Just received a reassuring email from Rick Nethery, Newmarket’s top planner, about the Town’s historic Main Street which is currently being sized up by drooling developers.

The Town has a policy on the Historic Conservation District dating from 2011 but it is not yet embedded in a By Law.

Here Rick Nethery explains:

Thank you for your e-mail regarding the implementation of the Lower Main Street South Heritage Conservation District. Mayor Van Bynen has asked me to respond to your e-mail on his behalf.

Council has directed that the Heritage District bylaw be approved however,  administratively the Town has not been in a position to do so due to lack of human resources to fully administer the Plan.   Staff will bring the matter of the implementation of this plan forward as part of the 2014 Budget deliberations. 

We can assure you that in the interim, any applications that are received by the Planning Department for redevelopment within the district boundaries will be reviewed against the policies of the plan, including consultation with the Town’s Heritage Committee, Heritage Newmarket as well as requiring Heritage Assessments as appropriate.

Furthermore, the normal and usual Planning Act processes are still required for any significant development proposals in the area. This may include site plan approval and/or zoning by-law amendments which require Council approval. Through these processes, Council can, among other things, consider the compatibility of any proposal with the surrounding uses.

Thank you for your continued interest in Newmarket’s growth.

This is very encouraging but it does beg one or two questions.

If the Heritage Conservation District policy stands on its own, buttressed if needs be by the usual Planning Act processes, why is a By Law needed?

Put simply, what does the By Law do that the policy on its own does not do?

And does it matter to the Forrest Group that there is, as yet, no By Law?

A draft By Law which would protect Newmarket’s historic downtown from developers has been sitting on a shelf at Mulock Drive for two years, gathering dust.

Meanwhile, a developer with designs on Main Street, the Forrest Group, is methodically putting together plans to redevelop the Clock Tower site and demolish irreplaceable historic commercial buildings in the heart of the old downtown.

Councillors know this, yet they are sitting on their hands, waiting for the application to be filed, rather than putting in place immediately a By Law that would safeguard some of the Town’s most historic buildings and preserve unique vistas and panoramas.

The Mayor has today been urged to act (see letter below).

The draft Heritage Impact Assessment prepared by Goldsmith Borgal and Co Ltd Architects for the Forrest Group concedes on page 15:

… the proposed development does not meet the Town’s policies and objectives related to heritage such as

  1. Maintaining the historic scale in the Historic downtown at two, two-and-one-half, or three stories.
  2. Protecting heritage by retaining and restoring existing buildings

The developer's heritage impact assessment says nothing about the obliteration of sight-lines and vistas which are celebrated in the Town’s Heritage District Conservation Plan 2011

This Saturday why not join a walk of historic Newmarket and see what is threatened?

Adrian Cammaert, a planning professional, will be leading a “Jane’s Walk” of historic Newmarket this Saturday, 4 May at 11am starting out at the foot of Main Street. All welcome.

The walk is in honour of Jane Jacobs, the urban thinker, writer and activist. Adrian explains:

 “Jane’s Walk” is a very large, international event whereby participating communities host walks with the intent of getting people out and actively experiencing the places in which the live and work.   

Hope to see you there.


30 April 2013

Dear Mr Mayor

Heritage Conservation District on Main Street South

I am writing to ask you to take immediate steps to bring forward a By Law to create a Heritage Conservation District on Main Street South.

The Council approved the Heritage Conservation District Plan for Lower Main Street South at its meeting on 30 May 2011 but the enabling By Law has never been implemented.

The matter is now urgent. As you know, developers are knocking at the door with plans to transform the Heritage District and, in the process, ruin precious sight-lines and vistas.

At the Committee of the Whole yesterday, you received the 5 March 2013 Minutes of the Heritage Newmarket Advisory Committee when a presentation was given to Committee members on the proposed Clock Tower redevelopment which would involve, amongst other things, the demolition of historic commercial buildings.

You also received the Minutes of the Main Street District Business Improvement Board of Management held on 19 March 2013. We are told Councillor Sponga “provided a descriptive chronicle of the property issues and former ownership” before informing members that the owner would be outlining the proposed redevelopment at a meeting on 3 April 2013.

You were present at that April meeting (along with Regional Councillor Taylor and Councillors Hempen, Sponga, Emanuel and Twinney) and you would have heard Chris Bobyk, on behalf of the Forrest Group, tell the audience that he hoped an application for the redevelopment of the Clock Tower site would be lodged with the Town in the next few months.

Now that we know what is in the developer’s mind, the Town should take immediate steps to protect the integrity of the historic conservation area and entrench in a By Law the existing Council policy which is set out in the 2011 Heritage District Conservation Plan.

If matters are allowed to drift and the developer, at some point in the future, goes to the OMB, the absence of a By Law could be of material importance.

