A Heritage By Law could be a reality within months.

A by law which would put into effect all the provisions of Newmarket's downtown Heritage Conservation District policy is going to the Committee of the Whole on Monday 26 August.

The Conservation District policy was endorsed by the Council in 2011 but was not fully implemented because the money hadn't been earmarked.

People are fed up with the endless - and pointless - foot dragging on this issue.

Either the Town's heritage is worth saving or it is not. 

Take the vote. Pass the by law. And protect the Town's priceless heritage.

I wrote to Tony Van Bynen, the Mayor of Newmarket, on 30 April 2013 urging him to take immediate steps to bring forward a By Law to create a Heritage Conservation District on Main Street South.

Developers, I said, are knocking at the door.

The Mayor asked the Director of Planning and Building Services, Rick Nethery, to reply on his behalf and he tells me that funding would be sought in the 2014 Budget. The Director says:

“While I don’t expect a specific report on the Heritage Conservation District by law, I do expect that its resources will be part of the budget request.”

Mr Nethery tells me in a later exchange that

 “…the by-law adopting a Heritage Conservation District is required to fully implement the District Plan and have it be in full force and effect. While we utilize the (Heritage Conservation District) Plan to assist in evaluating proposals, the passing of an adopting by-law gives the Plan its Official status.”

On Monday 17 June, Newmarket’s Committee of the Whole sat through a formal presentation on the proposed Clock Tower development given by Chris Bobyk (see earlier blog post).

Councillors now know what is in the developer’s mind even though no formal application has been lodged.

The Clock Tower building at 180 Main Street South is designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, but the Town’s planners tell us the historic commercial buildings at 184, 188 and 194 Main Street South have not been formally adopted by the Council“and as such have no legal standing under the Ontario Heritage Act”.

Clearly this leaves a gaping hole in the Town’s defences if the Council decides to resist the Clock Tower redevelopment.

The drafting of an implementing by law is the work of moments.

For reasons now obvious to all, it should be done without further delay.

A special meeting of Newmarket’s Committee of the Whole met yesterday (Monday 17 June)  to hear Chris Bobyk from the Forrest Group explain why the Town's historic Main Street needs a shiny new condo building, sitting immediately behind and dwarfing the iconic Clock Tower.

With a straight face, Bobyk assures councillors his goal is “to preserve the historic character of Main Street”. His boss, the close cropped self styled “entrepreneur”, Bob Forrest, is equally impassive but inside he is laughing.

We are told the developers are listening to what people want and they have modified the Clock Tower plans accordingly.

One storey is to be removed but, to compensate, the footprint of the new condo is to be extended out towards Newmarket’s Public Library.

There will be 145 apartments and six commercial retail units – exactly the same as the earlier proposal.

The developers have set back parts of the new condo to improve sightlines. They have replaced brick with glass here and there. They have employed heritage consultants to advise them and we are told their views have informed the redesign.

It is all complete cobblers. This is how they get their approvals. They put forward something completely outrageous and then make it slightly less so.

The planners recommend councillors "receive" their report on the Clock Tower. This means they don’t want any discussion. But the councillors are allowed to quiz the developers - but only to clarify points.

My heart sinks.

I expect to see a line of councillors, faces as blank and expressionless as Easter Island statues, saying nothing.

Here is their opportunity. They can ask a zillion questions of the developer. And, for good measure, they can grill the Town’s own professional planning staff whose report on the Clock Tower is inadequate.

The Clock Tower is in his patch but Ward 5 councillor Joe Sponga is absent. His empty chair speaks volumes.

Tom Vegh and Dave Kerwin say nothing.

John Taylor mentions the reduction in height and notes the number of apartments stays the same.

He asks Bobyk how far away the proposed development is from the GO station. Bobyk stutters and shakes his head. He has got the note somewhere but it is not to hand.

Now Taylor asks about parking issues. Who doesn’t?

Jane Twinney wants to know if the 80 parking stalls allocated to the Town (at a cost to the Town of $30,000 each) are underground? Yes, says Bobyk, adding triumphantly that there will be elevators too!

Twinney coos: “I do really like this development! Much better than the previous one.”

