estimate of cost for underground parking for Town – 30,000.

80 spots on two underground levels ($2.4 million – including cash-in-lieu.)

Clock Tower proposal intended to contribute to Town’s new cultural plan.

Estimate of cash-in-lieu of parkland. Bob Shelton advised that we would be bringing back reports to deal with things such as cash-in-lieu of parking.

Next steps.

The earliest that a preliminary report could be prepared is fall (Sept/Oct).

Forrest Group has met with Newmarket Heritage Committee and has received comments “recycle and reuse” existing (unclear) to the degree possible.

They’ve received feedback from business owners on Main Street – those businesses are in favour of project.

Robert Buchan, President of the Newmarket Historical Society – are you selling Main Street history too cheaply? Concerned abvout the precedent this sets for Main Street. “Don’t sell Main Street’s historical frontage so cheaply.”

Chris Morris: Is this setting a dangerous precedent for historical Main Street. Having a six storey building “outshining” the Old Town Hall

Ross Caistor – member of Newmarket Historical Society. Project is too big for the area. If it drops two more floors it might work. It is too overpowering for historical downtown.

David Hunter – tenant of businesses that will be affected by the proposed development. Shop owners that he has spoken to are not in favour of the proposal.

Gordon Prentice – member of Heritage Canada. If this goes ahead it will “mutilate”downtown. This will ruin historic downtown. Process has been appalling – no notice to community.

Jackie Playter - Downtown Newmarket is the heart of historical Newmarket. Members of the BIA are on both sides of this issue. Her own personal view is that she supports this development. Thriving business needs this kind of injection of life into the downtown to preserve the businesses.

Increasing density is not a good reason for this density – defeats the purpose of the heritage core of the downtown.

Ann Martin – property owner on Main Street. She was broadsided by this meeting today. This development will not add to heritage preservation on Main Street. From across the street it will be an overwhelming vista. Port Perry – beautiful example of heritage preservation. This development would be better on Davis Drive.

Closed session: Clock Tower. Proposed land exchange to support revised development. (Everything on this is redacted)

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Mulock Drive GO Rail Station gets the green light (perhaps)

A new GO rail station at Mulock Drive is a real possibility.

The Chief  Executive of Metrolinx, Bruce McCuaig, will be recommending to the Metrolinx Board on 28 June 2016 that a new station at Mulock Drive be included in the Regional Express Rail 10 year expansion program.

McQuaig wants Newmarket (and, of course, the other municipalities where new stations are proposed)

“to provide resolutions to Metrolinx by November 30, 2016 indicating their agreement to the station location and demonstrating their commitment to implementing transit supportive land-uses around stations, and sustainable station access.”

Five new stations are proposed for the Barrie corridor at Spadina (at Front Street); Bloor-Davenport (Bloor Street near Lansdowne Avenue); Kirby (near Keele Street); Mulock (near Bayview Avenue) and Innisfil (at 6th line).

McQuaig tells the Metrolinx Board that Mulock is being included because there is:

“Reasonable potential to add new GO ridership; overall net travel time savings and benefits.”

He adds:

“A grade separation at the location as well as further Metrolinx analysis is required.”

The new station – if we get it - will still be straddling a single track. Now is the time to push for twin tracking north of Aurora to at least East Gwillimbury. This brings with it the possibility of a fast and frequent service to Union Station.

The GO Rail Station location

The property at 402 Mulock Drive, which appears on York Region and Newmarket maps as a possible suitable site for a new GO rail station, has apparently been sold but a check of the land registry tells us the sale has not closed yet. (The land is shown in the photo on the left of the track.)

I do not know who has bought the land but, as I have said before, I would be astonished if it were the Town of Newmarket.

Tony Van Bynen, the Town’s cautious retired banker/Mayor, would never take such a gamble, spending money on an off-chance rather than a racing certainty.

The Implications for Silken Laumann

The inclusion of Mulock Drive on the list of new GO stations raises questions about the Silken Laumann planning application to build 28 Townhouses on protected meadowland within a stone’s throw of the rail track. The windows of the Townhouses would have to be sealed to protect those inside from excessive noise from the railway.

At the OMB Hearing on 28 September 2015 I drew the attention of the adjudicator,  Jan Seaborn, to the very real possibility that a new GO rail station could be built on land close to the proposed Townhouse development. The senior planner present, Dave Ruggle, made no comment on this and neither did the Town Solicitor, Esther Armchuk, who told the OMB that, in her view, the proposed Townhouse development represented “good planning”.

As she must know, this was all complete tosh.

