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Newmarket's Secondary Plan

The draft of Newmarket’s Secondary Plan, which guides future development in the Yonge Davis corridor, is up for discussion next Monday, 28 October at a special Statutory Meeting to be held at 7pm at the Municipal Offices at 395 Mulock Drive.

This issue has never been about the principle of intensification, but only its sheer scale and form.

Personally, I think we are creating a monster that will, in time, devour the Newmarket we know, replacing it with huge towers and residential neighbourhoods clogged with traffic.

Astonishingly, we still do not know how many people the planners expect to be living in Newmarket in 2031 – the planning horizon for zillions of studies.

Despite the gaps, omissions and question marks, the chances of the draft being fundamentally re-written are, for all practical purposes, close to zero.

Everthing in the planning toolkit has been used to get us to this unhappy point. We’ve had focus groups, concepts, directions, drafts and iterations until they are coming out of our ears.

Unfortunately, the planners have not been listening.

The basic template – a high rise City of Newmarket – hasn’t changed one iota.

No councillor put forward an alternative vision and campaigned for it.

Instead they have for the most part parroted the script written for them by the professional planners.

Eighteen months ago Regional Councillor John Taylor briefly floated the idea of a 15 storey height cap. But nothing happened. It was quietly buried.

In June 2012 councillors agreed a staff recommendation leaving any possible new height restrictions to the Secondary Plan. Which is where we are now.

That 2012 report reminded councillors that

the Town of Newmarket’s Zoning By Law 2010-40 currently permits a range of maximum building heights from 4-8 storeys in the Urban Centres

Now the draft Secondary Plan holds out the prospect of huge 30 storey towers that, ironically, the planners recommend as a height cap.

Who on earth wants these giant towers?

New “bonusing provisions” unveiled for the first time at the Council’s Open House on the Secondary Plan on 10 October 2013, will allow developers

 …increases in building height and/or development block density in the Urban Centre without amendment to this plan

The rules would be relaxed if developers offered various so-called “public benefits”. The Plan cites community centres, parks and public art as examples. Developers are going to be falling over themselves to commission “works of art” with a local theme. (Arty automobiles for Slessor Square immediately springs to mind.)

The Plan envisages 21,000 residents shoehorned into the Urban Centre (basically the Yonge Davis corridors) by 2031. In the longer term, the Plan sees the Urban Centre as home to 32,000 residents.

The Plan wants 35% of the housing units to be “affordable”. How is that going to be delivered?

York Region’s current affordability threshold is an eye watering $417,000. This is way too much and should come down. But, either way, how will the developers respond to this 35% requirement? By designing ever more compact apartments?

Whatever happens on that front, the turbocharged population growth planned for Newmarket will have huge implications for existing residents who could see their quiet suburban roads turned into frantic rat runs.

The traffic report looking at this and other issues (Town of Newmarket Urban Centres Transportation Study Phase 2 report, September 2013) is quoted in the draft Secondary Plan on page 13 but, as I write, it has still not been posted on the Town’s website.

The planners tell us they want an “iconic skyline” at Bell Corner (the proposed new name for the Yonge/Davis junction).

That doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. They are, after all, building a new city.

But I prefer Newmarket on a human scale.

It seems this is not on offer.

No review of the OMB

News today (Thursday) confirms the Ontario Government is to embark on a review of land use planning in the Province, but it stops short at reviewing the OMB itself.

If there is one part of our dysfunctional planning system that invites derision and/or hostility it is the OMB.

To exclude the OMB from a fundamental review of our land use planning system is a colossal mistake.

Car Park vs Condo

A presentation by Viva Next at Tom Hempen’s Ward 4 residents’ meeting earlier this week confirms the land behind Shoppers and the LCBO at the corner of Davis Drive and George Street is being laid out as a car park.

Nothing remarkable about that, you may think.

However, the owner has been sitting on a planning approval for years allowing him to redevelop the site and put up a 20 storey condo. For his own reasons, he chooses not to build.

The car park requires permission from the Town. But I assume this is a mere formality. I didn’t see Tom, the Mayor or regional councillor John Taylor shaking their heads or jumping up and down saying she got it wrong.

It is indeed a curious state of affairs that planning approval for a condo once given can be banked and held in reserve until the owner decides the time is right to develop.

And in the meantime, the land can be used as a car park or, presumably, for all sorts of other things, Council permitting.

Perhaps a fun fair would be an appropriate use?

After all, a planning system that allows landowners to sit on planning approvals indefinitely is a bit of a joke.

Perhaps this is something for Kathleen Wynne’s review of land use planning.


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