Shrink Slessor Square!

  • Decrease font size
  • Default font size
  • Increase font size

Newmarket needs a new face on York Regional Council

Newmarket is represented on York Regional Council by the Mayor, Tony Van Trappist, and Regional Councillor John Taylor.  

I don't always agree with Taylor but at least he consistently makes an effort to engage in the debate. By contrast, Van Trappist, hunched over and deep in his own thoughts, rarely seeks to intervene. For the most part, he is a gawping spectator at events.

Fortunately, as from 1 January 2018, Newmarket Council will have new powers to appoint a named substitute or "alternate" for the Mayor when, for whatever reason, he chooses not to attend.

Lassitude and torpor

If he stays away this will have a number of positive benefits. The substitute will bring fresh energy to the Regional Council chamber, replacing the lassitude and torpor we have come to associate with Van Trappist. The substitute is also likely to report back to Newmarket Council - something that happens now but only in a very perfunctory way. A short written report would be a major step forward.

With my proposal, Van Trappist would keep the $68,194.33 in "stipend" and other benefits and expenses he gets from York Region. We do not want him to feel short-changed. In any event, he deserves proper compensation for his work on the York Region Data Consortium and the Community Partnership Council. And he also chairs a "Broadband Strategy Advisory Task Force" which was established a few years ago to:

"support staff in advancing the goals of the York Region Broadband Strategy".

York Telecom Network   

Earlier this month (12 October 2017), the Region's Committee of the Whole had a report before it recommending the setting up of the York Telecom Network - a York Region owned entity with a Board of Directors. It will be up and running on 1 January 2018. Is this a big deal or not?

The report says:

"The fibre network owned by the Region has the potential to have positive economic and community impact beyond addressing the Region's information technology needs. Through incorporating a separate entity "YTN Telecom Network Inc" the Region can optimise these benefits by making the network more accessible and nimble."

Isn't this worth a word or two from Van Trappist? After all, he's on the new Board.

The sound of silence

Aurora Mayor, Geoff Dawe, who is in the Chair for this part of the proceedings, asks if anyone wants to comment. Here is Van Trappist's chance to shine. Broadband is supposedly his big thing. There is a long pause as we wait for someone to say something. Silence. Van Trappist moves the report be received.

And, without missing a beat, they move on to the next item of business.

A member of the public sitting in the row in front of me gets up to go. He turns and says with a broad smile:

"Did Tony fall asleep over there?"

gordon.prentice@shrinkslessor square.ca

Update on 30 October 2017: This post has been amended to correct an earlier inaccuracy. Tony Van Bynen does not serve on the Audit Committee. Van Bynen also occupies a seat on the York Region Rapid Transit Corporation.


Redwood on Yonge (aka Slessor Square)

Tonight, Redwood Properties will be holding their second open house on the proposed development at 17645 Yonge Street.

The Statutory Public Meeting will be held on Monday 6 November 2017 in the Council Chamber at 395 Mulock Drive. People will be able to raise concerns then about the nature of the development. Three immediately occur to me.

Affordable Housing

The developers do not propose to have any affordable housing. Councillors will have to take a view on this. Do they pay lip service to Provincial plans and York Region's targets and allow the developer to get away with zero affordable apartments, shifting the burden onto other developers in years to come?

The 2016 Census figures for Newmarket show we live in a well-off Town but there are significant numbers of people living on modest and low incomes who struggle to get by.

There are only 1,295 apartments in buildings in Town higher than 5 storeys. Of course, that is going to change but will people be able to afford to live in the new towers?

The Information Report published by the Town earlier this month on the site plan review process says this:

"The Town of Newmarket Official Plan requires that a minimum of 25% of new housing development outside of the Urban Centres and 35% of new housing development inside the Urban Centres will be affordable to low and moderate income households. A portion of these units should be accessible to people with disabilities and include a range of types, unit size, tenures to provide opportunities for all household types, including large families, seniors and persons with special needs. Affordability thresholds are determined annually by the Regional Municipality of York.

Affordable housing may be secured through appropriate agreements as a condition of development approval."

Exceptional Architecture

The height of the three towers - 21, 19 and 17 storeys - is unlikely to change. The Council never really embraced the thinking behind John Taylor's earlier proposed 15 storey height cap and that is now dead and buried.  

However, in 2013, the Town's planners, guided by Marion Plaunt, produced the Secondary Plan Directions Report. It talked lyrically about "exceptional architecture".

"The Urban Centres are a collection of character areas that will develop into neighbourhoods each with their own unique identity, highlighted by exceptional architecture and design, and signature public spaces and art that create iconic places. A high standard of design will govern the built form within the Urban Centres..." (Urban Centres Direction Report 2013. Page 28)

Whether Redwood on Yonge represents "exceptional architecture" is, I suppose, in the eye of the beholder. It will be for councillors to decide whether the three towers meet the high bar originally set by their own Directions Report and now reflected in the Town's Secondary Plan.

