Shrink Slessor Square!

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The Future of the Newmarket GO Rail Station at the Tannery on Davis Drive

Metrolinx and the Town are teaming up to run an Open House tomorrow (Thursday 28 September 2017) on the future of the GO Rail Station at the Tannery.

The meeting will be held at the Seniors' Centre at 474 Davies Drive from 6.30pm - 8.30pm with the presentation starting at 7pm. 

Material from the earlier Open House meeting is available here.

And from the so-called Visioning Session here.

It seems to me this is a great opportunity to find out more about some of the big issues facing Davis Drive such as grade separation and integration with bus services and how these are going to be addressed.

A report is scheduled to go before the Town's Committee of the Whole later this year.

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The Town's Secondary Plan which regulates development in the Yonge/Davis corridors says this:

9.3.3 Newmarket GO Rail Mobility Hub Station Area

i. The Newmarket GO Rail Station will be planned as an urban station that is primarily accessed by pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders, with limited park-and-ride capacity. Park-and-ride service should be focused at the East Gwillimbury GO Rail station and the future Mulock Drive GO Rail station.

ii.The Town of Newmarket will encourage Metrolinx to partner with the Town, the Region and other relevant partners to prepare a Mobility Hub Station Area Plan for the area around the Newmarket GO Rail Station, as conceptually illustrated in Schedule 5. The Mobility Hub Station Area Plan should address as a minimum, the following:

a) the long-term role and function of the Newmarket GO Rail Station within the broader GO Rail network, taking into account Policy 9.3.3 (i);

b) potential for grade separation of the rail line at Davis Drive;

c) potential re-location of the Newmarket GO Rail Station access to Main Street to improve access and reduce traffic impacts on Davis Drive;

d) integration between the GO Rail Station, the Rapidway, the future GO bus services and the GO bus terminal;

e) pedestrian connections between the Rapidway Station at Davis Drive and Main Street and the GO Rail platform;

f) pedestrian connections between the active transportation network and  the GO Rail platform;

g) opportunities and constraints to development in the vicinity of the station, including floodplain restrictions; and

h) accessibility and bicycle parking considerations.

iii. An amendment to this Plan may be necessary in order to incorporate relevant findings or directions from the Mobility Hub Station Area Plan


Now we know: Slessor Square was impossible to build

Over four years ago, Newmarket councillors gave approval in principle to the ambitious Slessor Square project which, it turns out, was not possible to build.

But first some background.  

Tomorrow, Monday (25 September 2017) the Committee of the Whole will be asked to take a view on what should happen to the barren 4.6 acres of land at 17645 Yonge Street, once home to Slessor Motors. (The new proposed development, right)

The Slessor brothers made their millions from a car dealership business set up in 1961 which grew from strength to strength on land previously home to a pig farm.

The value of the land lay in its prime location in the Town's urban centre, earmarked by the Province for intensification.

Their proposed "adult living" community, Slessor Square, with its twin residential towers and retirement residence was designed to sit on a huge, cavernous four level deep underground parking garage.  

Put on hold

The development, of course, never got off the ground. Indeed, the project was put on an indefinite hold on 27 April 2014 and the site was sold on with the Slessor brothers pocketing millions. The new owners say parking will be on a podium above ground.

The new owners say geotechnical investigations showed:

"The site has a very high water table and that the de-watering of the site both during construction and ongoing to accommodate the proposed garage could be problematic. In addition, the bearing capacity of the soil is such that reinforcement of base soils is recommended to enable the development. Both of these constraints lead to a design conclusion that the preferable way to build the project, with minimal intervention into the water table, is to build the parking above grade."

The site was also contaminated and is close to a wellhead supplying Newmarket with fresh water from the aquifer below. (You can read the developer's file of documents here.)

Where were the whistleblowers?

The Town's Official Plan makes it clear:

"Parking areas should be located underground wherever possible in the Urban Centres."

and the Secondary Plan says at 7.3.12 vii:

"All development proposing underground parking structures will be required to demonstrate through geotechnical and dewatering studies that the site is suitable and that there will be no interference with municipal wells, both during and after construction."

Why on earth did no one blow the whistle early on to say the site was unsuitable for underground parking? It was an issue on the planners' radar for years.

