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Silken Laumann, Tony Van Bynen and the reform of the OMB

Before the last Municipal election Tony Van Bynen promised reform of the OMB would be the centerpiece of his third term. Van Bynen, told voters he would

“bring real change to the Ontario Municipal Board and the planning process”.

In his Plan for Newmarket’s Future, Van Bynen writes:

“Bringing reform to the Ontario Municipal Board and the Planning Act to ensure our residents have a say in shaping their community will be a priority in the next term. Our Council’s decision to fight for Glenway and defend our Town’s official plan was the right thing to do. I will be working with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and a number of mayors to meet with the Province to bring about real change to the municipal planning process.”

The Mayor could start his campaign for reform by changing the habit of a lifetime, his attachment to secrecy. He should be completely open with the OMB instead of holding back relevant information from it.

On 28 September 2015 the OMB gave conditional approval to a controversial development of 28 Townhouses on protected meadowland where the Town would make its own land available to allow the development to proceed. Local people are very much against it, as was the area’s councillor, Tom Vegh, although he has now, regrettably, thrown in the towel.

A number of local residents addressed the OMB, expressing concerns about a Townhouse development so close to the railway and a proposed new rail station. (They are the "participants" referred to below.)

In giving conditional approval, the adjudicator, Jan Seaborn, who is also Vice Chair of the OMB, observed:

The evidence from the participants related to the potential for conflict between the development and the railway tracks used by Metrolinx. Safety concerns were paramount in the minds of the participants, three of whom testified. There was concern that a proposed GO Station at Mulock Drive could affect the development and given the proximity be a danger. Noise was also raised given proposals for new tracks in the area.

At no point did the Town tell the OMB that a new GO rail station at Mulock Drive – a stone’s throw from the proposed development - was a priority. At the Hearing the Town staff present made no reference to the station issue nor to any new tracks.

Indeed, the developer’s planner, Gary Templeton, citing the Planning Act, stressed the development was not “premature”. How on earth was it possible for Town staff present at the Hearing not to challenge that bald statement? Of course the application is manifestly premature. The Mayor and the Regional Councillor have been in discussions about possibly acquiring the site at Mulock Drive for the proposed new GO rail station. And Metrolinx will make a decision on the location of new stations on the Barrie line early in the new year. The Town’s solicitor is silent on all this, assuring the OMB that the Townhouse application as it stands represents “good planning”.

Indeed, on 9 November, a mere 42 days after the OMB Hearing,  Mayor Tony Van Bynen tells Leslie Woo from Metrolinx the proposed station at Mulock Drive is “a priority” for the Town.

“In my own mind the difference between a 15 minute and 30 minute service (ie from Aurora to Union Station and from Newmarket to Union during peak hours) doesn’t change the world immensely although I think eventually we’ll need to get there. But I’d rather see us easing into that, responding to the demand as we go forward.”

“But the Mulock Station I think can provide a ton of relief both for the Aurora parking, for the Newmarket parking and create more options. So that’s one item I’d like to see as a priority in terms of creating some solutions for our community and maybe extending the 15 minute service to that point.”

If the Mayor is remotely serious about reforming the OMB and giving residents a say in shaping their community he should inform the OMB that the Town is actively working to get a new GO rail station at Mulock Drive.

And if this was his view at the time of the OMB Hearing in September - that Mulock Drive was always more than a circle on a map - why didn't he simply say so?

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