- Written by 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.”
“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.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
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.
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.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
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
- Written by Gordon Prentice
This morning, I am off to Mulock Drive for the OMB hearing on Slessor Square, wearing a suit and a tie as befits the occasion.
The Town has approved the development in principle but the final decision lies with the OMB in the shape of the tie-less Mr Reid Rossi who moves things along at a brisk canter.
It is all very jolly in a slightly stilted way. Everyone seems to know everyone else. But Mr Rossi is the man who matters. His light-hearted jokes get the loudest laughs.
Slessor’s lawyer, the ebullient Ira Kagan, knows it is all over bar the shouting. He has lots to smile about but, first, certain boxes have got to be ticked for the sake of propriety.
He boasts that the Slessor’s Settlement Offer was made public so the Town could consult with the residents. This, he suggests, is virtually unprecedented. Most “without prejudice” offers would be kept under wraps until agreed between developer and Town. At that stage, he says, the public would be told what was going to happen.
Let’s hear a round of applause for the Slessors!
Now Kagan calls Brad Rogers to the stand.
Brad, from Groundswell, looks slightly flushed. Not totally relaxed. We discover that John and Peter Slessor approached him when their car dealership was closing. Brad tells them the land is deemed higher density and he introduces them to Bob Forrest who is now the project manager.
Kagan then rattles through a series of questions.
Does the development comply with the Provincial Policy Statement?
Does the development comply with the Regional Official Plan?
Does the Town’s Official Plan deal with the issues of compatibility?
Is the development good planning?
Is this development the greatest thing since sliced bread?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes says Brad. (I made up the last bit.)
Brad is programmed to agree with Kagan.
Brad says the development will have 818 suites in a total of four blocks. The towers on Yonge (blocks B and C) will be 19 and 21 storeys. The retirement residence (block D) 8 storeys and the other condo building (block A fronting George Street) will be 9 storeys.
And there will be publicly accessible open space in Yonge and George streets and in the internal courtyard. Whoooo!
Now Newmarket’s senior planner, Marion Plaunt, takes the stand. She is the consummate professional. She immediately corrects Brad. Block A is not a 9 storey maximum but 8.
How on earth is it possible for Brad to get something as basic as this wrong?
Now my friend Bill Chadwick is asking a series of questions while an indulgent Mr Rossi allows us to ski off-piste with some questions not strictly relevant to the matter at hand.
Bob Forrest takes the stand, apologising for having no tie. He didn’t expect to be called.
We discover that the underground car park, which is to extend below the entire site, is to be built in phases starting under what is to be the retirement residence at the southern end of the site.
There is to be no single gigantic hole in the ground, Rather a series of holes.
But, significantly, we learn there is no absolute commitment to build the retirement residence first.
When Bill presses Kagan on this, we hear the Slessor’s lawyer say he cannot give an assurance that the towers will not be built first.
So, we are all in the dark on phasing – except for one point.
The development, says Kagan, is too big to be built in a single phase.
In my mind’s eye, I see columns of dumper trucks queuing in residential streets in the early morning, engines idling in wintry weather, waiting for access to the giant construction site. Year after year.
Now I ask about Street A which bisects the development.
I have had a bee in my bonnet about Street A ever since I discovered no forecasts had been made of likely traffic volumes on this private street. The Slessors’ own traffic gurus, Cole Engineering, say they didn’t do any forecasts on the grounds no-one would use Street A to get from Yonge to George. Hmmm.
I want to know if this private street, maintained by the developer, will be a public right of way, in perpetuity.
We are told there will be no “Private Thoroughfare” signs. A clear answer to a simple question.
Now we turn to the question of Holds.
Brad tells us earlier “there are numerous holding provisions at every stage. And more than a dozen triggers for Holds to be lifted.”
But can we be sure the Holds will not be lifted prematurely?
We ask for non-voting participant status at the site plan meetings where these things are determined.
At this stage, it is best to be bold.
We want to be able to contribute to the conversation and engage in the debate rather than sit at the back of the class like potatoes, observing.
Mr Rossi says it is not a matter for the OMB but for the Town.
So we ask the Town’s top lawyer, Esther Armchuk-Ball, who says she is going to take our request away and get back to us.
In the meantime, the Town has cut a deal with the Slessors who have agreed
“to conduct a non statutory meeting with a maximum of four (4) representatives of the community (that represent those that have been a party or a registered participant at the OMB hearing) at each of the site plan stages in order to solicit public input.”