Even though the Town was utterly silent at the OMB Hearing on the possibility of a new GO Rail Station at Mulock, a little over one month later, on 9 November 2015, Van Bynen, in a Damascene conversion, was telling Metrolinx the proposed station at Mulock Drive was now “a priority” for the Town.

We shall see.

The Town will now have to address the possibility of a new GO rail station at Mulock and that means coming off the fence – the uncomfortable place where so many of our councillors prefer to sit.

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The People's Mayor

View this rare vintage clip of the people’s Mayor brought up from the dusty old archives.

It needs no further commentary from me.

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Newmarket and its Library

It is 5pm on Wednesday 15 June 2016. I am at the Library workshop – the only member of the public present – outnumbered and outgunned by the Town’s top movers and shakers.

And then there are the councillors.

I see Bob Shelton, the chief panjandrum and his trusted lieutenants. I see Andrew Brouwer, the Town Clerk, Esther Armchuk, the Town solicitor, as well as a string of Commissioners for this and that. They have all the facts at their fingertips.

Although this is billed as a joint workshop to discuss “the framework for future library needs” there are no members of the library board present other than the chair, Joan Stonehocker.

Shelton suggests waiting for 15 minutes to accommodate the late-comers. No says the Mayor, we press on. Unusually, I find myself nodding in approval at the great man’s decision. Sometimes he gets things right.

Now I see the Chief Executive of Newmarket Public Library, Todd Kyle. He has been in the job for about six years and I expect great things from him this afternoon. Here is his opportunity to shine. I want Todd to tell the Council what he wants and when. I want him to be direct and to the point.

Todd is now taking us through his PowerPoint presentation.

I hear him talking about “a potential road map going forward” and my heart sinks.

He sounds as if he is asking for directions! Has he lost his way so soon?

We are told the workshop:

“will help to form the basis for closer study of Library future facilities options”.

Oh no! That doesn’t sound like we are going anywhere interesting today.

Todd has a lot of slides on funding and financing; development charges and asset replacement funds. Now he asks us to keep in mind “other informing strategic documents and ongoing processes”.  Aaaargh!

At long last he is talking about the library, reeling off rather impressive statistics:

Active cardholders: 23,500

Questions answered by staff: 31,500

In person visits: 214,000

Items borrowed: 508,000 (17% e-borrowing)

Now we are hearing about the role of libraries in 2016. Todd trumpets the success of the IdeaMarket, “igniting community dialogue, discovery and debate”. Now his chest swells as he points to the library’s 3D printer whose home is a converted broom cupboard, such are the space constraints.

This provides the intro to an arresting slide on the Library’s limitations.

  • Space: one of the lowest per capita in Ontario.
  • Accessibility: cramped space; steep ramp
  • Logistics: no loading dock, limited storage
  • Parking: only 22 dedicated spaces
  • Community reach: one location
  • Insufficient learning, collaboration, exploration space: MakerHub (ie the 3D printer) is in a former closet!

Now Todd is talking about the options.

Option A: One larger single central location

  • Ideally up to 60-70K sq. ft.
  • Operational cost containment/ economies of scale
  • Community reach?
  • Construction costs?

Option B: Maintain current location and add branch location(s)

  • ideally up to 20-30K sq. ft. (can be smaller but recommended sq. ft. above is based on per capita comparators)
  • Main Street/Riverwalk Commons/Old Town Hall synergy
  • Operational costs higher
  • Community reach
  • Construction costs?

Todd’s face is a closed book. He won’t tell them what he wants. He is dancing around the issue just when they want him to be open and candid. 

He ends with a slide setting out the “Library Facility Vision”. He wants the library to be less of a warehouse. Is has got to be open and bathed in natural light.

Now it is question time and Jane Twinney asks an intelligent question about satellite libraries. Wouldn’t this mean duplication?

Todd replies:

“A great question. The answer is yes and no.”

Now John Taylor is inviting Todd to tell us more about his vision. In the end what do you want to achieve? Is one community hub (aka library) better than two?

Todd views this as a huge, gaping elephant trap. He won’t be drawn, retreating into meaningless waffle about “community priorities”.

However, he tells us that Guelph – a University town of course – has no fewer than eight branches.

...And?

Just when things are getting interesting the Mayor solemnly reads out the motion to close the meeting to the public (ie me). Pre-programmed, without waiting for him to finish, I obediently move towards the door.

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The rationale for going into closed session is to discuss the Framework for Future Facilities and Land Use. This was set out on 22 February 2016 when the Council had a similar workshop on the Recreation Playbook. Councillors were told there were many “long term strategic decisions, pending and upcoming, related to land, facilities and community development.” They were given “an overview of property and facilities of strategic interest”.