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Newmarket’s Secondary Plan is still unfinished business

Summary: Councillors at the upcoming Committee of the Whole on 21 July 2014 should get a written report on how last minute changes to the Secondary Plan, increasing density in a large number of development blocks along Yonge Street and Davis Drive, will impact on Newmarket’s future population. They’ve asked for this, but will they get it?

On 23 June 2014, after four long years of meetings, focus groups, presentations, consultations and endless iterations, Newmarket’s councillors finally signed off on the Town’s Secondary Plan which now goes up to York Region for approval.

Remarkably, despite all this effort, there are still big gaps waiting to be filled.

Most significantly, we don’t know how many people will be living and working along the Yonge/Davis corridors. Forecasts for the Town’s population change more often than the weather. In 2012 Newmarket’s estimated population was 85,435.

At the start of the Secondary Plan process in 2010, the Town wide population forecast for 2051, calculated by York Region, was a manageable 105,300. However, we were warned this was speculative and had no official status. It is now laughably wide-of-the-mark.

Newmarket’s population set to soar

Since 2010, after a fashion, things have firmed up. Newmarket’s planning staff told Councillors in a memorandum dated 28 October 2013 that, at build out, they expect a population between 125,000 and 127,500.

In a memorandum dated 20 November 2013, the Town’s outside planning consultant, Ruth Victor, (brought in to handle the Glenway file) said Newmarket’s current Official Plan assumed a population of 98,000 when the Town is fully built out. Town staff had told her that by 2031 there would be a population of 116,521 “as per the Secondary Plan process currently in progress”.

At the Council meeting on 23 June 2014, Regional Councillor, John Taylor, told us “the Province had set a growth requirement for York Region that would see Newmarket grow to almost 140,000 by 2041”. But he went on to say “our Plan, however, calls for approximately 130,000 by 2051”. He blogs about the Secondary Plan here, talking up its strengths and glossing over its weaknesses.

The projections vary widely but the important point is this: there is no formal cap on Newmarket’s future population which could grow like Topsy. This is the “flexibility” craved by the professional planners who see their mission as city-builders.  They do not want developers to be constrained in any way by overly-rigid planning policies.

What is the issue?

Last minute changes to density along the Yonge/Davis corridors, proposed by paid staff at York Region, allow for greater intensification of development, but the supporting analysis, showing the consequential projected increase in population and employment has not been done – or, if it has, it has not been shared with Councillors and the Public. Depending on economic conditions and the state of the market, Newmarket’s future population could soar way beyond the levels previously quoted. You can see the changes here. Go to Schedule 4 on page 128.

In earlier versions of the Secondary Plan we were variously told the number of people living in the urban centre - basically the Yonge/Davis corridors – would grow from 2,555 (in 2012) to 21,000 (by 2031) rising to 32,000 at build-out. We are told to expect development increasing “considerably” between 2021 and 2031. Ruth Victor, told us in her November memorandum that applications from developers to accommodate 21,000 people will be 

“received, approved and built prior to 2031”. 

At the tail end of the Secondary Plan process  on 16 June 2014 unnamed staff from York Region recommended changing the designation of a slew of development blocks, dramatically increasing density. Not a single development block went from a higher density down to a lower one.  (“Density” is simply the number of people and/or jobs on any given piece of land – usually measured by hectare or acre.)

Councillors were told these changes in density were required to give the Plan “flexibility”. These officials from York Region said:

“The proposed height and density (particularly on Davis Drive) may not achieve the planned intensification along the rapid transit corridor.”

Yet, despite this, we are asked to believe there will be no increase in the projected population of the Yonge/Davis corridors from the earlier version of the Secondary Plan. This seems to offend against common sense.

What is needed now - before the Secondary Plan goes up to York Region for approval

A Report on the changes and how they were arrived at, as requested by John Taylor, should be presented to the next Committee of the Whole meeting on 21 July 2014.

It should look at the impact of these changes in density on future population growth, using the same methodology set out in Appendix 2 of the Secondary Plan Directions Report published on 17 May 2013 which calculated a population of 32,000 and 31,000 jobs along the Yonge Davis corridors at build-out. The new calculations should be done, development block by development block, as with the original. If new assumptions are made (for example to take account of re-worked angular plane policies which are designed to prevent high buildings going up next to much smaller ones) these should be explained and justified.

