Tomorrow (5 February) Newmarket councillors will agree the process for engaging an outside consultant to craft a secondary plan for the area around the proposed new GO Rail station at Mulock Drive. The Town has allocated $250,000 for this work in its 2018 Budget.   

We are told Metrolinx has prepared a draft Concept Plan for the station site which

“will be available for public review in early 2018”

Unfortunately, it will show a single rail track running through the proposed station. Twin tracking stops at Aurora.

I presume that when the consultant unveils his/her “Draft Secondary Plan Concept Plan” to Councillors in February 2019 - with recommendations on future road networks, and long-term land uses, parking and transit integration - it too will assume a single lonely rail track meandering northwards through the Town.

Sticking with a single track is a terrible missed opportunity.

Last November at the Metrolinx consultation on its Draft 2041 Regional Transportation Plan at Doug Duncan Drive, the Town’s Mayor, Tony Van Trappist, stunned me by suggesting to our little table that he believed twin tracking should be extended northwards from Aurora to Mulock.

Of course, this was said sotto voce as if he didn’t really quite mean what he was saying. He never says anything with gusto.

There was a senior Metrolinx person at our table who plainly understood what was being said but Van Trappist’s words never made it back to the Metrolinx Board when it was being briefed on the results of the consultation. It was as if Van Trappist’s words didn’t really matter.

Many municipalities follow up these consultation meetings with detailed comments of their own. Newmarket is not on the list. York Region sends in its views but I don’t see anything supporting the extension of twin tracking to Mulock. Maybe because no-one from Newmarket asked them to. I don’t know.

If Van Trappist really believed in twin tracking to Mulock he should have been shouting it from the rooftops, not whispering his views behind cupped hands.

Elsewhere, the December Metrolinx Board is being told by its staff that:

“The Newmarket Mobility Hub study is reaching conclusion, following a second public meeting in September 2017, and ongoing collaboration with the Town of Newmarket and York Region. Recommendations include station improvements and public realm enhancements, including pedestrian and cyclist circulation, formal pick-up and drop-off facilities, and establishing a greater visual station presence.”

Well, fancy that.

The concept plans for the Tannery show two tracks. But there is nothing in the Draft 2041 Regional Transportation Plan that commits to two tracks before 2041. Another example of artistic license.  

Back on 16 October 2017 Councillors decided they wanted a report on the key unresolved issues of grade separation and transit integration at the GO Rail Station at the Tannery. They are absolutely right to insist on this. The report is supposed to be in their laps by the end of March 2018.

Councillors want Metrolinx to: 

“thoroughly examine all grade separation options for implementation over the medium and long-term, including road over/under rail and rail over/under road scenarios.”

The lunacy of having a level crossing cutting across a bus "Rapidway" is self-evident.

They also want the Tannery Mobility Hub Study to address:

“the future Viva usage, GO Bus usage and York Region Transit usage of the existing bus facility on Eagle Street given the transit improvements that are envisioned, including additional GO Train service, the new Mulock Station and the Yonge Street Viva Rapidway.”

Van Trappist will go through the motions, nodding through a $250,000 spend on consultants to work on the Mulock GO Station Secondary Plan but he has no real interest in the outcome. There is no evidence that he has ever been seriously engaged with this major policy issue.

The rest of the Council is absolutely right to press for answers to questions which Metrolinx and the Town’s own Planning Department find difficult or inconvenient to answer.

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Newmarket Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, has finally decided to lay down his gavel. He has announced he is not seeking re-election.  

I shall, of course, miss him.

For years he blocked me from reading his tweets but I excuse this as an eccentricity.

The persona Van Bynen projected through the pages of the Newmarket Era was almost entirely at odds with what I witnessed with my own eyes, observing him down the years.

At York Region, he was the mute Mayor, rarely venturing a view on matters outside his own patch. And often day-dreaming while crucially important matters such as the GO rail twin tracking were being discussed by others.

John Taylor’s contributions at York Regional Council eclipsed Van Bynen’s by a factor of ten.

In the Chair at Newmarket Council, Van Bynen was (and is) a competent Mayor. He could get through the business.

But he is essentially an administrator, someone comfortable with others setting the policy agenda.

Instead of rattling the bars of the cage when Metrolinx announced the twinning of the Barrie line would stop at Aurora, he meekly accepted the decision with resignation, as a fact, not to be challenged. He believed an all-day, two-way 15 minutes rail service would come to Newmarket eventually, “easing” into it as we "go forward".

As Keynes famously observed, in the long run we are all dead.

Over the years I have fired a few darts at Van Trappist but the most wounding comment I heard came from Dave Kerwin, the longest serving councillor in Canada, who taunted the Mayor in the Council Chamber in June 2016, accusing him of not being a leader.

I winced as I heard Kerwin’s denunciation. I thought it hit home. 

As with all political departures, Van Bynen’s leaving will be a one-week wonder – if that.

All eyes will turn to his successor, whoever that may be.

In due course, Van Bynen will get a boulevard or a parkette or, perhaps, a trail named after him. That's the way it goes here.

But even now, with nine months left to run before the municipal election on 22 October, the caravan is already moving on.