I am copying this to Regional Councillor Taylor and all Town Councillors and to Athol Hart, the Chair of Heritage Newmarket Advisory Committee.

Yours sincerely

Gordon Prentice

 

In 2011 the Town published a Heritage Conservation plan for Lower Main Street South, showing how best to preserve Newmarket’s wonderful historic downtown. It is council policy but, curiously, I am told this important document awaits the By Law that would put it into effect.

This casual oversight should be remedied without delay.

It is impossible to read the Plan without concluding that the people behind the proposed Clock Tower redevelopment – the Forrest Group - are taking us all for fools.

Chris Bobyk (see below) and his colleagues want us to believe it is possible to dump a huge condo in the very centre of the Town’s famous Main Street without fatally damaging the historic environment.

The Era Banner reports that Ward 5 councillor, Joe Sponga, “is confident the public and the developer will be able to agree on a design that will benefit the area as long as the lines of communication are kept open.”

Personally, I don’t share Joe’s confidence.

The gap between the developer and the rest of us is, quite simply, unbridgeable. The Forrest Group’s proposals run directly counter to the policies set out in the Heritage Conservation plan.

Joe understands this although he seems strangely reluctant to say so. He sat on the Project Steering Committee Group that vetted and then approved the draft Plan.

The agreed final version of the Plan tells us

“Main Street South below the crest of the hill to Water Street is arguably the most historic street in Newmarket… Because of its topography and the scenic views that it creates, Lower Main Street South is one of the most identifiable main streets in the Toronto region.”

And later

“The narrowness of the roadway, the humanly scaled street wall enclosures, the rise in elevation, the four landmarks (the Christian Baptist Church, the Clock Tower on the old Post Office, Trinity United Church and the Old Town Hall) and the wealth of views make Lower Main Street South one of the most visually interesting main streets in the Toronto region.”

The Clock Tower redevelopment would ruin sightlines. The long distance view of the iconic Clock Tower from Lorne and Park Avenue would be blocked.

Panoramic views of the historic district would be wrecked.

The Plan makes it clear that building heights of two to three storeys on Main Street should be maintained. So the developers ingeniously try to get round this by retaining the facades of the commercial buildings in the Clock Tower block and demolishing everything behind.

When the sledgehammers start swinging we will lose a wealth of irreplaceable period features. The old wooden floor in Lemon and Lime, lovingly restored, would be destined for landfill. And much else besides.

Councillors can keep the lines of communication open for as long as they like.

But if they buckle and crumple, as they do, and give the go-ahead to the Forrest Group they will be committing an act of unparalleled civic vandalism.

I am in the Community Hall at Doug Duncan Drive waiting for the Clock Tower developer to tell us why Newmarket’s historic Main Street needs a giant condo building as a backdrop.

The meeting has not been widely publicised but, thanks to the bush telegraph, the room is packed for the presentation. The Mayor is here. And so is regional councillor John Taylor and councillors Tom Hempen, Joe Sponga, Chris Emanuel and Jane Twinney.

Brad Rogers from Groundswell is here, lurking at the back. He is one of the people responsible for Slessor Square. I am getting to know all the faces in this tight little community of developers and planners.

I see someone from the Town’s Planning Department, wearing an identifying Newmarket badge. How on earth is it possible, I ask, that something as huge, overbearing and inappropriate could get this far? Why weren’t the developers told that something so disfiguring and on this scale was a complete non-starter? He tells me it is all subjective.

I wince. The Planning Department should be our first line of defence against bad development. That's what they are paid to do.

Now Chris Bobyk, the project manager from the Forrest Group, kicks things off.  He wants to bring vitality back to the downtown.

 The Forrest Group website tells us they make things happen and get  results for projects that present complex structural and environmental challenges

 by leveraging our strong reputation and existing relationships with municipal staff and politicians

 Ah! So that’s how it works.

We learn that the residents of the Clock Tower retirement residence are already moving out. The developer is negotiating with other landowners.

Chris tells us they are listening to what the Heritage movement people have to say. He welcomes their feedback.

As it happens, Newmarket’s official Heritage Advisory Committee met this week and voted 6-1 against the Clock Tower development. Chris didn’t mention this.

Oops!

Anyway, who was this black sheep who guards the Town’s heritage on our behalf? And what were his or her reasons for supporting this totally out-of-place condo block that would mutilate the Main Street?

The Town’s representative on the Committee is Ward 4 councillor, Tom Hempen. He does the right thing, voting against.

Chris is now telling us about his attention to detail. The building uses light colours “to blend in”.

An old alleyway, now blocked off by the pizza place, is going to be reinstated to improve “connectivity”.

There could be a big mural on the exposed flank wall at the southern end of the new development.

