Shrink Slessor Square!

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Glenway, the final act: What did we learn?

To the Seniors’ Centre in Davis Drive for the much anticipated autopsy on Glenway. The Town spent $588,291 half-heartedly backing the Glenway residents and “defending” the Official Plan but lost, getting a stinging smack on the face from the OMB.

I enter a huge room and see seven or eight round tables with probably the same number of people seated at each. The Mayor and councillors are near me as I walk in and, at the far end, I see the Town’s top staff. I see Bob Shelton, the Chief Administrative Officer; Town Solicitor, Esther Armchuck; Infrastructure supremo, Peter Noehammer and Rick Nethery, the Director of Planning, whose face glows tomato red but will soon darken to beetroot. Marion Plaunt, who handled the Secondary Plan file and did the heavy lifting while Nethery looked on, is noticeable by her absence. She has left Newmarket for another job in Markham.

The brass necked developer is also at the far end, present in strength next to the Town's top staff table. I spot Marianneville’s matriarch, Vice President of Planning Operations, and eminence grise, Joanne Barnett. Sitting next to her is Groundswell’s Brad Rogers with the ever-ready flashing white smile. He is the developer’s eyes and ears. And it is impossible to miss the developer’s calculating lawyer, Ira Kagan. He is dressed for a poolside bar and looks as if he has been out in the sun for a bit too long.

The Glenway Preservation Association people are scattered about in the middle.  The former Chair of the GPA and Ward 7 councillor, Christina “Bulldozer” Bisanz, is sitting with former Council hopeful John Heckbert and tireless tweeter, Lisa the Hoff.

Nest of Vipers
It is an embarrassment of riches. Where do I sit?

With slight apprehension I make for the nest of vipers – the developer’s table. Brian “I take no prisoners” Gard from the GPA asks to sit at the Town’s staff table but is told there is no room.

The professional facilitator, Glenn Pothier, should have asked every second person at each table to move to the table on the right, getting the participants all mixed up. Too many people are in their comfort zone.

Pothier does a good job in setting the scene, focusing on the issues we should be addressing and, generally, keeping things moving along nicely. We are asked to look at the three phases of Glenway: (1) the early days before the Mariannville application was submitted to the Town (2) the period after the developer had submitted the complete application to the Town and (3) the OMB Hearing and denouement. Then he wants us to focus on the future. What could or should have been done differently?

Despite my best efforts, there will neither be streaming nor video record. Pothier will pull everything together and submit a report to the Town. (At the end of the evening I suggest to him that he recommend it be debated at full Council and not just filed away and forgotten.)

The atmosphere is anticipatory in a gentle kind of way. At the table with my new Marianneville friends, I am on my best behaviour. It is jolly enough if slightly strained. Beside me sits Jim, a Glenway resident, my comforting link to the real world.

How much money are you going to make out of Glenway?

At the developer’s table we make some progress and I learn things.

I ask them how much they are going to make out of Glenway given they bought the land for $10 million – small change in the developers' world. I know I have no hope of getting a straight answer but we have been urged by Glenn to say what we think. I am testing the waters.

Kagan tells me profit is a good thing. Money makes the world go round.

Glenway is a prosperous neighbourhood. Middle class and affluent. They put up a terrific fight but still lost. Imagine other neighbourhoods without the strength in depth of Glenway. They would be steamrollered by developers.

I say the planning system is totally broken and needs fixing.

That's why we need some kind of independent planning advisory group funded, perhaps, by York Region with planners, lawyers and other experts, some working pro bono, to help communities face down rapacious developers like Marianneville. Kagan dismisses this. Politicians are concerned about keeping taxes down not putting them up for something like this.

I remind Kagan that he acted for the developers of Slessor Square. And years after the decision it is still a patch of bare earth. Yes, he says. But it’s got a fence round it.

Ruth Victor: the name on everyone’s lips

We spend a lot of time talking about Ruth Victor – the outside consultant brought in by the Town who decided development of the golf course was appropriate.

