The Ontario Municipal Board will start considering the controversial Slessor Square project on 30 November.

They will decide whether its soaring twin towers will dominate the Newmarket skyline for a generation and more.

The announcement is made by Ward 4 councillor, Tom Hempen, last night in front of a packed audience at Denne Public School.

At the same time, we learn that promises made by the Slessor developers aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

Anna O’Rourke, who speaks for the Slessor Square group, tells residents there is still no sign of the shadow or the traffic studies that had been promised. And nothing more about density. No Floor Space Index either.

I ask when we are going to see the so-called “viewshed analysis” that would show the Slessor Towers from various vantage points around town.

People could then get a measure of their scale and mass.

It ain’t coming, says Tom.

He tells us the developers were never required to produce one. It’s not in the plan – though it is now or soon will be.

Another example of the stable door being closed after the horse has bolted.

I ask why the Town can’t produce its own viewshed if only to show people how this monster development will blight the Town.

That would cost money says the frugal Tom.

He asks me how much it would cost. I have no idea.

And neither does he.

Hands up those people who want to pay for a Viewshed analysis, says Tom.

Not a lot of takers.

Mind you, if you ask people on a show of hands whether Newmarket councillors should get $47,000 a year a lot of residents would sit on their hands too.

PS They’d be wrong to do so. We need councillors who are compensated for the work they do on our behalf. But we also need a viewshed on Slessor’s impact on our Town.

Ward 4 residents have been invited to a meeting tonight at 7pm at Denne Public School at 330 Burford Street, called by our local councillor Tom Hempen.

There is a huge amount on the agenda with lots of presentations and only two hours to squeeze it all in.

I think the planners and our elected officials are working hard on our behalf but I still have some real concerns. Here are some.

1)    The Slessor Square developers are going to the Ontario Municipal Board with their original design (so far as I can tell). I think Newmarket planners are trying to tweak it to allow traffic to cut through the centre of the development from Yonge to George Street.

2)    Slessors re-worked or “re-imagined” design which lowered the height of the towers but maintained the overall density has been abandoned.

3)    I am disappointed we still do not have a viewshed analysis showing what the Slessor Towers would look like from various vantage points around town.

4)    The evolving plan for Newmarket’s regional centre is sticking with towers way over 20 storeys, despite the concerns that have been repeatedly stated.

5)    I don’t know what has happened to Regional Councillor John Taylor’s earlier proposal for a height cap. It seems to have been filed away and forgotten about.

6)    The planners are talking about getting some of the traffic off Yonge Street and onto other roads. I am attaching a report that went to York Region’s Planning and Economic Development Committee last week. It seems to me there is a real danger that traffic will bleed into residential areas.

7)    The work on the Draft Secondary Plan seems to be happening in parallel with, and separate from, the traffic and transportation studies. Decisions on parking standards for new developments (ie the number of parking spaces allocated to each apartment in a complex) have, I think, still to be taken. This alone could have a big impact on traffic generation. The Slessor underground car park proposed spaces for over 1,200 vehicles. 

There are, of course, a million other issues to consider. The big one for me is the size of Newmarket that is now being envisaged. Our population is currently 85,000 with a Provincially mandated target of, I think, 97,500.

The evolving Draft Secondary Plan implies a population way in excess of this.

It would be quite possible to meet the Provincial growth target with lower densities overall and buildings that are mid rise – not high rise.

This email comes from Anna O'Rourke who is the spokeswoman for the Slessor Square Residents' Group. You can find the Appeal letter and letter to Newmarket Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, in the documents section in the file marked developer.
 
Hi Everyone

I just want to let you know that the Slessor group has filed with the OMB. Please find attached their application as well as correspondence that explains the process as provided by Councillor Hempen. The Town has not taken a position on the appeal at this point.
 
This is obviously very disappointing as we have had numerous meetings with the Slessor group. They are aware of our concerns regarding height, density and traffic, but are still moving ahead with an appeal.
 
Councillor Hempen is aware that we hope that planning and council will realize our concerns regarding density and the amount of traffic this will cause on the Yonge/Davis corridor.
 
This is all the information I have at this time. I will keep you posted as information becomes available.
 
