Shrink Slessor Square!

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Showdown looms between Main Street Business and Van Bynen over condo in the heart of the Historic Downtown

Back Story:  1 March 2011 the Clock Tower on Newmarket's historic Main Street was purchased from Premier Retirement Residences Inc for $2,340,000 by 2259613 Ontario Inc also known as Main Street Clock Inc also known as Robert Forrest.

Subsequently, Forrest bought the adjacent commercial properties at 184-194 Main Street South to provide a block big enough for a huge condo in the heart of the Town’s priceless Heritage Conservation District.

On 9 September 2013, Main Street Clock Inc took out a mortgage on the property for $3,000,000 with PACE Savings and Credit Union – the same people who are involved with the Slessors. Forrest put the Clock Tower up for sale on 19 June 2014.  There were no takers (or he changed his mind about the sale) and the story died.

As Forrest prepares to unveil his latest proposal, the Main Street business community has spoken out.

BIA votes to oppose condo plan

The forum representing businesses in Newmarket’s historic Main Street has voted to oppose Bob Forrest’s plan to build a condo at the Clock Tower which it believes would drive a coach and horses through the Town’s Heritage Conservation District policy.

Last week the Main Street District Business Improvement Area Board of Management voted 7-1 in favour of a motion calling for the policy’s three storey height cap to be respected. The BIA has also set its face against any land swap by the Town that would facilitate the development. Forrest, who has spent years sweet talking the Town, believes he can get approval for a 7 storey condo if it is rental.

Glenn Wilson, the Chair of the Newmarket Main Street BIA told members yesterday by email that a representative from the Forrest Group confirmed last month that Forrest “plans to proceed with a new application for its proposed multi-storey  Clock Tower Project early in the new year”. 

Wilson continues:

“Surprisingly, he (Forrest’s representative) also announced that meetings and discussions between Forrest Group and Town Staff were already in progress.  A heated debate followed as to whether or not any consultations had in fact occurred and the appropriateness of such discussions happening without an application being in place. Up to this point, it had been the general belief on the street that the developer’s plan to build a 6 to 9 storey complex on its Clock Tower property was effectively dead.” 

The BIA fears the Forrest development would mean the loss of crucial public parking spaces in Market Square over a lengthy construction period which would have “a devastating effect” on BIA Member businesses in the Downtown Heritage District.

Second Public Meeting on Clock Tower “likely”

The BIA says it wants to take a deputation to Newmarket Council. That’s good. But a second Public Meeting is also likely to be called. It is now coming up to two years since the first public meeting (3 February 2014) where the condo plan was condemned for its overbearing bulk and mass and insensitivity to the Town’s heritage district.

Make no mistake, Bob Forrest is determined to blight our historic downtown and get his cash bonanza. The Mayor and councillors, who traditionally bite their tongues on planning applications for fear of appearing biased, should vigorously defend the Town’s 2011 Heritage Conservation District policy. Two years ago, in November 2013, Forrest (or, rather, his alter ego Main Street Clock Inc) appealed to the OMB on the grounds that a rezoning application to redevelop 180-194 Main Street South – which his lawyers say was deemed complete by the Town on 13 September 2013 – could be imperiled by a Town By Law, passed six weeks later, which formally created the Lower Main Street South Heritage Conservation District. For years, Van Bynen, forever the bean-counting bank manager, had dragged his feet on bringing forward an implementing By-Law on the grounds that staff would have to be hired to police it. As I write, no Hearing date has been scheduled for this two year old appeal to the OMB.

Worryingly, the Town’s detached and hands-off Planning Director, Rick Nethery, says applications that do not conform to the Heritage Conservation District policy can, nevertheless, still be approved by councillors. This rather begs the question:  what is the point of having a policy at all?

Meanwhile, there are problems with the Clock Tower that need to be addressed. Masonry by the foundations requires repair.

It seems to me Forrest urgently needs to get approval from the Council for his monster condo or finally admit defeat and get shot of the old Clock Tower building and the historic commercial properties next door to it.

Forrest has very deep pockets but servicing the mortgage must be costing him a small fortune.

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BIA Motion carried 7-1 on 15 December 2015

That the BIA Board of Management only supports responsible development within the 3-storey height limitations permitted in the Downtown Newmarket Heritage Business District under the Heritage Act, in order to retain the charm, historic character and positive business climate of the District; and, in keeping with this position, that the BIA Board of Management opposes the Forrest Group’s intended plan to build a multi-storey, high-density residential project (“The Clock Tower Project”) in the heart of the Heritage Business District;

and further,

that the BIA Board of Management objects to and opposes any proposed transfer or swap of Town-owned Heritage land (specifically the land on or below the critically-important Market Square parking block) by the Town to the Forrest Group or any other developer for the purpose of providing space to build an underground parking lot for its intended project, the construction of which would have catastrophic effects on BIA Member businesses;

and further,

that the BIA Board of Management objects to and opposes the use of Town-owned Heritage property (specifically the current Market Square parking block) by the Forrest Group or any developer for the purpose of staging its massive proposed private development project because the loss of crucial public parking spaces in the Town-owned Market Square over a lengthy construction period would have devastating effects on BIA Member businesses in the Downtown Heritage District;

and further,

that the BIA Board of Management makes a timely deputation advising the Newmarket Town Council of the BIA’s position on these serious matters;

and lastly,

that this motion be reported verbatim in the Minutes of this meeting.

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