By early 2013, councillors were in a mad stampede to give the Slessors permission for their huge development, terrified by the prospect of contesting the planning application at the OMB, even though many aspects had not been properly explored or analysed.

When the Slessors threatened to go to the OMB, councillors capitulated. The Town's "minutes of settlement" with the developer formed the basis of the OMB decision in April 2013. The agreement had "holds" throughout - indicating that the project couldn't be signed off by the municipality unless certain specified conditions were met. They never were.

When the OMB subsequently asked the developer for updates on how the project was proceeding, the Slessors' lawyer, Ira Kagan, admitted it was going nowhere.

How high is too high?

The new developer, Redwood Properties, is proposing three towers at 21, 19 and 17 storeys, built in stages. 

When the Town's Secondary Plan was being put together there was much talk about having some kind of height cap. But it all petered out as the planners and city builders suggested it was airy fairy nonsense. As a result, Newmarket can now look forward to a future studded with high rise towers indistinguishable from others that dot the landscape in places like Markham and Vaughan.

Regional Councillor John Taylor was an early enthusiast for a height cap. Five years ago, as the work on the Secondary Plan cranked up, Taylor declared:

"Our Official Plan states that a developer can build up to 8 storeys and may exceed that limit if they provide the proper planning and justification reports. What our Official Plan does not provide is a limit or a "hard cap" on height. This of course is a major concern to many residents of this Town. I am proposing a height restriction in the Town of Newmarket of approximately 15 storeys."

He cited places such as Halifax and Saskatoon, Paris and Washington as having height limits. I too was keen to see a height cap and was supportive.

In the event, Taylor was torpedoed by Tony Van Trappist who declared:

"I do not believe it is appropriate to pass a resolution that sets notional height restrictions for buildings without due process."

The old banker told Taylor:

"To pass a resolution at this time, as has been proposed, may well put our municipality in front of the OMB. The consequences of an OMB Hearing would mean a cost to our municipality of upwards of a $100,000 in legal fees."

The Planning establishment was also active at regional and local level, seeing their role as "city building".

Newmarket will not now be the mid-rise town so many of us wanted.

The train has left the station on that one.  

Affordable Housing

The developer's Planning Justification Report says the proposed development will be entirely rental in tenure apart from the commercial/retail space which will be leased. The developer proposes 27% one bedroom units; 46% two bedroom and 24% three bedroom in a total of 530 units.

"Rents for these units have not yet been established and will be determined through a marketing program closer to project completion. Rents will be determined by a number of factors, namely market conditions at that time, size of unit, length of tenancy, etc."

Importantly, it goes on:

"The development is not anticipated to be marketed as affordable, under the metrics of the Region of York's annually published benchmark prices. Rather, this development is intended to provide a quality rental alternative to home ownership in a prime location in the Town of Newmarket, wherein the barrier for entry (i.e. a substantial down payment) is completely out of reach."

The Town's Secondary Plan stipulates an affordable housing target of 35% of new housing within the Regional Centres.  

The current affordable rental threshold (2016) in York Region is $1,496. The Region says that average rents for one and two bedroom condominiums exceed the affordable threshold. Clearly, if there are no "affordable" rents at Redwood on Yonge, later developments along the Yonge/Davis corridors will have to accommodate a greater percentage of affordable units to hit the Regional target of 35% overall.

Why no minimum? If councillors are serious about affordable housing they should specify a minimum for each development.

Traffic and Transportation

The Planning Justification Report tells us:

"The Region of York is preparing to widen and reconstruct Yonge Street between Davis Drive and Green Lane by 2020."

In fact, the work to widen Yonge from four lanes to six starts in 2020. Oops!

We are told the development will proceed in three phases starting in 2021 and ending in 2027 and that, as part of the Yonge Street reconstruction, the Region will be relocating the existing signalised intersection access opposite Upper Canada Mall approximately 75 metres to the south. What impact, if any, will the Region's construction schedule have on the development?

In the original Slessor Square development there was a huge amount of concern about traffic volumes in and out of the site. The 1,100+ underground parking has, of course, gone but we still have 856 (or is it 866) vehicles parked on site above ground in a dedicated structure. (Both figures are cited in different places in the same document.) We will be told later how the traffic movements are expected to work, especially at peak periods.