We say we are not in a position to select people outside our own group.
So, why not invite everyone?
No says Kagan. No way.
The number is not negotiable.
The message is quite clear.
Like it or lump it.
Just like Slessor Square.
- Written by gordon prentice
Last night, Newmarket Council gives the go ahead to the massive Slessor complex opposite Upper Canada Mall that will take up to a decade to complete. It sets the precedent for future development in central Newmarket.
One by one, the councillors give their reasons.
Personally, I find this compelling stuff as, even after all this time, I still don’t know what some of them really think about it all.
The dance of the seven veils begins…
An agonised Tom Hempen is desperately looking for a way out. He wants assurances from the traffic experts that everything will work out in the end. That way, he can vote for Slessor and look his Ward 4 constituents in the eye. He pleads with the Town’s traffic consultant to throw him a lifeline. More traffic studies are on the way. Phew! What a relief!
No surprises from Maddie Di Muccio. She is the developer’s friend. No need to guess whose side she is on. She reminds us we have long known intensification is coming. And now it has arrived. Get used to it.
Joe Sponga deserves a pat on the back for taking the trouble to engage with the issue. He asks probing questions rather than sit passively, saying nothing, like a lump of lard. He wants the Council to take the decision rather than leave it to the OMB which could, he says, land us with an even worse development than the one proposed. He says it is showing “leadership” to vote for Slessor.
Ward 7 councillor and Glenway champion, Chris Emanuel, realises he is between a rock and a hard place. Despite clear misgivings about the process he has got to choose. He votes for Slessor.
John Taylor tells us earlier he is leaning towards supporting the Planning Staff recommendations but he is upset that councillors may be cut out of future decisions. He worries that the developer and planning staff will decide things. It is another one of these process issues that conveniently divert discussion away from the central point which is, in this case, density.
But, eventually, he gets round to it.
If it were up to him he would go for a 25% reduction in density. Alas, he doesn’t have the power to insist on this. He has got to take this and that into account. And weigh everything up. It is all very difficult. He, too, votes for Slessor.
Now it is the turn of Jane Twinney. In a rare intervention she asks if it is true that the density of the development can change after approval in principle is given. Yes, says Marion. But there is a height cap. The developer can’t go above 21 storeys.
Dave Kerwin now launches into a long paean of praise for the Slessors. He is concerned that further delays could bankrupt the developer. It has already dragged on for two years. He is firmly in the Slessor camp. Always was.
Now I hear Tom Vegh extolling the new options for seniors that Slessor will provide. There is a lot of congratulatory stuff . Staff and councillors, working tirelessly right up to the wire, wringing concessions from the developer. Much back slapping.
Now it is the turn of the Mayor who reads something from a script prepared earlier. Then the roll call vote is taken. It is unanimous.
So what did they vote for?
Our councillors have given “approval in principle” to the largest development Newmarket has ever seen. But we don’t know the final density. That could change. We don’t know the number of apartments. Or the nature of the commercial and retail units that are integral to the complex. Or the traffic impact on the adjoining neighbourhood and town more generally. Or the phasing of the four stage development.
Earlier, in the afternoon session, Slessor’s Project Manager, Bob Forrest, sporting eye catching bright orange shoes, tells us he wants the retirement residence to be built first. Hmmm. I wonder how many older people want to spend their golden years in the middle of a construction site.
I’d take a bet on the towers going up first.
He tells councillors “We want the flexibility to build what can be built.”
And that means eliminating, so far as possible, public involvement. The developers don’t want to find themselves at some point, further down the road, calling for another zoning by law amendment.
“A by law amendment is often questioned by the public” says Bob.
If we just deal with the planning staff “there is no need to be nervous”.
Councillors are seduced by assurances from their own planners and lawyers that the multitude of outstanding issues parked in the so-called Holding Zone will be considered with meticulous care and that the Holds will not be prematurely lifted.
Innocents abroad, I’d say.
Anyway… all eyes now shift to the OMB which will convene in the Council Chamber at Mulock Drive at 10.30am next Tuesday for the so-called “settlement hearing”. The OMB is the “approval authority “ and it is up to them to decide what happens next. But with councillors, planning staff and developers all whistling the same tune, don’t expect any surprises.
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