The Statutory Public Meeting for the "Redwood on Yonge" development on the old Slessor Square site, opposite Upper Canada Mall, will take place at 7pm on Monday 6 November 2017 in the Council Chamber at 395 Mulock Drive.  

The developers are also holding a second Open House on 26 October 2017 at 6pm in the Seniors' Centre on Davis Drive to brief the public and to let people into their thinking.

The Council gave Slessor Square approval in principle in February 2013 but, even at the time, this was seen by many of us as either insanely optimistic or premature. Or both.

The proposed development will be exclusively rental but the rents will be higher than York Region's affordability threshold of $1,496 per month (in 2016).

The Province's new growth plan will require the Region to work with lower tier municipalities to set targets for both affordable ownership housing and rental housing.

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Morad Dadgar's new development at 1011 Elgin Street is still under construction but already it dominates the streetscape. 

A report going to the Town's Committee of the Whole on Monday (16 October 2017) gives options for controlling this kind of inappropriate, out-of-scale, infill development but whether anything will change - at least in the short-term - is doubtful.

A similar report went to councillors in March 2012. Indeed, the latest report lifts chunks of text from the earlier one.

Insofar as we can tell, Mr Dadgar has followed all the rules.

The Director of Planning, Rick Nethery, says the owner only needed a routine Building Permit from the Town because the Zoning By-Law requirements in respect of setbacks, height and lot coverage had been met. 

Loss of Privacy 

Because the buildings were deemed to meet the Zoning By Law requirements there was no public consultation whatsoever. Neither with neighbours nor with anyone else. Issues such as overlooking and loss of privacy were never considered. (Right: windows at the rear of the new house overlook the neighbour's hitherto private garden.)

This wasn't an accident or an oversight.  The very issues identified by the Planning Department over five years ago quite simply have not been addressed.

It is perfectly possible to regulate the nature of development. That's what diligent planners are paid to do. Indeed, the March 2012 Report tells us:

"Regulating lot coverage is an excellent way to prevent overbuilding in low density residential areas. If it is determined that a particular area has an average lot coverage of 25% an approach could be to set the lot coverage for a two storey building at 25% and allow a greater amount of coverage for a bungalow at 35%. This would also encourage one storey buildings in established neighbourhoods."

The stipulated maximum lot coverage for 1011 Elgin Street is 35%. The site plan submitted to the Town's building control people showed the proposed lot coverage would be 31.3%.  The Director of Planning told me the building complies with the 35% zoning standard and that assurance is good enough for me. 

Optical illusion

Nevertheless, we see here a powerful optical illusion at work. The building at 1011 dominates the lot on which it sits yet, in reality, it occupies less than a third of the lot.

Fortunately, we can find out the approximate lot coverage through GIS mapping. The Planning Department could do this in a matter of moments. (The image right from Google shows the property as it was before the current development got under way.)

Monday's report (and, indeed, the 2012 report) says:

"Through the use of GIS mapping, the approximate lot coverage for low density dwellings in established neighbourhoods can be determined."

Respect

Infill development in stable residential neighbourhoods is all about respect. Over five years ago, in that perceptive March 2012 report, the Town's planners said this:

"While intensification is directed to the Town's urban centres, limited intensification can still occur in stable residential neighbourhoods. If done respectfully, the development can be of value to the community. However, redevelopment can occur in a manner that does not respect the built form that exists. In older neighbourhoods, the existing lot areas and frontages are large enough to accommodate larger homes while still meeting the requirements of the Zoning By-Law. As a result, new development can occur in a form that is inconsistent with the height, building footprint, design and character of the existing residential dwellings in the neighbourhood." (My underlining for emphasis.)

And that is exactly what has happened at 1011 Elgin Street.

No consultation. No discussion. No consideration.

One word says it all.

Disrespect.

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For years, Newmarket's Mayor, Tony Van Trappist, has blocked me from viewing his Tweets.

And now I read that Donald Trump is blocking the renowned Toronto Star Washington correspondent, Daniel Dale from looking at the daily torrent of Presidential tweets. 


Of course, there is no equivalence between the two.

I am protozoa compared with the President of the United States and the Mayor of Newmarket - the biggest fish in their respective ponds - and with Daniel Dale, the celebrated award winning journalist.

The Star is outraged on Dale's behalf.

Trump is just being Trump. But the Star's editorial this morning went further than even I expected. The paper suggested that no politician should block citizens whose criticisms they find inconvenient or annoying.

"No-one is suggesting that hateful or harassing messages shouldn't be blocked. But in a democracy, all citizens, including the news media, have the right to criticize elected officials. No politician should be allowed to exclude citizens from the public square of the 21st century just because he finds criticism inconvenient or annoying."

Of course, not all politicians have thick skins. They may be easily offended. Or feel threatened. Or just be very sensitive souls. Like our Mayor.

Van Trappist's Twitter account is private but it looks official. It is all about his public persona as the Town's first citizen. There is a photo of the great man with the heavy Mayoral gold chain of office around his neck.

I started referring to Van Bynen as "Van Trappist" years ago after observing his listlessness and inattention at meetings of York Region where he is an ex officio member. He is there because he is Mayor of Newmarket. 

Even when matters are on the agenda that directly affect Newmarket he rarely bothers to stir himself and intervene. Yet he pockets a substantial "stipend" of over $50,000 a year for his "work" on the Regional Council.

In February 2016 there was a debate on social media at the Town's Committee of the Whole. Many councillors made the point that it is perfectly legitimate to block someone who is being abusive or guilty of harassment. Absolutely. I don't disagree.

