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Newmarket’s Secondary Plan: Fantasy Figures and Hokey-Pokey

The story so far

On 21 July 2014 Newmarket’s top planners sent a memo to the Mayor and Councillors addressing two key issues that many people found perplexing when the Secondary Plan was adopted by the Town at the Council meeting on 23 June 2014.

Councillors asked about the Town’s future population growth – its pace and how it would be accommodated. They also wondered aloud how it was possible to increase density in future developments along the Yonge and Davis corridors without, at the same time, increasing population.

A staff memo to the Mayor and Councillors entitled “information report” seeks to explain the reasoning. The memo did not appear on any Council agenda and but you can read it here by clicking “documents” on the menu panel on the left and navigating to Newmarket documents. Open “Newmarket Urban Centres Secondary Plan: Population and Jobs”.

Fantasy Figures

The memo on page 3 forecasts a population of 97,100 for Newmarket in 2031. This figure and others cited on that page are fantasy figures for the reasons explained in my earlier blog of 5 December 2013.

The memo tells us that for Newmarket’s Secondary Plan to be compliant (with Provincial and Regional planning policy) it has to satisfy the minimum density requirement of 200 persons and jobs per hectare (set by the Growth Plan); an FSI of 2.5 (set by York Region) and a ratio of 1:1 for population and jobs. (I can’t immediately recall where that came from – probably the Region.)

Population and Jobs on Yonge and Davis

We are told: “The Secondary Plan as adopted provides the policy direction to achieve these minimum requirements.” The question in my mind as I tap this out is whether the 33,000 population and 32,000 jobs represents the minimum or if it goes well beyond it. If the latter, then by how much?

The memo purports to give “the rationale for redistributed population and jobs by Character Area”. We see a blizzard of figures with no convincing explanation how they were arrived at. There is no analysis by development block, only by so-called “Character Area”. It is very broad brush.

Although staff at York Region recommended significantly higher densities along Yonge Street and Davis Drive, we are told by Newmarket’s planners there is to be no change in the forecast population (33,000) along the two corridors. The number of jobs is projected to increase from 30,000 to 32,000. All this is to be achieved by shifting population between development blocks.

Gainers and Losers

Thanks to the memo, we now know which character areas are projected to lose population and jobs and which ones will gain. Personally, I think it is all hokey-pokey.  The projections change from minute to minute and the assumptions the planners make are as elastic as they want them to be. Of course, in some instances, the boundaries of the Secondary Plan area have changed and this would explain different figures. (Major boundary changes have been made, for example, to the Davis Drive character area, expanding the Secondary Plan area and making the development blocks deeper and therefore more attractive to developers.)

Elsewhere, assumptions have changed, probably about the pace and nature of future development. Staff admits there has been a “general re-evaluation of the population and jobs by Character Area”.

The table below shows the change in population and jobs between the revised draft Secondary Plan on 24 March 2014 (b) and the Plan at 16 June 2014, now adopted (d).  The earlier draft was changed at the behest of unnamed staff at York Region who wanted to increase density to give greater flexibility. They had warned:

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

Intensification on Davis Drive

After all the huffing and puffing from the Regional staff, the reworked figures for what they are worth show that Davis Drive is projected to have a smaller resident population (down 900) but more employment (up 1,100)

In fact, the figures put before councillors in the past few months have been bouncing around all over the place. In a report dated 18 February 2014, councillors were told that, at build out, Davis Drive would have a resident population of 4,000. By 24 March 2014 this figure had increased to 4,500. In April it had dipped to 3,993. And by 16 June 2014 this had dropped to 3,600.  The employment forecast for Davis Drive went from 1,700 jobs to 1,500 to 1,648 before increasing to 2,600.

In the space of four months, we saw the employment forecast for the Regional Healthcare Centre go from 7,000 on 18 February to 6,700 on 24 March to 6,363 in April to 8,400 on 16 June 2014.

Does any of this matter?