I refuse to believe that the Mayor and Rick Nethery (and perhaps others) did not sense before October 2013 the way the wind was blowing. They must have known the recommendations she was likely to make.  Kagan tells me I can join up the dots. I feel like the boy at the back of the class struggling with math that others find easy. Now I am talking about the Mayor telling us the Town was defending the Official Plan at the OMB hearing. Kagan is telling me, once again, to join up the dots.

Brad Rogers asks me to believe that development of the golf course was inevitable.

In September 2011, Rick Nethery asked councillors to give the go-ahead to hire an outside consultant “to process any future redevelopment application on the Glenway golf course”.  He said any proposed redevelopment of the Glenway golf course would be a complex matter and his staff was tied up doing other important work.
 
Brad Rogers tells me 69 planning consultancies looked at the papers when they were sent out. But only one took the bait. Ruth Victor. I am invited to believe it was a no-hope assignment. He says redevelopment of Glenway was inevitable.

The Town’s decision not to buy the Glenway lands in 2008

I refuse to accept this. If people had known the Town had considered buying the Glenway lands in 2008, this would have changed the whole dynamic.

Kagan says I place too much weight on transit issues. Yet what the GPA’s consultant planner was asking for at the OMB has, in large part, happened. New amendments to the Secondary Plan – agreed in June 2014 after the OMB had made its decision – broadened the scope of the Master Plan for Upper Canada Mall to include the transportation and transit component that Nick McDonald, GPA's planner, called for when giving his evidence to the OMB. The Go Bus Terminal on Davis Drive could yet move.

I bemoan the absence of a transcript of the OMB Hearing. Kagan tells me it is open to any Party to get one done. No-one did. Not even the Town. It would have been a small fraction of the $588,291 the Town spent and its unavailability is tragic.

We agree that, in future, Town planning staff should be present at OMB Hearings. We have a to-and-fro about the capacity in which they are present (to advise Counsel on planning issues/policies as they arise or whatever) but settle on the principle that there should never be an empty chair.

The Glenway West Lands

Now we are talking about the Glenway West lands. Kagan says he was astonished that the Town did not give consideration to purchasing them. He says the second settlement offer was generous - 57 acres to the Town for $5.5 million, the price fixed for ten years. He is still mystified.

It is no mystery to me. If the Town had accepted, it would have been a wholesale capitulation. The Town would be agreeing with the developer’s plans to build over the fairways and greens of Glenway.

Rogers, smiling again, is now talking about improving communications between developers and communities. What can be done to improve things? I suspect not a lot. And I say so. With Glenway, the gulf was too wide.

I see some other tables having spirited discussions. Their recommendations also go up to the alchemist Glenn Pothier who will distill them into a cogent and readable document, charting the way forward.

What surprised me about the evening

What, if anything, surprised me most about the evening? The silence of our councillors, for sure. I recall listening to Christina Bisanz in 2013 tell a packed meeting of Glenway people at the Ray Twinney Centre that she would lie down in front of the bulldozers to prevent development. At the time I thought “Good on you!” I expected a few words at the very least. She is now as inscrutable as all the other councillors.

What happens to people when they become councillors? They are sucked into a system where information is hoarded. This distorts public policy and stunts the conversation we should all be having about the future of our Town.

When councillors told Glenway people on 25 November 2013 they were backing them at the OMB – and they felt their pain – they had already considered buying the Glenway lands - and decided not to - but no-one knew.

John Taylor, Tom Hempen, Christina Bisanz and Dave Kerwin kept their thoughts to themselves. Former councillor Chris Emanuel is present and speaks often. He tells me too much is kept secret and that should change.

I look at a crumpled Rick Nethery, the Director of Planning, and he too has nothing to say.

Now Glenn Pothier is winding things up and invites the Mayor to say a few words.

I marvel at Tony Van Bynen. He has taken a lot of criticism but he smiles as he rolls with the punch.

He tells us it was a great evening. No finger pointing. We are looking to the future.

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Update on 25 June 2015. Read the Newmarket Era coverage here.


 

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