Does anyone out there know if Frank Klees supports the proposed Slessor Square development?

Maybe he has reservations?

Perhaps he thinks the plans can be tweaked? I dunno.

Just visited Frank’s website and searched for references to “Slessor”.

Nothing.

This surprises me because Frank is the Progressive Conservative MPP for Newmarket-Aurora at Queen’s Park and is the critic with responsibilities for transportation and infrastructure.

Love it or loathe it, Slessor Square will have a huge impact on Newmarket so politicians can’t sit on the fence on this one.

And, when he is so inclined, Frank does take sides on controversial planning issues.

For example, he opposes the Glenway re-development.

So today I resolve to write to Frank to ask for his views.

Last year in the provincial election, Frank used the former Slessor car dealership building as his campaign headquarters so he knows where the site is.

Putting Frank to one side for a moment (if I can put it that way) I do wish politicians – and that includes councillors – would give us their opinions and stop sniffing the wind.

People have a right to know what their elected representatives think about major planning issues that will impact on thousands of people.

Yet too many councillors keep their views under lock and key.

Getting some of them to speak out is hard work.

Top marks for the Town’s Planning Department for setting up a “community engagement” meeting on Slessor Square on 23 April in the Council Chamber at Mulock Drive. (Venue to be confirmed)

There will be a presentation by Slessor’s Urban Planner, Brad Rogers, who will go over the controversial project and take questions.

Members of the Council have also been invited so it is a perfect opportunity to bend their ears, so to speak

The centerpiece of Rogers’ presentation is expected to be the view shed analysis that will show the visual impact of the development from various vantage points around town.

As I tap this out, I don’t know how many snapshots of the proposed development have been taken – nor from which location.

There will also be an opportunity to quiz the experts about traffic, construction timelines and so on.

We are waiting to hear if the event will be put on YouTube or, perhaps, live streamed. The technology is very straightforward and using it allows many more people to see the presentation and the Q&A afterwards.

Who should be interested?

* People who have signed the Shrink Slessor Petition who believe the proposed development is too big and too bulky.

* Those who live in the adjoining neighbourhood who will affected by shadows from the towers.

* Those who are concerned about the height and mass of the development and the visual impact this will have on the Town.

* Those who have worries about increased traffic and the environmental impact of the development.

* Members of local residents’ associations. (Brad Rogers addressed members of the Newmarket Heights Community Association on 27 March but said, on that occasion, he wasn’t there to talk about Slessor Square. This time he will, presumably, be talking about nothing else.)

* People who care about the urban landscape and how Newmarket will develop in future years

It will be a great opportunity to quiz the planners. 


15 storey height cap

On 30 April, the Committee of the Whole (Council), meets in the Council Chamber at Mulock Drive, to debate Regional Councillor John Taylor’s proposal that the Town should consider imposing a 15 storey height cap on all new buildings. This should be a sparky and lively meeting.

Everyone is welcome.

The mercurial Maddie Di Muccio is certain to bang the drum for the developers.

Because Slessor Square is already in the planning pipeline it will not, alas, be captured by this proposed height cap. But Taylor says it could influence the Slessor debate.

Before councillors give the go ahead for the giant Slessor Towers they must consider the impact of the development on nearby “settled residential neighbourhoods”.

Spare a thought, then, for the good folk living in Marlin Court and beyond whose homes and gardens will lie in the shadow of the towers.

An addendum to the developer’s “Shadow Study” shows the shadows of the towers penetrating deep into the adjoining neighbourhood. The shadows lengthen and shorten according to the time of year.

Go to the Town’s Planning Public Input page and scroll to "Addendum Shadow Study".

The study shows the impact of the shadows at the Fall Equinox (around 23 September) when it is still warm enough for people to be out on the deck or in the garden enjoying the weather.

I am left wondering what rights, if any, people have if they discover their sunny gardens are to be enveloped in shadow.  

It is a gloomy thought.

This is a question crying out to be asked at the “community engagement” meeting, pencilled in for 23 April.

But more about that later.

HEALTH WARNING. Shrink Slessor Square has no affiliation to Occupy Newmarket or to any other group.  Now read on…
 
A terrific meeting on Saturday at Newmarket Public Library when York University’s Professor Robert MacDermid shows how development industry funding shapes the outcomes of elections and, ultimately, our urban landscape.
 
It is gripping stuff.
 
He reveals the hidden wiring that connects developers and politicians in front of an audience that includes regional councillor, John Taylor, and councillors Dave Kerwin, Joe Sponga and Tom Hempen.
 
The professor tells us that developers make their money from the re-zoning of land. Its value can increase exponentially if the municipality gives the thumbs up to development.
 
Even if individual councillors may not realise it, their Councils are
 
  factories for profit generation for developers.
 
His authoritative research on campaign donations in the 905 area is jaw dropping. (His study does not include Newmarket.)
 
We learn of instances where developers co-ordinate their giving and even, in some cases, search out pliable, pro-development candidates, promising to fund their campaigns with a multiplicity of $750 donations.
 
In a glaring legislative loophole, we learn that developers can second staff to work for favoured candidates and this doesn’t count against candidates’ expenses. He describes this as a “huge loophole”.
 
