More than two months have elapsed since Slessor Square's developers announced, with a great fanfare, that the controversial project was being “re-imagined” to address widespread concerns about the height of the towers.

However, the developers told us that density – the number of people living and working in Slessor Square - was to remain the same.

Do the developers take us all for fools? 

The amended proposals still represent a massive and unacceptable over-development of a very tight site in a highly visible strategic location. 

Newmarket ward 6 councillor, Maddie di Muccio, hailed the developer’s re-think as a “terrific win” for local people.

But until we know all the details, talk of a “terrific win” is over-the-top nonsense.

The developers have not formally submitted the “re-imagined” proposals to the Town. No new studies have been handed over to the Town’s planners,

And we are still in the dark about the traffic consequences of the monster development.

As soon as things stir, details will be posted on shrinkslessorsquare.ca

Maybe Ward 6 councillor, the mercurial Maddie Di Muccio, will tell Newmarket Council this evening why she believes two Slessor Square towers at 16 storeys, but with no change in density, represents “a terrific win” for those residents who opposed the development as originally conceived.

In her blog, she writes:

 “…the developers for Slessor Square have kindly changed their proposal and eliminated the 30 storeys (sic) to accommodate those residents who were upset at the height; reducing it to two 16 storey towers while still keeping the number of units the same (the base will be fatter).”

“Although the Regional Councillor has continued to voice other concerns about the project, I believe this is a terrific win for those residents who opposed it.”

So far as I am aware, we still do not have the updated traffic study for the Slessor development which proposed a gargantuan four level underground car park for over 1200 vehicles.

And we still don’t have a viewshed analysis.

I’m not even sure the revised proposals – announced in April - have been formally submitted to the Town. 

Probably not.

In fact, the whole Slessor Square project has gone eerily quiet.

It is a sure sign the developers are up to something.

A report by Newmarket’s Planning staff “outlining the processes” for bringing in a height cap for new developments in Newmarket will be considered tomorrow (Monday 11 June) by the Committee of the Whole.

You can read item 10 (Planning Processes to Regulate the Height of Multi-Storey Buildings) and the related report, item 11, here.

The report on regulating height takes 13 pages to recommend no change to the current practice which allows developers to propose and get permission for monster buildings, busting the existing “soft” 8 storey height cap.

They get the green light if they can persuade gullible councillors that their developments will not create “an unacceptable level of traffic”, will be “compatible with the surrounding development” and will, generally speaking, fit in with the objectives of the Official Plan.

At the moment, Councillors are wrestling with three zoning by law amendment applications, including Sleesor Square, that go above the soft cap. (It is soft because it is breached so frequently.)

The planners say the Secondary Plan for Newmarket’s Urban Centre, now underway, will look at height and density and it would mean additional work for staff – and a duplication of effort – if they were to embark on a separate, costly and uncertain parallel process for capping building heights.

I am left wondering why the planning process needs to be of such Byzantine complexity. Why does it have to be so complicated?

Why can’t the Council simply say that the soft cap it already has (8 storeys) will be rigorously enforced and any departures from it that are proposed by developers would be put under the most forensic scrutiny, including public consultation.

If it so wished, the Council could require developers to carry out any number of additional studies to assess potential negative impacts on neighbourhoods.

And when the Council says new developments should be environmentally friendly, it should mean it and not just pay lip service to the concept.

At a meeting in February, when  Slessor Square’s self-styled “assertively green” project manager, Bob Forrest, was asked if the proposed complex would use shower water (so-called grey water) to flush the toilets, he confessed:

“It is so hard to make that stuff work!”

Developers, by their very nature, will always try to maximise their returns by squeezing as much as they can into the sites they own. Unless they are watched like hawks, they will do their best to cut corners.

They will always talk up their green credentials.

If councillors go along with the staff recommendation tomorrow (as they are generally programmed to do) they’ve got to be prepared to face down the developers if need be.

For months, the pot has been boiling furiously on Slessor Square and other giant developments that will change the face of Newmarket forever.

But, astonishingly, I am still completely in the dark on where some Newmarket councillors stand on the key issues of height and density.

Are they in favour of a mandatory height cap that would (a) guide developers and (b) introduce some certainty into a notoriously pliable planning process?

If so, what would they like to see?

Maybe we shall find out tomorrow.

Millions of dollars are being spent transforming Davis Drive to take the new rapidways but, astonishingly, unsightly hydro cables will still be suspended from poles when they should be buried underground.

At a Secondary Plan Focus Group meeting last week at the Community Centre at Doug Duncan Drive, local resident, Bob Bahlieda, tells us that overhead hydro cables give Newmarket a “frontier town” look.

Couldn’t agree more.

This is the time to bury the cables – not later when all the construction work is done.

Despite concerns raised at a number of public meetings, the cables are not going to be buried.

This is what VivaNext tells us in a giant info-ad in the Era Banner on 24 May:

We’re renewing Davis Drive with rapidways and attractive places to live, work and shop. As part of this work, first we’ll be relocating utilities farther back from the roadway then building retaining walls and installing new hydro poles.

Hydro crews will install the foundations prior to placing 150 poles along the corridor. To reduce the visual impact and contribute to an inviting streetscape the pole design has a decorative black finish, and does not require supportive wires and incorporates streetlights.

Curiously, the publicity materials produced by VivaNext never show heavy hydro cables slung from pole to pole. They’ve been air brushed out of the visuals.

Burying the hydro cables would, presumably, have cost more.

But VivaNext is going for the cheaper option.

It’s shortsighted and a missed opportunity.

A key report from Planning Staff explaining the process to be followed in setting a height cap for new developments in Newmarket will go to the Committee of the Whole on 11 June and up to the full Council meeting on 18 June where it will be debated and voted on.

Back in February Regional Councillor John Taylor tabled a motion directing staff to report back on the issues involved in setting a height cap for new developments in Newmarket. At the time I asked him what it all meant.

The motion was subsequently amended at the Council on 5 March (see below).

This report could have a huge bearing on the Secondary Plan, setting height parameters that would guide developers.

In the meantime, as part of the Secondary Plan process, the Town has convened Focus Groups who are dreaming what a future Newmarket might look like. They are busily colouring in work books and sticking photos of buildings on giant maps of Newmarket. But the one thing that would give their imaginings context – a height cap – is still missing.

Seems to me that Newmarket Council should grasp this nettle and give its view now on what kind of height restrictions would be appropriate.

This would inform the work of the planners and everyone else involved in drawing up the Secondary Plan.

Taylor’s motion should not sit outside that process, running in parallel.

There is a great danger we shall all be strangled by process and procedure. We need to hold firm to the simple proposition that we don't want Newmarket to end up looking like Richmond Hill with giant towers studding the landscape.

We need a good turn-out at meetings where the height cap is considered.

We shouldn’t just be spectators.

When opportunities present themselves to address the Council directly, either as individuals or as part of a community group, we should take them.

If we don’t, and if we are silent, the developers win.


1.          COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE MINUTES – FEBRUARY 27, 2012 – ITEM 19

MOTION – MULTI-STOREY HEIGHT RESTRICTION

Regional Councillor Taylor provided a Motion regarding multi-storey height restrictions associated with development.

The motion was amended to include the words “and hard cap” after the word “restriction”.

Moved by Regional Councillor Taylor

Seconded by Councillor Emanuel

THAT Council direct staff to bring a report to Committee of the Whole in 60 days outlining the process(es), including public consultation, for which Council could enact a height restriction and hard cap for multi-storey buildings in the Town of Newmarket.  Furthermore that Council direct staff to include in the report an analysis of any issues associated with height restriction policy for consideration by Council.

CARRIED

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