Putting important issues on Hold 

Is the Town going to give approval in principle to Redwood on Yonge and to what extent will the Town rely on so-called "Holds" as it did with Slessor Square?

These Holds are outstanding issues that have not been resolved at the time conditional approval is given. They are lifted as and when they are satisfactorily addressed by the developer. The Slessor holds included traffic impact and parking and source water protection.

We now know that the deep underground parking garage that was central to the earlier  Slessor Square design (and was waived through) could not have been built as envisaged because of the high water table.

And, while we are at it, whatever happened to the Master Plan for the Upper Canada Mall?

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


 

Closed Meetings and the case of Councillor Tom Vegh

Along with 99.99% of Newmarket residents, I had no idea until a few days ago that Councillor Tom Vegh's spouse purchased property at 366 Silken Laumann Drive from the Town of Newmarket in 2005 and then persuaded the Town to buy it back in 2009 - having discovered it couldn't be developed because of a storm water easement (which had been flagged up in the original Agreement of Purchase and Sale).

The land at 366 SLD is shown right.

The current Council has chosen not to make the Minutes of Settlement between the Town and the Veghs publicly available. You can read the details here

Sleuths from NTAG (the Newmarket Taxpayers Advocacy Group) uncovered the story and clearly have been working on it for ages. The report includes some commentary from the Town on why the litigation had been kept under wraps for years. One part leapt out at me:

"The disclosure of the requested records to the advocacy group would not increase public confidence in the operations of the Town."

There are many reasons why information held by the Municipality should be kept under lock and key but the impact of disclosure on public confidence in the operations of the Town is not one of them.

Similarly, the Town should not keep records private on the grounds their release would embarrass Town staff or councillors or highlight procedural failings or errors of judgement.

Special Treatment?

The question for me is a simple one. Did Councillor Vegh and his spouse get special treatment? If  someone bought Town land and subsequently changed their mind, would the Town buy it back from them? If not, what were the circumstances that persuaded the Town to buy back 366 Silken Laumann Drive? Did the Town follow its "Sale of Land" policy or its predecessor policy that was in force in 2009 when the decision to reimburse was made?

Who knows? Newmarket Council plays its cards close to its chest. Always has done. Councillors have it drilled into them from the outset that information is something to be guarded. And released only when it cannot do harm to the organisation or its reputation.

Mayor Van Trappist understands this. The old banker has secrecy in his DNA.

In Camera Discussions

Regional Councillor John Taylor also recognises that information is power. In September 2014 he was telling the credulous that:

"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."

As I've said before, that is a load of baloney.

But Taylor also says:

"At the end of the day there will still be matters that we simply cannot and will not disclose because it is not in the best interests of the residents."

The property transaction of Councillor Vegh and his spouse plainly falls into that category. It is something to be sealed forever. 

Taylor went on:

"We often have conversations or negotiations or litigation or decisions that sharing them publicly would harm the residents' interests in a financial way and in other ways. So, as a brief example, if we are talking about going to the OMB or purchasing a piece of land. These are two examples. Just like potentially selling your home. You wouldn't invite in all the other real estate agents to hear you tell your real estate agent about (what) your lowest offer would be, what you would accept. You would keep some things confidential because that is in the interests of yourself financially. And we do that exact process for the residents of Newmarket."

I accept there are circumstances where it would be absurd or even financially suicidal for the Town to disclose its thinking to another Party. 

But, that said, when should information be released to the public when the original raison d'etre for confidentiality has gone?

No concerns

Last week, as a curious non-member, I wandered along to the NTAG Open House at Madsen's Greenhouse to hear the new Town Clerk, Lisa Lyons, talk about "closed meetings".

The surroundings are surreal. I am sitting in half light under a leafy canopy with the Town Clerk in front of me in amongst the vegetation. A reading lamp illuminates her notes as she takes us through her slide presentation, as dense as the Amazonian jungle.

She says she wants to make more information available to the public proactively - without the Town having to be asked first. That's good. As we would expect from a Town Clerk, she tells us everything is proper and above board and nothing she has seen has ever raised any concerns in her mind. She is asked a question about the 2003 land swap at the Clock Tower (which is going to the Superior Court on 15 November 2017) but cannot comment as it was before her time.

Ms Lyons tells us some closed session matters concerning land, for example, can remain locked away and off limits for 10 years.

Glenway and public open space

Doesn't surprise me in the least. We only found out in June 2015 that in 2008 the Council had considered buying the Glenway lands but had decided against this after councillors were told by the CAO Bob Shelton that the Town was not in the business of running a golf course.