Now it is the turn of Chris Emanuel who starts with parking issues before asking a series of process questions about the statutory public meeting and so on. He likes the process stuff.

Now he asks Bobyk how the proposed development fits into the Town’s Cultural Master Plan, as claimed by the developer.

Bobyk appears flustered. He tells us “potters or artists” could take out a lease on the commercial spaces in the complex. Oh dear! Is that the best he can do?

We move on…

In the planners’ covering report to the Committee there is not a single reference to the decision of the Town’s Heritage Advisory Committee in April to reject the Clock Tower development.

Now Ward 4’s Tom Hempen wants to know if the developer will be meeting the Committee again and if its view will be reported in due course to the Council.

Bobyk says the Advisory committee had concerns about the building’s height, mass and scale (which doesn’t leave a lot). He plans to meet the Chair, Athol Hart, after this meeting and before the formal planning application is submitted to the Town.

Right on cue comes Maddie Di Muccio with a staccato series of questions that cleverly puts the developer on the spot.

She wants to know if the proposed development fits in with existing policy. What about the obvious conflicts with the Town’s Heritage Conservation District Plan, endorsed by the Council in 2011?

She asks how the proposal squares with the Conservation Districts height cap – two to three storeys max.

Maddie is on good form, asking the probing questions too often ignored by others.

She wants to know what people at the meeting on 4 April, where the proposed redevelopment was first unveiled, thought about it all.

I hear Bobyk say there were about 200 people there and the views split 50:50.

A complete invention! No vote was taken and the mood was politely sceptical.

Now Maddie innocently asks why staff time and resources are going into a proposed development where there is, as yet, no formal application.

Alas, this is how the system works. Private meetings are held between Town planning staff and developers before proposals are floated in public. Developers want to test the water.

Proposals can be changed and tweaked in endless “iterations” before the planners are confident enough to sign the project off.  The councillors then rubber-stamp the planners’ decision.

(In this case, the planners’ report says the Owner has met with staff, giving the clear impression that Bob Forrest owns the entire site. He doesn’t. He owns the Clock Tower residence. He is negotiating to buy out the other landowner.)

The Town’s Chief Planner, Rick Nethery, tells Maddie the developer’s formal application will be evaluated against the policies set out in the Conservation District Plan.

I am left wondering what the developer will do about sightlines, vistas and panoramas that are highlighted in all the official literature on Heritage Conservation Districts.

The Province of Ontario says this in its heritage toolkit:

“The significance of a heritage conservation district often extends beyond its built heritage, structures, streets, landscape and other physical and spatial elements to include important vistas and views between and towards buildings and spaces within the district.”

The Forrest Group’s proposals would obliterate views of the Clock Tower from Lorne looking down Park Avenue.

The view down Main Street South from the brow of the hill would be destroyed.

The historic downtown skyline as seen from Prospect would be changed forever.

Now it is the turn of members of the public who found out about the meeting by luck and good fortune.

First up is Bob Buchan, President of the Newmarket Historical Society. He is speaking in a personal capacity. He doesn’t want councillors to rush into a decision and urges caution.

Chris Morris echoes these concerns. He wonders if six storeys on Main Street could set a precedent and that the now empty King George School on Park Avenue could become the next bone of contention with developers.

Many speakers fear a precedent would be set with ripple developments down Main Street destroying the historic Town Centre. This is something the planners do not address.

Now it is Ron Caister’s turn.

Ron is from the Town’s Heritage Advisory Committee and a man of few words. The little he says has great resonance. He tells Bobyk bluntly the development is way too big and would dominate the downtown.

I hear murmurs of approval around me.

Jackie Player steps forward to say her piece, amplifying the points made in her letter supporting the proposed development. She sweetly tells us she loves the old downtown but she loves the development too! She is convinced both can happily live together.

Now a blistering contribution from Dave Hunter who owns the furniture and upholstery business on Main Street “Lemon and Lime”.

In a gripping display of suppressed outrage he turns on Chris Bobyk who told us earlier that feedback on the proposed development from business owners on Main Street had been positive.

Not so.

Dave reels off a list of business owners on Main who would reject that categorisation.

He tears into Bobyk, accusing him of misleading the Committee.