The Planning Justification Report is peppered with minor factual errors which, I suppose, shouldn't surprise me. The urban planners, Groundswell, are everywhere, representing every second developer in Town. How they keep all those plates spinning in the air at the same time beats me.

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Former Newmarket Councillor, Maddie Di Muccio, loses defamation action against Regional Councillor John Taylor

Maddie Di Muccio's defamation action against John Taylor has been dismissed by the Small Claims Court in Newmarket. Di Muccio had also claimed $5,000 for damage to her reputation.

The Judge, Paul Kupferstein, gives reasons for his judgment here. (Open and scroll to bottom of page).

In his concluding remarks the Judge observes:

"The Plaintiff (Maddie Di Muccio) was, at the relevant time, a public official and ought to have expected full and robust debate of her conduct while in office. The comments and ensuing discussions involved her public persona and public conduct. The Defendant (John Taylor) did not overstep in making the statements he did."

"The Plaintiff's action is dismissed."

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Newmarket's zoning by-law not fit for purpose

A report from Newmarket's Planning Department which goes to councillors tomorrow (Monday, 28 August) candidly admits the Town's zoning by-laws are wanting. 

The report says there are technical errors, typos, mis-attributions

"that have only come to light through the application of the by-law".

There are sections where "clarity improvements" are required.

Astonishingly, the zoning by-law does not always reflect changes in legislation or in judicial decisions impacting on municipalities.

"Repeated decisions (by the Courts) have found minimum group home separation distances to be contrary to Ontario's Human Rights Code, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the 2014 Provincial Policy Statement."

Yet the Town sets minimum distances.  

New circumstances

The Planners suggest a review makes sense given the "new circumstances" since the Town adopted its zoning by-law (2010). There are new types of businesses such as  microbreweries, making and selling beer on the premises, a development apparently unforeseen seven years ago. There are people wanting to use shipping containers as stand-alone storage or as part of a larger building, again something that was never anticipated.

The planners make it sound as if some gentle housekeeping is required. A little tidying up here and there.

The reality is very different.

The Town's zoning by-laws have been a chaotic mess ever since I started looking at them in detail. They are infinitely elastic.

Dry as dust

Indeed, the term "zoning by law" sounds as dry as dust yet its application can have a profound effect on the way people live their lives. For example, people who once enjoyed a measure of privacy in their back yard now find they are overlooked by huge out-of-place developments looming over them. 

In March this year, Councillor Jane Twinney expressed concerns about infill developments in her Ward - specifically at 1011 Elgin Street - and called for a review of best practice. This morphed into a zoning by-law review and now, five months on, we have a report promising another report with no timetable for finishing the work.

Meanwhile, the monster home in Elgin Street (see right) dwarfing its neighbours, moves ever closer to completion.

In the way that they do, the planners promise consultation with other departments and agencies and, of course, with the public. But I get no sense of urgency.

I see this exercise stretching well into 2018, possibly up to the next municipal election if not beyond. This is the way our deformed planning system works. Calls for action to deal with a specific, identifiable issue are swept into a wider review and are deflected or buried.


We learn that Planning staff have identified a number of concerns with the existing zoning by laws. The appendix to the report gives a flavour of the matters to be addressed.

The Clock Tower is an issue that has convulsed the Town for years, much of the controversy focussing on the underground car parking, deep under Market Square.

Four months ago, the Planning Department told me in response to a question I had earlier posed about underground parking and the calculation of FSI:

"The Gross Floor Area as defined by the Zoning By-law and the Secondary Plan does not include underground parking areas."

The list going to councillors tomorrow calls for a revised definition of Gross Floor Area, explaining opaquely:

"Does it include unfinished floor, and it currently does not include the ground floor. Technical error and clarification required."

Underground parking - again

But what about the wider issue - the one that has gripped residents for years? How was it possible for the Clock Tower development with its huge underground car park to get as far as it did when the Town's own Zoning By-law specifically excluded land beyond the developer's property boundary?

On 27 April 2017 the Town's Planning Department told me:

"The Land Area as defined in the secondary plan could include off-street parking areas whereas the Lot Area as defined by the Zoning By-law would not include the Town owned lands beyond the property boundaries. We will be looking more closely at this in our zoning by-law review to ensure consistency within the document."

I don't see this flagged up in the list of "preliminary matters to be addressed".

It ought to be.

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