In the 2013 Secondary Plan Directions Report, the authors looked at each parcel of land along the corridors assigning it a hypothetical development

“based on an application of the proposed minimum and maximum heights and densities… the application of urban design principles set out in the draft policy directions and a consideration of the parcel dimensions and adjacent land uses.”

That Directions Report forecast a resident population in the two corridors of 6,523 by 2021 rising to 22,506 by 2031 and 32,151 at build-out. Significantly, these figures specifically exclude any additional population and jobs arising from bonusing. No assumptions were made about the extent and impact of bonusing on the grounds it would be too hypothetical. But other assumptions which could impact on growth and its timing (for example, water and sewage allocations) were factored in.

Population is being redistributed – not increased. Please explain

In April 2014, the Town published the Newmarket Urban Centres Transportation Study prepared for the Town by the outside consultants, GHD. This report too gives population and employment figures for development blocks in each character area along the two corridors. Following the changes to the Secondary Plan proposed by York Region staff (and conditionally accepted by Newmarket Councillors) increasing densities along the two corridors, we are told the forecast population at build-out is merely being redistributed. But that begs the question, where are the population shifts occurring along the corridors? Which blocks are losing people and which are gaining?

Mayor reads the script written by others

The Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, would have us believe that everything has been settled. On 7 July, the Mayor, parroting the views of the professional planning staff, wrote:

“…Council members were provided with a full explanation of the reconfigured designations at the Council Workshop on June 9, 2014 and at the Committee of the Whole on June 16, 2014 at which time the issue was discussed thoroughly.”

Councillors, suffocating in planning-babble, were indeed provided with an explanation but they didn’t buy it. I was there and witnessed the exchanges. Tom Vegh thought it was counter-intuitive that density could be increased with no change in the projected population figures. Tom Hempen expressed big concerns about the impact of development on his Ward 4. Maddie Di Muccio is increasingly outspoken on the issue. Others too for their own various reasons appeared unconvinced.

Taylor is as perplexed as the rest of us

Indeed, at the Committee of the Whole Meeting on 16 June, Regional Councillor John Taylor asks Marion Plaunt, the senior planner responsible for the Secondary Plan file:

“Just one quick request. Is it possible…  You pointed out here today and in the workshop in response to Councillor Vegh’s question that you don’t see a population increase in conjunction with the increased densities in some of the development blocks because you see it more of a shifting but can you maybe provide an information report for ourselves and the public in the future that more fully explains that because I am having a hard time. I saw where it increased not where it decreased or maybe it has nothing to do with increases and decreases but has to do with the timing or the market aspects. I don’t know. But can we get the fuller explanation on how that works.”

Marion Plaunt (senior planner):

“In fact, I do have that analysis by Character Area already because I posed the question to GHD (the outside consultants brought in to do the transportation study) Will our population shifts impact any of your recommendations with respect to the transportation network? And they’ve done an analysis based on what they were looking at with the draft secondary plan relative to this and identified that overall there is about a 3% change. Their response is that the change is not significant enough to change any of their recommendations with respect to the recommended network. But I do have…”

John Taylor:

“Can we get all that information including the 3% and what that equates to where; if there is a chart that lays out what the numbers are. But also some verbal explanation conceptually of how this works. I think it would be helpful for everybody to understand that portion more fully.”

The Minutes of the Committee of the Whole meeting of 16 June went up to the full Council on 23 June (when the Secondary Plan was approved) but there is no mention in the official Minutes of the information report that Taylor called for.

Why?

It was as if the request had never been made.


Note on the Methodology and Assumptions used to forecast population 

The methodology that got the planners to the 21,000 people living within the Yonge/Davis corridors in 2031 is set out in the Draft Secondary Plan Directions Report (Appendix 2, Approach and Methodology).  At build-out the population is expected to be 32,000. The planners looked at land available for development and a

“hypothetical development was assigned to each parcel (of land) based on an application of the proposed minimum and maximum heights and densities, the application of the urban design principles set out in the draft policy directions, and a consideration of the parcel dimensions and adjacent land uses.”

It goes on:

“Between 2021 and 2031 development is anticipated to increase considerably… The 2031 demonstration (development?) concept was derived by making a series of assumptions regarding the most likely medium term development sites from the standpoint of complexity of parcel fabric, location, proximity.”


 

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