The pot is now coming to a fast boil.

The Mayor wants to cool things down.

Now Ann Martin, a property owner on Main Street, has her say.

She is not against condos but it would be nice on Davis Drive. Not on Main Street.

It is a sentiment shared by many.

Now the Mayor winds up, thanking everyone for their views, promising there will be plenty of opportunities to make our voices heard.

He always says that.

And we buy the line when we should know better.

The Forrest Group - the developers who are determined to wreck Newmarket's historic downtown by erecting a condo on the iconic Clock Tower site - will be addressing a special Committee of the Whole at 1.30pm on Monday 17 June in the Council Chamber, 395 Mulock Drive.

The agenda, which is yet to be posted on the Town's website, will appear here later today (Friday 14 June).

I find it astonishing that meetings to consider important and controversial matters are sprung on the public with next to no notice.

The developers are being enthusiastically backed by Jackie Playter, a member of Newmarket's Heritage Advisory Committee, whose letter of support for the Forrest Group is part of the agenda. She appears to be writing in a private capacity.

In April, the Heritage Advisory Committee voted overwhelmingly to reject the Forrest Group's proposal.

Seems to me that members of the public should be able to address the Committee of the Whole on Monday after the Forrest Group's presentation but I suspect that would be ruled out of order. 

It will be fascinating to see if the developer's Project Manager, Chris Bobyk, makes a better fist of his presentation than he managed on 4 April when he unveiled his plans to Ward 5 residents and others at the Community Centre in Doug Duncan Drive. People were seriously unimpressed.

The Toronto Star’s Christopher Hume has extended my vocabulary, introducing me to the word “facadomy”.

This is where historic buildings are torn down in the name of progress but the façade is retained.

He tells me the City of Toronto has often been party to this “mutilation” but things may be changing. City officials have decided that knocking down heritage properties without permission is no longer OK.

“The owner of a heritage building at 267 Queen Street East and the contractor who demolished it earlier this year have been served with a summons that could see them fined $1 million and spend a year behind bars.”

Excellent. This is precisely what is needed.

Anyway… The story gets me thinking about facadomy in historic Newmarket.

The Forrest Group is currently working up plans to redevelop the Clock Tower site in Main Street South (see earlier posts below).

In January 2011 the Clock Tower Inn Retirement Residence was offered for sale at $3,275,000.

On 1 March 2011 it was snapped up for $2,340,000 by 2259613 Ontario Inc.

Also known as Main Street Clock Inc.

Also known as Robert Forrest.

Unfortunately for Bob, he doesn’t own all the land required for the monstrous new Condo he wants to plonk down in the middle of Main Street.

He needs to buy out Michael Bryan, the owner of the row of historic buildings next to the Clock Tower. Forrest wants to demolish the buildings but retain the facades.

My spies tell me a very substantial pot of cash has been dangled before Mr Bryan’s eyes but the deal is conditional on Newmarket granting all the necessary approvals.

And these should not be forthcoming. No way.

Main Street is not for sale. Not at any price.

Newmarket councillors should take their cue from the Town’s own Heritage Advisory Committee which rejected the plan last month, saying it was unable to support the proposed building's mass and height.

Councillors have already designated the downtown area a Heritage Conservation District (although the concomitant By Law awaits) and that means preserving irreplaceable heritage buildings - and renowned views and panoramas.

In its Ontario Heritage Toolkit, the Ministry of Culture specifically addresses this issue.

“The significance of a Heritage Conservation District often extends beyond its built heritage, structures, streets, landscape and other physical and spatial elements, to include important vistas and views between and towards buildings and spaces within the district.”

Alas, despite all these fine words and reams of policies, Councillors can still side with the developer if they so choose.The Town’s top planner, Rick Nethery, tells me 

“Proposals that do not necessarily conform to all aspects of a Heritage Conservation District plan, whether it is in full force or not, can continue to be approved by Council if deemed appropriate.”

Seems to me this gives councillors – and those who advise them – carte blanche to do whatever they please.

And it also gives encouragement to Bob Forrest who clearly believes the Town’s Heritage Conservation policies present no obstacle to his plans and, with a nod and a wink, he can navigate his way through them.

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