This little nugget of information was kept from the Glenway OMB Hearing.

“There is no evidence before the Board that the Town took any steps to acquire these lands for public open space and public park purposes.”

That's true so far as it goes. Had the Town let it be known it considered buying the land but decided not to, it would have introduced a new dynamic into the Glenway story. If the Town is not in the business of running a golf course, is it in the business of preserving open space at a time when the Town is slated for major growth?

The details were also kept from the Glenway "Lessons Learned" meeting.

Good Public Administration

I believe openness and transparency leads to better policy making and better public administration. But if councillors and staff want to keep things under wraps it's not that difficult. There are any number of ways the Town can keep information secret. Simply getting advice from staff may put a record off limits:

"A head may refuse to disclose a record if the disclosure would reveal advice or recommendations of an officer or employee of an institution or a consultant retained by an institution."

This would allow the June 2013 closed session records on the Clock Tower, for example, to be kept confidential until their release "would no longer have any impact".  (But maybe we shall find out via the Courts or the OMB the form of the "tacit agreement" Bob Forrest alleges he had with the Town all those years ago.)

Declassifying material

It seems to me the Town should take steps to weed out and declassify material that no longer needs to be kept secret. The former Town Clerk, the excellent Andrew Brouwer, told me in 2015 there wasn't a "routine" process for disclosing closed session records as it would be time consuming and sometimes difficult to make a clear determination.  He would have to take into account factors such as privacy, third-party information, protection of financial interests and legal advice. Fair enough.

The Council can, of course, make all or part of a closed session record public on its own volition but even then the Town Clerk would have to ensure disclosure would be permitted by law and not run foul of access and privacy legislation.

In the absence of a process to declassify closed session records we are left with the alternative, Freedom of Information requests.

But, as we have seen with the Vegh case, FoI has its limits too.

If a Municipality is determined to keep its residents in the dark, it has plenty of options.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


New By-Law regulating Infill Development in Stable Residential Neighbourhoods could be in place by June 2018. Seriously?

Councillors yesterday agreed a recommendation from planning staff to hold a workshop on infill developments in stable residential neighbourhoods.

It will take place in January 2018 with the Director of Planning predicting that, on a best case scenario, any new by-law could be operational by June 2018.

Did I really hear that? Am I hallucinating?

All my experience tells me this timetable will slip. Indeed, the Mayor, obviously briefed beforehand by the Director of Planning, rattled off a long list of other projects on Nethery's plate.

Van Trappist - who was more animated than I've seen him in a long time - says meeting this deadline might be a tall order. He is always the drag anchor.

Van Trappist tells us that Mr Nethery has a lot on:

"I am very aware of the fact that you've got your planning for the stable residential areas; you have the municipal comprehensive review; you have your regional comprehensive review; you have the Mulock Drive Secondary Plan; the Official Plan review that we will need to plan for; the downtown heritage height restrictions and, so, you have a full plate ahead of you. So moving forward with this on this timeline I think is optimistic..."

You can read an abbreviated transcript of what was said here.

Outstanding Report

Regional Councillor John Taylor is on good form, opening the debate by lavishing praise on the report. He dubs it "outstanding". This is an old trick, a tried and tested way of softening up the opposition before recommending something that might be unpalatable. And so it was here.

Taylor argues for two or three case studies that could be examined in detail in the workshop. What went wrong? What would the developments have looked like had the rules been different?

1011 Elgin Street is selected as one of those case studies. (Photo above. 1011 Elgin hiding behind the trees.)

Now Christina Bisanz is asking questions about (a) Glenway and (b) developments that don't meet zoning standards but get approval anyway as "minor variances" by the obscure Committee of Adjustment.  

Ward 3 councillor, Jane Twinney, successfully presses the Director of Planning to get figures on lot coverage of the Monster Home on Elgin Street - a bone of contention for absolutely ages. The Planning Department has access to satellite mapping data.

Nethery says:

"Sure. I know that at one point we were interested in whether or not we could see a legal survey."

In fact, I for one never lost interest in getting this information. It was simply unavailable unless, off my own bat, I commissioned my own survey of the property at great personal expense.

For its part, I am told  the Town asked the owner for a copy of the survey but he didn't hand it over, presumably because he is not obliged to.

Major to Minor

Anyway... Nethery is now telling Councillor Twinney:

"We can certainly undertake that. It's just that whether it would be..... let's say it's marginal. I don't know that it is. Let's say it were marginal. I don't know if that would be of significant value to, for example, an enforcement matter. But I can talk to GIS."

Sounds like this major development could end up as a minor variance.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

See the exchanges on video (at 3.10 in) at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTZgpBJuMRk


Subcategories