Possibly not for in the long run we are all dead. But in the meantime we are right to feel a little nervous. My fear is that a turbocharged Newmarket will grow well beyond what was originally envisaged under Places to Grow. The planning establishment at municipal and regional level are moving in lockstep to deliver their city-building mission and we are all trapped in their laboratory.

Most people accept the inevitability of change but growth must have limits. As it is, the Town will be a construction site for years to come.

We cannot take things on trust from a planning establishment with its own separate agenda. That’s why the assumptions made by the Town’s planners and their colleagues at York Region should be out in the open and tested to destruction.

A couple of inaccuracies

Since our councillors called for more details, we learn that:

“A more in-depth analysis has revealed that a couple of inaccuracies have occurred on the spreadsheet for the population and jobs calculations, therefore the population and jobs figures by Character Area will be re-evaluated and if there are any changes, they will be brought back to Council for approval along with any other issues that may emerge through the Regional review and before the Region makes a decision on the Secondary Plan.”

Why can’t the spreadsheets referred to in the memo to be put into the public domain? Why can't we crowd-check? Personally, I’d like to know when, if ever, the planners expect construction work to start on 39 Davis Drive. Planning approval was given for a 20 storey condo in 2009. (My own view is that planning approvals should expire after three years or so if owners don’t act on them.)

The Secondary Plan will go to York Region early next year for approval and will then be folded into the Town’s Official Plan. Once that happens, no-one will look behind the text. Who will remember the concerns that people had?  Who will recall the soothing reassurances? Everything ever said will disappear into the ether. All will be forgotten.

That's why Newmarket’s new Council, to be elected on 27 October, must be more hands-on. Councillors must involve themselves closely in planning issues.

$47,000 per councillor is way too much to pay if all we get for our money is a spectator and a rubber stamp.

TABLE: Population and Jobs by Character Area (taken from 21 July memo with additional information added)

Note: The change in population and jobs is between the revised draft Secondary Plan (b below) and the adopted version (d below)

Character Area: Yonge North                               Pop            Change            Jobs            Change                                                           

(a) 18 February 2014 update to councillors:              6,000                                  2,400                       

(b) 24 March 2014 Revised Draft Sec Plan:              6,000                                  2,300

(c) April 2014, GDH Transportation Study:                5,837                                  2,367

(d) 16 June 2014 Sec Plan as adopted:                    6,300           +300               2,700        +400

Character Area: Yonge and Davis

(a) 18 February 2014 update to councillors:              11,800                                12,000

(b) 24 March 2014 Revised Draft Sec Plan:              13,000                                 11,000

(c) April 2014, GDH Transportation Study:                12,202                                 11,387

(d) 16 June 2014 Sec Plan as adopted                      13,500          +500               10,100        -900

Character Area: Yonge Civic

(a) 18 February 2014 update to councillors:              1,500                                    6,200

(b) 24 March 2014 Revised Draft Sec Plan:              1,500                                    6,000

(c) April 2014, GDH Transportation Study:                1,639                                    6,481

(d) 16 June 2014 Sec Plan as adopted                     2,200            +700                5,400        -600

Character Area: Yonge South

(a) 18 February 2014 update to councillors:               6,200                                     2,700

(b) 24 March 2014 Revised Draft Sec Plan:               6,500                                     2,500

(c) April 2014, GDH Transportation Study:                 7,079                                     2,902

(d) 16 June 2014 Sec Plan as adopted                       6,300            -200                 2,800      +300

Character Area: Davis Drive

(a) 18 February 2014 update to councillors:                4,000                                     1,700

(b) 24 March 2014 Revised Draft Sec Plan:                4,500                                     1,500

(c) April 2014, GDH Transportation Study:                  3,993                                     1,648

(d) 16 June 2014 Sec Plan as adopted                        3,600            -900                  2,600     +1,100

Character Area: Reg Healthcare Centre

(a) 18 February 2014 update to councillors:                 1,500                                      7,000

(b) 24 March 2014 Revised Draft Sec Plan:                 1,500                                       6,700

(c) April 2014, GDH Transportation Study:                   1,401                                       6,363

(d) 16 June 2014 Sec Plan as adopted:                       1,100           -400                     8,400     +1,700



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