How livable will Newmarket be in, say, ten years time?

We know “intensification” is coming but how will it impact on us?

Can the Town grow and breathe at the same time?

Tomorrow’s Committee of the Whole (29 August) will consider a new Parkland Dedication By-law which will supposedly secure the open spaces the Town will need in the future. 

Perversely, it does so by recommending a new, revised strategy which:

(1)  reduces the amount of parkland required by the municipality

(2)  applies a cap on the amount of parkland conveyed to the municipality per application and

(3)  accepts more urban forms of parkland that previously would not have been accepted. The draft by-law talks of Pocket Parks, Sliver Spaces and Pedestrian Mews which developers can use to contribute to the parkland dedication requirement of the Town.

The amount of parkland we need is, of course, directly related to the number of people living here – and the projections are all over the place.

The open space Bible, the Parkland Policy Development Manual, tells us the Town will grow to 97,133 residents by 2031 (from 85,000 in 2012).

This contrasts sharply with estimates published by Ruth “Glenway” Victor in November 2013 who told councillors:

“for 2031, the projected growth is estimated at 116,521 people as per the Secondary Plan currently in progress”.

In fact, York Region expects the Town’s population to reach 97,100 by 2031.

The report going to councillors tomorrow says the Town’s population will grow by 10,356 to 95,356 by 2025.

So, you pays your money and you takes your choice.

Whatever the population estimates may be, we are told with iron certainty that at build out (when there is no more land to develop) there will be 33,000 people living in the Davis and Yonge corridors – compared with a few thousand now. That is the figure we should focus on.

How big is the area in Newmarket that can be developed?

According to the Town’s Secondary Plan there are approximately 130 hectares of developable area with about 30 hectares of land identified as parks, open space, natural heritage and stormwater management. The Plan as adopted in June 2014 excludes the historic downtown.

The report on Newmarket Urban Centres parkland requirements that went to councillors in December 2014 (after the Town adopted the Secondary Plan) told them the developable area was 160 hectares – not 130 hectares.

The latest report (29 August 2016) tells us the total land area in hectares in the urban centres is 232 hectares.  I am assuming this figure includes the historic downtown centre.

Intensification that you can see vs steady growth that is imperceptible

Our Mayor, the retired banker, Tony Van Bynen, is by nature and instinct a cautious administrator rather than a visionary.  As soon as Newmarket was identified by the Province as one of 25 places to grow, Van Bynen predictably became the champion of “intensification”.

The Deputy Mayor and Regional Councillor, John Taylor takes a more measured approach. He doesn’t want to frighten the horses. Sure, he says, change will happen but it will be so slow and incremental you will hardly notice. Nothing dramatic will happen before 2024 anyway because the Town can ration water and sewage hook-ups under its Service Allocation policy. At that date, new pipes and treatment plants will end the need to ration and the brakes will then be off.

But Taylor also supports the proposed GO Rail Station at Mulock Drive (as do I) and is suggesting a new Secondary Plan to intensify development in the area to persuade Metrolinx that the station will, in future, attract passengers from those who live and work nearby. And that will mean more people.

What do the developers think of the Parkland By-law?

My general rule of thumb is if the “development community” thinks something proposed by the Town is OK then we should have a careful second look at what the Town is proposing. There were only five submissions from the development industry and others commenting on the proposed By-law and

“overall, there was a large degree of support expressed for the intent and direction of the draft by-law and it was agreed that the proposed approach offered a reasonable and effective means to help reduce soft costs of development within the corridors.”

The wily lawyer, Ira Kagan (who acted for the owners/developers in Slessor Square and Glenway) told the Bill Committee at Queen’s Park which was examining possible changes to the rules on parkland dedication that he wanted an amendment to the Planning Act that would provide a percentage cap on parkland takings for high-density residential development.

When asked by PC MPP Ernie Hardeman:

“If I had a magic wand and I could fix one thing for you, what would it be?"

Without missing a beat, Kagan replies:

 “Parkland. That’s why I did it first. Hands-down, the parkland charge in the GTA exceeds all other development charges combined by a significant factor. If you want to fix one thing that will make a really big difference, put a percentage cap on parkland, please.”

The Town’s Parkland By-law sets a maximum 25% cap of development lands for parkland with cash-in-lieu to make up for any differences between what is required from developers and the actual land that transfers. Curiously, the Town can use this cash-in-lieu of parkland for tangential purposes such as buying vehicles and equipment used in parks.

What is a Park?

The Town’s earlier draft parkland by law was peer reviewed by Barry Lyon Consultants who thought the standards too burdensome on developers and

“would likely discourage investment and delay the achievement of the Town’s policy objectives regarding intensification as per the Urban Centres Secondary Plan.”

The Town then brought in the consultants “The Planning Partnership” which proposed

a parkland system that adequately serves the needs of the Town and outlines specific strategies of parkland dedication for urban contexts that will not discourage investment.” (My underlining)

I see in an addendum to tomorrow’s agenda that Ron Palmer from the Planning Partnership is going to address councillors on the Parkland Dedication By-Law. If I were a councillor I would ask him:  Is it enough? Are we going to get the open space we need or are we going to be crushed together with no room to breathe?

The Parks Policy Development Manual forecasts there will be a 10.5 hectare parkland shortfall on a Town wide basis by 2031 and a whopping 45 hectare shortfall by build out. (The map below shows Town owned land in 2016.)

Newmarket is a million light years away from the contemporary Middle East where public parks have largely disappeared. But unless we are very, very careful, Newmarket will not have the green lungs it needs as it grows into a small city.

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