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

York Region is booming.

By 2031 our population is forecast to grow by a staggering 425, 000 people to around 1, 500,000.

This is the equivalent of adding a city the size of Hamilton to York Region’s current population.

I find myself wondering if all these newcomers – and the rest of us -  will be able to move around or will we be trapped in our cars in permanent gridlock.

It is as plain as a pikestaff that traffic will slowly grind to a halt unless we increase the opportunities for people to get out of their cars and onto buses and trains.

As it is, the GTA has the longest commutes in North America.

So my heart lifts when I read that the number of trains to Union Station will be increased at the weekends from 23 June to 3 September.

We are told it is a pilot project to assess the need for more transit on the line.

Duh?

Of course we need more trains!

As the roads clog up with traffic, people will increasingly make the rational choice and let the train take the strain.

I want to see trains running frequently to and from Toronto - but this can only happen if we dual the track and this will cost money.

If public money can be spent to extend the 404 why can’t we similarly invest in a half decent railway?

At last year’s Provincial Election, the Liberal Platform promised:

In the next phase of the Ontario liberal Plan, we’ll expand service by delivering full-day, two way GO train service on all corridors – that’s the equivalent of 71 million fewer car trips annually.

So, how are we going to make this happen?

 

The notorious attention seeking Newmarket councillor, Maddie Di Muccio, is at it again.

She launches a furious tirade of abuse at fellow councillor Tom Vegh, calling him a "bumbling Jerk" who is "less than a man" and a "coward".

By any measure, this is strong stuff.

But her outrage is entirely synthetic.

She tells us there was some kind of debate in the hallway outside a Committee room involving Vegh and her husband, John Blommesteyn.

As we know, Blommesteyn bought a host of Tom Vegh domain names to squat them and game the search engines to direct traffic to his wife’s website. 

Unethical?

You bet.

Tom Vegh has every right to be upset.

Instead of badmouthing Vegh she should have a quiet word with her husband whose actions throughout have been totally reprehensible.

Blommesteyn says Maddie never knew what he was up to and, in any event, there is an innocent explanation. He was only trying to get Tom Vegh to become more active as a councillor!

Oh please!

This kind of behaviour pollutes local politics. We don’t need it.

Slessor Square says it is making proper provision for affordable housing in its proposed giant development on Yonge opposite Upper Canada Mall.

They are simply following the provincial definition of affordability. I don’t blame them for that. Not at all.

But how realistic is this definition in York Region – one of the fastest growing areas in Canada?

An “affordable” unit, according to the Province, costs $410,987 or less (as of January 2012).

A home costing that much would mean a monthly outlay (for mortgage and other housing related costs) of $2,727. An “affordable” rental would cost $1,048 per month – but how many of those are on the market? Not too many.

The affordability criteria assumes a maximum household income of $109,000 or less in January 2012  but there are lots of people in York Region who don’t bring in that kind of money.

A new report (Housing Matters: A Review of the Housing Market in York region 2012) throws a spotlight on the challenges facing this part of Ontario.

You can access the whole PDF report here by scrolling to D3 on the agenda of the York Region Planning and Economic Development Committee of 2 May 2012.

The report tells us that increases in house prices have outpaced increases in incomes.

From 2002 to 2010 median wages (the point mid way between the highest and the lowest) increased by approximately 20 per cent, whereas the cost of ownership housing increased by approximately 56 per cent. 

Many households are now spending way more than 30 per cent of their gross household income on housing. (30% or less is supposed to be the measure of affordability.)

It seems to me the definition of affordability is pie-in-the-sky.

We need a new one, more in tune with what is happening in the real world.

This morning I am, quite literally, focussed on the future of Newmarket.

I join others who, like me, have clear views on how the Town should develop over the next few decades.

We are one of two self-selected focus groups invited to give the Town our thoughts on how Newmarket should develop and grow.

It is a terrific morning at the Doug Duncan Community Centre with lots of very clued-up people offering valuable insights. I learn a lot.

The omni-present Newmarket Planner, Marion Plaunt, takes us through the process.

First, we get an introduction to the Secondary Plan showing the implications for Newmarket of several possible futures – high growth and low growth.

The figures are startling.

In the Yonge Davis corridor and Southlake (the study area), the population could swell from 1,740 (the 2006 baseline figure) to 4,340 (low estimate) or 27,677 (high) by 2021.

Employment in the same area could rise from 16,218 (2006 baseline) to 22,889 (low) up to 33,604 (high estimate).

We are invited to look way over the horizon to Newmarket in 2051. It is all hugely speculative but fun nevertheless.

Now we divide into workshops and have maps, photos of sundry buildings, highlighters  and inky pens. Our job is to recommend appropriate heights and densities and building forms along the Yonge Davis corridors. It is all done at a furious pace with next to no time for reflection.

What did I get out of it all?

There is little enthusiasm for huge Towers. Most people in my workshop seem to think a 15 storey max is about right, but with lower heights predominating along both corridors.

There is a huge amount of scepticism about the transportation modelling showing how the main arterial roads would cope with given volumes of traffic. Long range forecasts showing uncongested roads are greeted with disbelief.  In 2012 traffic on these very same roads is already slow moving.

There is a lot of talk in the wider group about the difficulty of getting from A to B by car but next to nothing about the alternatives. We need to think hard about how we develop rapid transit.  What are we going to do about the Go Trains – the Puffing Billy train service to Toronto?

I tell everyone the Newmarket to Toronto railway had two tracks until 1987 when one was ripped up in a supreme act of vandalism. I soon as the words are out of my mouth I see a thousand heads shaking. Wrong! (Memo to myself: always double check “reliable” sources.)

Another thing strikes me. There is next to no information on the public ownership of land in the corridors. Clearly, this could shape the way the core develops. Are people working, as we speak, on a new library or, perhaps, a new theatre or some other public institutional use? If so, this should be fed into the debate. And what about new schools and public open space that will be needed to serve the growing population?

And let’s have some decent architecture and a streetscape we can be proud of. Who wants cheap and boring off-the-shelf designs foisted on us by profit hungry developers?

Left to their own devices, the professional planners and the developers (with the acquiescence of many councillors) will always come to some kind of accommodation about the best way forward. That’s the process that gave us the 20 storey condo at Davis and George - without anyone else being aware of what was happening.

We need some kind of standing citizen’s committee (if that doesn’t sound too grand) to keep an eye on them all as the plan unfolds.


Public Information Meeting

There is another Public Information meeting on the Secondary Plan from 7pm-9pm on Wednesday 9 May in the Council Chambers at 395 Mulock Drive. There is a presentation and then a Q&A afterwards.

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