Shrink Slessor Square!

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Redwood on Yonge and Affordable Housing

The Redwood on Yonge development (on the old Slessor Square site at 17645 Yonge Street) sailed through its Statutory public meeting last week (6 November 2017) without a single comment from local residents. 

Does this mean everyone is deliriously happy with it? Probably not.

This major development will have 527 rental apartments in three residential towers, to be built sequentially in three phases over, perhaps, ten years. There are no plans for any of the apartments to be marketed as "affordable" using the affordability figure published annually by York Region. In 2016 it stood at $1,496 per month.

The Town's Secondary Plan reflects regional policy by stipulating that a minimum of 35% of new housing units in the Urban Centre (which includes 17645 Yonge Street) shall be affordable to low and moderate income households.

The report from the planning staff says:

"This 35% is not intended to be achieved on each individual application but rather within the Provincial Urban Growth Centre as a whole."

This is a good example of the planners kicking the can down the road, leaving it to another day, rather than confronting the issue now.

Conversations about affordability

Jane Twinney is the first councillor to ask about affordable housing. Is that part of the development? The Director of Planning, Rick Nethery, predictably reminds everyone that the 35% doesn't apply to individual developments.

"We have been having general conversations with the applicant. It is worth noting that the Secondary Plan speaks to a 35% affordable housing target - not for specific properties but for the whole Provincial Urban Growth Centre. So far, based on the information we have received from the applicant, there hasn't been an awful lot that speaks directly to that but we have the opportunity to have the conversation and whether or not there is any additional information they might be able to share with that. I don't know if Brad has anything to say."

This allows the developer's planning consultant, Brad Rogers, the man who is absolutely everywhere, to remind us the development will take ten years to complete.

So what? Does it have an affordable housing component or not?

Brad says he is happy to have conversations. He tells Twinney:

"It is about a ten year build out for all three phases so it will take at least two years to build the first building and so this transition of the property, it is not going to happen overnight. It is going to take a lot of time."

"And with respect to affordability and the rental component at this point we don't know what the rental rates are but we are happy to have these conversations with the Region of York and these types with respect to affordability."

Now Taylor wants to get into the conversation too:

"A development of this magnitude, if it doesn't help address the affordable housing issue in part then it puts quite a burden on some of the smaller developments that will subsequently come. So I hope this is a conversation we can continue to have and look at it."

Housing crisis

When they all get round to having their conversations I hope they will address a simple point that is staring everyone in the face. There is a housing crisis in Newmarket and across York Region. Put simply, spiralling house prices have put home ownership beyond the reach of too many people. And rents are way too high for too many people.

The Region polices the policy on affordability via annual reports showing progress against targets in the Region's 10-year Housing Plan. Here is the 2016 progress report on housing plan debated in June 2017

The Provincial Government says it is addressing the twin issues of getting housing to market faster and ensuring it is affordable.   

Here in Newmarket, 212 Davis Drive is being held up as a signature achievement in getting more rental accommodation actually built and occupied. Of course, to get this far, the Town had to make concessions to tempt the developer to go down the rental route but this is the world we live in.

Development charges were deferred and the Town allowed a huge slab of surface parking at 212 Davis Drive (see right) when its own Official Plan makes it clear:

"Parking areas should be located underground wherever possible in the Urban Centres."

Clearly, "wherever possible" is sufficiently elastic to allow surface parking if there are other competing policy imperatives. The huge Deerfield development next door to 212 Davis Drive and (beneficially) owned by the same Rose Corporation will be asking the Town in due course to give permission for a three storey above ground parking garage in the first phase, integrated into a four storey podium. Sounds a bit like Redwood.

In any event, surface parking, as the Rose Corporation's Sam Reisman will tell you, makes developments cheaper to build.

Inclusionary Zoning

In future, the Town may get round to triggering the powers municipalities have been given to force developers to include affordable housing in their developments through inclusionary zoning.

But for many people, including professional planners whose close symbiotic relationship with developers is a simple fact of life, that may be a step too far.

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