By separate email I will also send to Theresa Latchford at the Era Banner.
 
Regards
Anna O'Rourke
 

The Chair of York Region, Bill Fisch, pocketed a useful $207,000 last year.

But, curiously, he wasn’t elected by the people he serves.

Does it matter? Should we care?

Fisch was indirectly elected by members of the regional council thirteen years ago and he has been cemented into the top job ever since.

Last night I heard from a trio of people who want to see the Regional Chair stand for election and campaign for votes – just like other politicians.

The meeting organised by the York Region Social Planning Council gave a platform to Reza Moridi, the MPP for Richmond Hill, who has introduced a Private Member’s Bill at Queen’s Park calling for the Regional Chair to be an elected position.

How should we rate the Bill’s chances?

I put the question to Moridi himself and got a shrug of the shoulders and a knowing smile.

So I wouldn’t bet on the Bill becoming law.

Still, it gives the issue an airing.

It is not the first time there have been moves to bring a dose of democracy to some of Ontario’s regional councils. In 2010, the former Liberal Cabinet Minister, David Caplan, introduced a similar Bill that went nowhere.

Ben Earle, a community development guru from Durham, tells us it took him a while to realise just how influential the Regional Chair is in shaping the politics of the area.

This theme is taken up by Robert MacDermid from York University – always good value for money -  who paints a picture of a political colossus, wielding immense power, often behind the scenes.

Fisch presides over council meetings and, in large part, sets the agenda.

He votes in the event of a tie.

He has the power to break the deadlock “at the very moment when the council is most divided”.

The chair can vote ex officio in Committee meetings and can move motions advancing his view.

And, when other councillors are narrowly focussed on their own patch, the Chair takes an expansive region wide view. He ends up with a leadership role on key strategic issues facing the region.

Professor MacDermid tells us that the Regional Chair, like him or loathe him (it’s nothing personal) is the public face of York region yet he never has to stand in front of the voters and tell them what he believes in. And what he wants to do.

For me, this is the key point.

An election for the Regional Chair would force the voters and politicians to confront the huge infrastructure and transport issues that are currently neglected, forgotten or, even worse, swept under the carpet.

York Region is one of the fastest growing places in North America but one facing immense challenges.

Our roads are heading for gridlock. Our transit system is a creaking. Infrastructure is buckling under the pressure. And the region’s income gap grows wider by the year.

But where is the debate? Where are the different points of view?

MacDermid tells us that, over the years, without anyone really noticing, powers that ordinary citizens used to exercise have gone.

Annual elections are a folk memory. Councillors’ terms have been extended. The opportunities for people to have an input have progressively disappeared.

I learn that Toronto City Hall is only there because people voted in a referendum for a new civic building.

How quaint! Asking the voters if they want a new City Hall.

It gets me thinking about what we can do to reclaim some of the powers that have been lost – or misplaced – over the years.

Seems to me electing Bill Fisch - or not - would be a good place to start.

I've had this email from Anna O"Rourke who leads for the Slessor Square Residents' Group:

Hi Everyone

I just wanted to give you a quick update. We met with Regional Councillor John Taylor and Ward 4 Councillor Tom Hempen to get an update on this application. 

-Town of Newmarket expects to have the staff report for council towards the end of October at the earliest

-Planning has hired a third party urban planner, Planning Alliance and are waiting for their report

-The Slessor Group has not responded to our request for lower denisty. They also have not ammended their original application from 26 and 29 stories.

-We inquired about the digging that has been done on the site and have been told it is soil remediation and that the Slessor group has not started building.

-We have asked Councillor Hempen to make inquiries regarding the FSI (Floor Space Index) for each tower as we have not had a response to this as well from the Slessor group. They are using the comparison to the Yonge/George condo which has already been approved and has an FSI over 10. They are claiming an FSI of less than 4, but are using a calculation that includes the two lower level buildings which of course brings the FSI down.

- We have also asked Coucillor Hempen to make inquires regarding a 5pm traffic study as the one already conducted was done in the morning.

We have been assured that there will be a further public meeting(s) in the fall. We will get back to you in September with another update, unless there is something else to report sooner.

Have a safe, happy summer.
Regards
Anna O'Rourke

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