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A little over four months away from the Provincial Election and the Ontario PCs are in meltdown.

The election of a new leader to replace Patrick Brown will take place on 10 March 2018 but how can this possibly happen when no-one can be certain who is or is not a Party member?

We are assured that’s covered. Voting will be through secure remote electronic balloting. This time, no fraudulent members. No phoney votes. 

The interim Leader, Vic Fideli, has ordered a “complete investigation” into the names and addresses of 200,000 members – more than half alleged by those in the know to be bogus.

What a sorry state of affairs.

Fair and Square

It is a noble tradition in our politics that people on the losing side accept defeat gracefully, often remarking that the victor won “fair and square”. (A phrase originating in the 16th century when “square” meant “honest”.)

Who could say hand on heart that Party selections across the Province under the leadership of Patrick Brown were anything other than blatant fixes and stitch-ups? Former PC candidates think so.

And so too does Vic Fideli.

"I wouldn't have done that (ordered an investigation) if I was completely satisfied… There is an overarching issue about these memberships that has caused me to ask for a complete analysis … right down to the IP addresses. I plan to root out the rot."

“Fixing this, and it needs fixing, will be a massive undertaking – but it is absolutely essential.” 

Are we to suppose that this “complete investigation” will be done and dusted by 2 March 2018 when voting is due to begin to decide the new Leader?

Improbable

Under Brown’s leadership, party membership skyrocketed from 10,000 to an improbable 200,000.

Only a few days ago, the now departed and discredited PC President, Rick Dykstra, was still peddling the myth of a muscular Party bursting at the seams with members raring to go:

“Our Party is already full of 200,000 energized party members. This number will only continue to grow. We look forward to uniting behind the future Leader of the party.”

Writing in today’s Toronto Star, Martin Regg Cohn says much of this massive increase was entirely fraudulent:  

“… the political edifice that Brown built is a Potemkin house of cards, constructed on a foundation of fraudulent memberships and financial chicanery.”

Oh dear!  

The Practice of Charity

So where does this leave Charity McGrath, the PC candidate for Newmarket Aurora?

Our own Riding was one of those convulsed by allegations of cheating.

Did she win fair and square?

Do pigs fly?

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A series of unconscionable delays in granting approval to critical wastewater infrastructure - blamed by York Region on the Province – could see the Town engulfed in raw sewage.

The Region has been working for years on the “Upper York Sewage Solutions” project which is designed to provide sewage servicing for anticipated growth in Newmarket, Aurora and East Gwillimbury. It involves building a new water reclamation centre and a second sewage pipe (or “forcemain”) through Newmarket. The existing one is forty years old and if it were to fail there is no back-up.  

The second forcemain was expected to be completed by the end of 2019 and the Water Reclamation Centre by 2024 but these forecasts were based on information from the Ministry that approval would be forthcoming in early 2017.

That didn’t happen. In December 2016, the Province discovered it had a legal duty to consult with indigenous peoples, the Chippewas of Georgina Island, but was nevertheless confident this could be wrapped up by July 2017. It is still ongoing.

Eats money

The project eats money. So far, $65 million has been spent but the total cost of Upper York Sewage Solutions runs to an eye watering $714,575,000.

Last Thursday (January 18) the Regional Council in an exercise of collective hand-wringing met to decide what to do next.

So-called “servicing allocations” already ration sewage pipe hook-ups in Newmarket with developers waiting in a queue for approval. Developments are ranked by priority with the lowest expected to wait longest for connection to the sewers.

A report from the Region’s Environmental Services chief, the impressive Erin Mahoney, warns that a delay in getting a second forcemain in Newmarket could have cataclysmic consequences.

“In case of sewage spillage or surcharge in local collection systems due to either a forcemain break or high flow conditions, untreated sewage would either enter into natural water courses or potentially cause sewage to back-up in residential homes, creating environmental and public health concerns.”

She goes on:

“These risks materialised during the prolonged and high-intensity storm event on June 23, 2017 that resulted in sewage spillage and surcharge in local collection systems.”

Urgh!

Indignation

First to comment is Richmond Hill’s Vito Spatafora. He is full of righteous indignation. He reminds us it took the Minister over two years to realise the First Nation peoples had to be consulted. And we still don’t have a decision! With an election on the horizon he predicts everything will be going into limbo. How can we force the Minister to make a decision?

Ms Mahoney tells us the recent Cabinet reshuffle has certainly complicated things. She says she has left no stone unturned. I see the jowls of Regional Chair, Wayne Emmerson (below), quivering in agreement. But she says it is up to the Province to consult with the Chippewas. It is not something that can be delegated to the Region.

I learn that a report will be coming before the Council by the end of June suggesting “interim solutions” although it is difficult to imagine what these may be if the Gods turn against us and the heavens open in a prolonged downpour.

Ms Mahoney refers to Newmarket’s “Hold Tank”. I wince at the thought. She tells us darkly that it will hold things

“for days rather than weeks”.

Van Trappist Contemplates Redundancy

Now I see Newmarket’s Mayor, Tony Van Trappist, stir. Unusually, he is preparing to express a view.

