Shrink Slessor Square!

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No new height cap on Newmarket buildings – for now

A report by Newmarket’s Planning staff “outlining the processes” for bringing in a height cap for new developments in Newmarket will be considered tomorrow (Monday 11 June) by the Committee of the Whole.

You can read item 10 (Planning Processes to Regulate the Height of Multi-Storey Buildings) and the related report, item 11, here.

The report on regulating height takes 13 pages to recommend no change to the current practice which allows developers to propose and get permission for monster buildings, busting the existing “soft” 8 storey height cap.

They get the green light if they can persuade gullible councillors that their developments will not create “an unacceptable level of traffic”, will be “compatible with the surrounding development” and will, generally speaking, fit in with the objectives of the Official Plan.

At the moment, Councillors are wrestling with three zoning by law amendment applications, including Sleesor Square, that go above the soft cap. (It is soft because it is breached so frequently.)

The planners say the Secondary Plan for Newmarket’s Urban Centre, now underway, will look at height and density and it would mean additional work for staff – and a duplication of effort – if they were to embark on a separate, costly and uncertain parallel process for capping building heights.

I am left wondering why the planning process needs to be of such Byzantine complexity. Why does it have to be so complicated?

Why can’t the Council simply say that the soft cap it already has (8 storeys) will be rigorously enforced and any departures from it that are proposed by developers would be put under the most forensic scrutiny, including public consultation.

If it so wished, the Council could require developers to carry out any number of additional studies to assess potential negative impacts on neighbourhoods.

And when the Council says new developments should be environmentally friendly, it should mean it and not just pay lip service to the concept.

At a meeting in February, when  Slessor Square’s self-styled “assertively green” project manager, Bob Forrest, was asked if the proposed complex would use shower water (so-called grey water) to flush the toilets, he confessed:

“It is so hard to make that stuff work!”

Developers, by their very nature, will always try to maximise their returns by squeezing as much as they can into the sites they own. Unless they are watched like hawks, they will do their best to cut corners.

They will always talk up their green credentials.

If councillors go along with the staff recommendation tomorrow (as they are generally programmed to do) they’ve got to be prepared to face down the developers if need be.

For months, the pot has been boiling furiously on Slessor Square and other giant developments that will change the face of Newmarket forever.

But, astonishingly, I am still completely in the dark on where some Newmarket councillors stand on the key issues of height and density.

Are they in favour of a mandatory height cap that would (a) guide developers and (b) introduce some certainty into a notoriously pliable planning process?

If so, what would they like to see?

Maybe we shall find out tomorrow.

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