Professor MacDermid says the tax base is too narrow, depending largely on property. Councils get money to do things by relying on development. But that only lasts for so long. Once areas are built out – as is now the case with Mississauga – that option is no longer available.
 
All across the GTA, the development industry provides a huge chunk of campaign donations. And, in return, they expect something back.
 
Developers do not neutrally support all candidates in an election race as a way of strengthening local democracy. Instead, they pick and choose their favoured candidates and channel funding to them. We learn that in 2006, all developers’ donations went to the winners in 52 out of 110 races. The 2010 figures are currently being number-crunched.
 
So, what is to be done?
 
Professor MacDermid lists a series of measures to reduce the stranglehold that developers have on our municipal politics. These include:
 
* Diversifying the tax base
 
* Establishing a GTA wide planning body
 
* Getting the public more involved in local politics
 
* More “citizen journalism” focussing on what is happening in local areas
 
* Tightening up ethics rules and, perhaps, establishing a register of councillors’ interests where meetings with developers would be logged and made publicly available.
 
* A ban on corporate funding of candidates seeking election. (In the City of Toronto these corporate donations are now prohibited)
 
Our councillors get stuck into the discussion sparked by Professor MacDermid’s lecture.
 
Councillor Kerwin, with more than three decades of municipal service under his belt, congratulates Occupy for setting up the meeting. But he says the issue is not just about developers. Individuals, too, can be very persistent in pressing their case.
 
John Taylor pitches in with a promise to bring forward a motion to Newmarket Council to ban corporate funding of election candidates.
 
I think this involves a formal request to the Province to amend the Ontario Municipal Elections Act to allow Newmarket to do this. The Province can kick the ball into touch – as they have done with similar requests from other 905 municipalities.
 
I am not clear on the details and I need to check this out further.
 
Ward 4 councillor, Tom Hempen, arrives after the presentation saying Saturday is a working day for him and he got here as soon as he could. No problem.
 
He gets a great reception when he asks to stay and participate in the general discussion after the formal meeting had ended.
 
He stoutly defends Newmarket Council and the way in which it deals with planning matters. It is good to hear the case put with such conviction from someone who describes himself as a “rookie councillor”.
 
He gets great credit for engaging with the issues.
 
We mention various points from Professor MacDermid’s earlier lecture including the Professor’s astonishment that major decisions on development are often nodded through council meetings without a recorded vote.
 
Where is the transparency or accountability in that?
 
Without missing a beat, Tom responds.
 
 If you want me to call for a recorded vote on any development issue, I’ll do it.
 
I see lots of nods of approval.

We are all squashed into the library at Maple Leaf Elementary School in Longford Road waiting to hear urban planner, Brad Rogers, tell us how new development on Davis Drive would increase property values in our “stable residential neighbourhood”.

The meeting, organised by the Newmarket Heights Residents’ Association, is buzzing. Ward 4 Councillor, Tom Hempen, is here along with regional councillor John Taylor. The Mayor drops in and says a few words. It is good that he is here, taking the pulse of the meeting.

Brad Rogers is, of course, the urban planner advising the Slessor Towers developer.

But he wants to talk about the changes coming to Davis Drive and what it will mean for residents.

He is asked about the impact of the Slessor Towers on property values and immediately ducks the question.  He tells us land use planning doesn’t get into property values. But he says that in his experience property values will go up. Hmmm.

A knowledgeable estate agent sitting directly in front of me springs to his feet. He says proximity to high structures such as water towers can adversely affect property values.

In my mind’s eye, I see the Slessor Towers looming over Newmarket like three water towers sitting on top of one another.

And then there is the dust and dirt from construction that will blight the neighbourhood. And the traffic.

Having listened attentively to Brad Rogers, a guy behind me fears we could have a wall between us and Davis Drive.

  We could be walled in by high rises.

Brad says development is going to happen. There is no stopping it. He says Newmarket has got to accommodate 20,000 more people by 2031.

Wrong.

John Taylor corrects him.

He tells us that Brad is using a 2006 baseline.

With a 2012 baseline the growth would be in the order of ten to twelve thousand more people by 2031.

That’s more like it.

Tom Hempen tackles him on the height of the Towers saying the Town’s planning people are still insisting the higher of the two will rise to 29 storeys.

Tom seems genuinely frustrated that there is still a lack of clarity about something as fundamental as the height of the Towers.

The avuncular John Dowson who chairs the meeting tells us change is inevitable. In his time in Newmarket he has seen the town grow and grow.

But the key question is: what kind of growth?

People are genuinely concerned that their homes are going to be affected by high rise development and residential roads will become, in effect, major thoroughfares with increased traffic, noise and pollution.

The Mayor assures us there will be plenty of opportunities to comment on the Davis Drive plans as they unfold. There will be consultation on the Town’s Secondary Plan.

Alas, no-one points out that the Slessor Towers are outside the Secondary Plan process as the application is already in the Town’s planning pipe-line.

It is being dealt with quite separately.

We are waiting for the Slessors to publish their “view-shed analysis” as required by the Town. This will show the visual impact of the Towers from various vantage points, near and far.

When this happens, I suspect we shall hear more from the good people of Newmarket Heights Residents Association.

And from others.

 

 

 

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