He tells us it is a very critical issue. If the forcemain were to rupture

“there would be no redundancy”.

This is a good example of managerialist “Trappist-speak”. Translated, he too wants a second sewage pipe.

And the great man has thought of a way to prod the Province into action.

He says that in the event of a “sanitary sewage forcemain failure” which was the result of delay in approval then the costs should be recovered from the Province. They are to blame because they ignored us!

Drawing on decades of experience, the old banker chortles:

“We should never under-estimate the wallet as an effective listening device!”

Now East Gwillimbury’s Virginia Hackson weighs in.

She despairs there is no environmental approval and wants to focus on the interim solutions promised earlier by Regional staff. East Gwillimbury, like Newmarket, is a designated Place to Grow but they need additional capacity. Urgently.

Dereliction of duty

Now Aurora Mayor, Geoffrey Dawe, accuses the Province of dereliction of duty. He tuts and he scolds in his theatrical way and accuses the Province of going off the rails.  

He points to Erin Mahoney’s background report and declares:

“This should be required reading for every elected official.”

He cries: Now is the time to go public! 

Elected officials who for years resisted the intrusion of television cameras into their cosy meetings now want the public to get engaged and share their outrage.

What a delicious irony!

If the unthinkable happens, the cameras will certainly be rolling. 

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Town Hall officials last week confirmed that the Monster Home nearing completion at 1011 Elgin Street meets the Town's zoning standards. This has been a matter of some debate since March of last year. 

Back then, the Director of Planning, Rick Nethery, told me:

"Essentially the proposal (for the new building at 1011 Elgin Street) only required a routine building permit issuance as it complies with the relevant zoning requirements in respect of height, setbacks and lot coverage."

Because only a building permit was required there was no public consultation with neighbours nor with anyone else.

Construction blues

Round-the-clock building work has been going on since the summer of 2016. Some days, furious activity. On other days, less. It started with the excavation of a huge hole in the ground to accommodate the garage which sits under the house. The structure, still unfinished, towers over the neighbouring property whose deck and garden, previously secluded and private, are now overlooked. 

All proposed developments in Newmarket are subject to Council approval through the approval of site plans. But some categories of development escape scrutiny.

Councillors were never asked to take a view on this over-sized cuckoo in the nest in Elgin Street as it fell into an exempt category which would simply be waived through by the professional bureaucracy.

Residential structures on existing lots:

"such as a detached dwelling, semi-detached dwelling, or duplex if the application does not involve a change to a more sensitive land use"

are exempt from site plan control. All the developer needs is a building permit.

Site Plan Manual

Tomorrow (Monday 15 January 2018) Councillors will be asked to review and then give their seal of approval to a revised Site Plan Manual whose stated aim is to speed up the approvals process.

This is a noble intention. Getting approval can take forever while all sorts of outside agencies are consulted. Anything to inject a sense of urgency into things is to be applauded.

Unfortunately, the Manual still doesn't address the Elgin Street issue. The Town should have had the debate on residential infill and whether any site plan control should be applied and in what circumstances rather than the other way about. Cart before the horse and all that.

We've all known for ages that some infill development in residential areas simply doesn't fit in. Indeed, Newmarket's planners presented a report to councillors in 2012 identifying the issues and posing possible solutions. In the intervening five years we have witnessed paralysing inactivity. Indeed a report presented to councillors in October last year on the issue regurgitated much of what was said in the earlier document.  

Workshop this month

During the short debate on Infill in Stable Residential Areas last October the Director of Planning, Rick Nethery, held out the possibility of a Council workshop this month. The public would then be consulted in March or April with any new policy being in place by June

"subject to any appeals that could arise".

Personally, I think that timetable was always for the birds. It seemed too good to be true.

In the meantime, what is unfolding at 1011 Elgin Street could happen over and over again. Older neighbourhoods with houses sitting on bigger than average lots are routinely targeted by smart developers with an eye to the main chance.

Ward 3 councillor, Jane Twinney, concerned about what was happening in her patch, asked for a review of policy on infill development a full ten months ago and we are still waiting.

Hibernation

This is election year when municipal bureaucracies everywhere go into hibernation, leaving difficult policies for the new Council to address. But, surely, the time for slumbering is over.

With every passing moment, Morad Dadgar moves ever closer to completing his huge Monster Home which we are assured complies with the relevant Zoning By-law.

In March 2017, the Director of Planning told me the site plan showed a generous front yard set-back of 9.88 metres when the Zoning By-law stipulated a 7.5 metre minimum. Now the latest figures tell me the front yard set-back has mysteriously increased to 11.44 metres.

The by-law sets a maximum permitted lot coverage of 35%.

In March 2017, this was 31.33%

Now, curiously, it has crept up to 33.6%.

I have no idea how this happened.

But we are told conclusively that 1011 Elgin Street complies with the Town's zoning standards and that, as I lamented last year, is precisely what is so worrying.

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Read the report on the proposed revised Site Plan Manual here at page 32.

Update on 15 January 2018: The Town’s Director of Planning, Rick Nethery, told councillors today that the planned Council workshop on infill development in stable residential areas would be held in March 2018. 


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