He persistently refers to Park “Street” rather than Park Avenue. This gets a few people chuckling, lightening the mood.

Now he is talking about two level underground parking – including, possibly, parking under Market Square which is owned by the Town.

Now a revelation.

Chris tells us “We had this building higher and we dropped it down lower.”

He tells us he appreciates concerns about scale and height and they are doing their best to mitigate things.

What a generous concession! Goodness knows what the original would have looked like.

As it is, the Condo is higher than the steeple on the adjacent Trinity Church.

Right on cue, someone from the Church expresses concern about the shadows that will be created which could prevent light streaming through their stained glass windows.

A wit in the audience says they must learn to walk in the shadow.

We are told these are details for later.

The developers want to restore the original facades. Potentially, this could involve rebuilding them, brick by brick. (Fat chance, I’d say) 

 Now we are into the question and answer session with lots of people, inevitably,      expressing concerns about traffic. We hear there will be 185 parking spaces.

 But for some petrol-heads this isn’t enough. They demand more on the grounds that  people have to use their car. A woman complains there is no public transport near by.

 Parts of the audience spring to life and, unusually, she is heckled and reminded the GO train station is ten minutes walk away from Main Street.

This triggers a string of related questions.

How will the development impact on the adjacent neighbourhood – especially as the George V School on Park Avenue is also a candidate for redevelopment?

What about safety? There are lots of pedestrians around the library. And toddlers attending the nursery opposite. It is a busy little neck of the woods.

Now we are on to the environment.

How green will the building be?

The Forrest Group proclaims itself “assertively green” and Chris burnishes its credentials further.

He says they will use green technology as much as possible. This may mean a green roof or it might mean electric car plug-ins and so on. We shall have to wait and see what materialises.

What a tease!

Now the questions are on to demographics and who is going to live in the new development and how much it will cost

Too early to say.

We are told there is no marketing programme. Indeed, We learn there are to be 145 condo units but the developer has not decided how many will be one or two bedroom. As with so much else, that comes later.

Now we are listening to a very erudite exchange about architectural styles.

Chris confesses he is unaware of the architectural style of the Clock Tower building. He just knows it is an old Post Office.

Someone clued up on such things ventures it is Italianate.

Everyone nods in agreement.

My friend Bob Bahlieda suggests the proposed new building has echoes of Art Deco and this surely is a style that clashes with Italianate.

He wants the Newmarket’s downtown to become a “boutique area”, respectful of its own history. He doesn’t want treasured areas to be casually altered beyond all recognition. He says we have much to learn from European countries that safeguard and protect their built heritage.

Now a very insightful question from a woman who wants to know what permissions are needed before the development can proceed. What is it contingent on? And what other development hurdles have to be crossed?

I feel Chris is ducking and diving a bit and I sense we are not getting the complete answer.

However, we are told that a formal application will go to the Town within a couple of months. Given that so much is still up in the air, this seems a bit optimistic to me. If they get approval, construction he says could easily take 18 months.

So there we are…

If the approval process follows the usual pattern, the Clock Tower redevelopment will be modified, but only at the margins.

Perhaps a floor will be shaved off to bring the development below the height of the Trinity Church spire. This will show the developer is listening to the “community” and is sensitive to its concerns.

Perhaps the colour of the building will change to a lighter hue.

The Town will huff and puff a little and then give in, implicitly acknowledging that their own Official Plan for the historic downtown area is not worth the paper it is written on.

I may be totally wrong.

But there were no clues last night on which way the Town will jump. In the Q&A session our councillors are as mute as Trappist monks.

No probing questions.

No gentle enquiries.

What a strange state of affairs that our elected representatives feel so constrained by the rules and procedures that bind them that they cannot venture an opinion, however restrained and qualified.

I hope they don’t leave it too long to come off the fence.

Tom Hempen has shown the way. 


 

 

Newmarket's delightful Main Street is about to get an unwanted make-over.

The Clock Tower Development, if councillors give it the go ahead, will superimpose a brutal new addition to the skyline in one of Newmarket's most historic areas.

The Town's discredited Official Plan says

"Improvements to the Historic Downtown in the form of infill development, upgrading and rehabilitation shall be encouraged, including the rear of buildings which are visible from the street, at a scale that retains the historic character of the area."

We shall see if there are any councillors out there with the nerve to tell us it fits in nicely.

Here are the concept drawings from the Forrest Group. The development's massive bulk is completely out of scale with surrounding buildings and it should be thrown out for this if for no other reason.

There will be a public meeting at 7pm on Wednesday 3 April 2013 at the Community Centre, Doug Duncan Drive, Newmarket Commons. Come along.

Here is the view from Main Street 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 and here is the view of the back of the development as seen from the Old Town Hall


 

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