Last night (4 February) Newmarket councillors put off a decision on the controversial Slessor Square development until 11 February.
After a marathon three hour session, they conclude there are too many issues – especially on traffic – left up in the air.
The Slessors want a zoning by law amendment that would allow them to build a huge complex on a scale, height and density currently prohibited by the Town’s Official Plan.
Nevertheless, Councillors can give the go ahead but only if they are satisfied the development will be compatible with the adjoining residential neighbourhood and that the traffic impact is manageable. That’s a tough call.
The Town’s Planners are recommending approval “in principle” with all the unresolved issues (and there are many) parked in so-called “Holding Zones” for resolution later.
To my mind, it is an unusual way to proceed, storing up problems for tomorrow that should be dealt with today.
We now know more about these Holding Zones thanks to some probing questions by the mercurial Maddie Di Muccio and Joe Sponga.
Maddie asks if a development which is agreed in principle can be subsequently altered, perhaps in height or density, if matters in the Holding Zone don’t turn out as expected.
Marion Plaunt, the planner in charge of the Slessor file, nods in agreement.
Yes, she says.
After an agreement in principle the development can be stopped or changed at any stage, depending on whether the matters in the Holding Zone have been satisfactorily dealt with, or not.
Joe Sponga, who has five developments in the pipeline in his Ward 5, wants to know if the developer can appeal to the OMB if something in the Holding Zone – for example, transport assumptions - doesn’t go their way.
Yep! That’s the zany way it will work.
We can all look forward to zillions of appeals to the OMB as projects approved “in principle” continue to morph endlessly.
For multi-phase projects that take years (Slessor will happen in four phases over 8-10 years) we are introducing a whole new level of uncertainty into the planning process.
Tom Hempen, is in good form. He manages a kind of suppressed outrage on behalf of his Ward 4 constituents whose residential streets will be clogged with traffic. He doesn’t want yet another report to read. He wants answers now.
Alas, answers are in short supply.
Regional Councillor John Taylor asks a series of insightful questions about the matters referred to the Holding Zone.
Councillors are being asked to rely on holding provisions which are lifted when the Town and developer reach agreement on the question at issue.
He wonders aloud how councillors can lift the hold when everything is so vague.
He calls for more precision.
He zeros in on traffic, a major concern.
The Town’s own traffic consultant, Burnside, has a long list of questions the developer has yet to answer. Here is one…
Traffic volumes may be understated as the trips generated for the Commercial Retail component was based on general office which is generally lower than retail uses.
Marion states the obvious: different uses generate different traffic.
The uses, she admits, are “not nailed down at this stage”.
Henry, the Town’s consultant from Burnside, tells us he has not received comments from the Slessors on his long list of concerns (page 73 of the report to councillors).
Here is another one…
The Planners say the settlement offer promises greater connectivity between Yonge and George but in all the traffic scenarios that have been number crunched, there are no traffic forecasts whatsoever for Street A which bisects Slessor Square.
Now a moment of light relief when the Slessor’s cheery lawyer, Ira Kagan, full of bluster and bonhomie, tells us a traffic report was sent to the Town’s Planners at the end of January. Marion and her colleagues look totally blank.
More evidence, if needed, that the whole thing is being rushed through at breakneck speed.
Ward 7 councillor, Chris Emanuel, picks up on this, regretting the timetable for the OMB hearing was fixed to suit the Slessor’s lawyer rather than allow adequate time for the proper consideration of the issues raised.
Chris wants to know if the developer will make any more concessions to address residents’ concerns.
No, says Kagan, smiling. His clients have bent over backwards to accommodate the Town. That’s it.
It is now after 10pm and the Mayor takes the vote to defer consideration until the Committee of the Whole next Monday.
He wraps up the meeting and, in so doing, gives residents’ spokesperson, Bob Bahlieda, a poke in the ribs for his sustained attack on planning department staff.
Bob accuses the planners of leading residents up the garden path and of caving in to the developers at every turn.
My view too, but I wouldn’t have put it so indelicately.