In that debate 18 months ago, Van Trappist explained why he was blocking a local Davis Drive activist from his Twitter feed:

“Yes. You are entitled to say what you have (said). And if you have something to say my view is you post that on your site. My page represents my views and anything that comes from my Twitter feed is believed to be endorsed. So I don’t feel in the slightest way obligated to advance an argument that is contrary to my views. So I don’t apologise for blocking certain people."

"I do set standards in terms of what I permit on my site and again I don’t apologise for that. But if you have something to say, set up your own site. Set up your own contacts. Send out your own messages. So you still have that right.”

So there! Comment on someone else's tweets, not mine!

The Star's editorial, calling on politicians not to block critical comment, is probably a counsel of perfection.

Van Trappist, the old banker, is not going to change his ways. Any more than Donald Trump.

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Back Story: The Provincial Government's Regional Express Rail (RER) program will more than double the number of train passengers on the network over the next 13 years. Ridership is forecast to rise from an average of close to 100,000 in 2016 to 225,000-250,000 in 2031. For this to happen, the railway infrastructure - the tracks, the trains and the stations - has to be modernised. It is a huge undertaking with lots of moving parts. 

Newmarket is to get a completely new GO Rail Station at Mulock Drive and the existing one at the Tannery will get a makeover. The track north from Toronto to Aurora will be twinned, allowing an all-day 15 minute service in both directions.

We in Newmarket are stuck with a single track and although there will be service improvements they will not begin to match Aurora's. We are promised a 30 minute service during peak periods and an hourly service off peak during the day and evenings and at weekends.

The Town's steady-as-she-goes Mayor, Tony Van Trappist, is by temperament a gradualist. He is content to let things take their course. He told the Council on 9 November 2015:

"In my own mind the difference between a 15 minute and 30 minute service doesn't change the world although I think eventually we'll need to get there. But I'd rather see us easing in to that, responding to the demand as we go forward."

Last December, Metrolinx published its GO Rail Station Access Plan which showed current station usage with the 2031 forecast. The Newmarket station is forecast to have "very low" usage rising from 575 per day (in 2016) to 1,000 or less in 2031.

Aurora, by contrast, will go from 2,250 now to a "very high" 8,001 or more in 2031.

The Mobility Hub Station Area Plan

Last night (28 September 2017) Metrolinx (or, rather, its consultants) wrapped up the public consultation on the future of the GO Rail Station at the Tannery on Davis Drive. We are told a "draft summary" now goes to councillors at the Committee of the Whole on 16 October 2017.

I learn the plan for the GO Rail Station must be "achievable" without being told how this would be measured. Are we talking about technical feasibility or financial constraints or what?

We are told there is to be (a) no grade separation in the near term but there would be a "reinvestigation" of this in 2031 and (b) the Tannery site cannot accommodate a bus loop and buses will instead pull into special bays on Davis Drive to drop off and pick up passengers.

Grade Separation

A 15 minute service to Newmarket without grade separation at Davis Drive is, of course, theoretically possible after twin tracking but, in practice, it is impossible. The barriers on the level crossing would be going up and down like a yo-yo all day long, causing huge traffic line-ups and  making a mockery of the word "Rapidway"

I learn the rail tracks can't be put in a tunnel under Davis Drive because of the soil conditions. The GO Rail station sits in the middle of a flood plain. The alternative is to put the road over the railway but this would mean a new elevated Davis Drive from Main Street to Lundy's Lane. The Province has already spent a small fortune on the Bridge at the Tannery so this idea is unlikely to be well received. I suspect Van Trappist, recently photographed standing next to the bridge wearing his proprietorial grin, would be mortified. 

So the question is this - can Newmarket have an all-day two-way 15 minute service without grade separation at Davis Drive?

Newmarket's Secondary Plan says the Mobility Hub Station Area Plan should address as a minimum the potential for grade separation of the rail line at Davis Drive. At the very least, it should explore the issue and consider the likely constraints now and in the future. If not now, then when?

I suspect we shall be told to let the future take care of itself.

Co-locating bus and train

Getting people to use public transit is a tough call but it can be done. The service has got to be fast, convenient, reliable and good value. Over the coming decade, as the roads silt up and traffic slows down, people will be forced to look beyond the private automobile for other options. Co-locating bus and train stations is a big part of the answer.

At the Tannery we are told a bus loop would not make operational sense and that the site is too constrained. However, a great deal of land shown on the map (above) is coloured peach and is identified for future TOD (Transit Oriented Development). Are we being told there is no possibility of squeezing in a bus loop anywhere on the site?

East Gwillimbury, admittedly on a bigger site,  has a 10 bay bus loop. Aurora has a four bay bus loop with plans to expand.

Getting to the Station

What happens when the intensification of Davis Drive really takes off?  The Town's Secondary Plan predicts 33,000 people will be living in the Davis Drive/Yonge Street corridors at build out. Many will be working in Town but what about the others? How are they going to get to the GO Rail Station?

In the absence of a 15 minute service in Newmarket - and only where it makes sense to them - people will drive to Aurora to pick up the train there. Indeed, the Metrolinx Station Access Plan at page 140 shows an explosion in numbers using Aurora where they will be adding 1,750 spaces "via alternative parking solutions"  to make a total of 3,220 spaces.

(East Gwillimbury has 646 parking spaces going up to 1,636 in 2031.)

There will be no additional parking at the Tannery where there are currently 269 parking spaces. We are told that by 2031 the number of those driving and parking at Newmarket GO Rail station is expected to fall from the current 49% to 40-42%. And at the same time those arriving by bus will go up from 9% to 16-18%.

If Metrolinx can make those kinds of forecasts for 2031 with such precision perhaps it can let us into the big secret.

When can Newmarket expect a 15 minute all-day, two-way GO Rail service?

Or, as Tony Van Trappist would say, when will we ease into it?

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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


 

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