Shrink Slessor Square!

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Justin Altmann: Presiding over Chaos

All is not well in Whitchurch-Stouffville if we are to believe the Toronto Star.  

Tuesday's front page splash by Noor Javed paints a picture of a dysfunctional Council with a "CSI-style" wall in Mayor Justin Altmann's office washroom

 "that displayed dozens of photos and names of fellow and former councillors, members of the public, and town staffers who have either been dismissed or resigned from their jobs in recent years."

Maybe the Mayor has trouble remembering names and this is his own - admittedly unusual - aide mémoire.

More concerning perhaps is the way the Town is going through staff. The turnover is unbelievably high. I had no idea the former Chief Administrative Officer Marc Pourvahidi has been on administrative leave for over a year and is on an eye-watering salary of $447,289.

It makes Newmarket's Bob Shelton - who gets $247,641 - look like a poor country cousin.

I am quiet and like to listen

From time to time I see Justin Altmann at York Regional Council. He says he is a quiet man who likes to listen. In fact, he contributes even less than Tony Van Trappist who snoozes through meetings, totally oblivious to what is happening around him. 

Personally, I expect more from our representatives than being mute lumps of lard. The members of York Regional Council get a "stipend" of  $54,337. For this, I expect them to be active participants in debates, not gawping spectators.

Of course, politicians have a duty to listen to their constituents and to others. But they cannot shelter in silence, like Newmarket's Tony Van Trappist, unwilling or unable to express a view.

At first I thought Mayor Altmann was a deep thinker, weighing the pros and cons before pronouncing. But when he refused to pronounce on anything I pretty much wrote him off.

Torrent of questions

Then there was a remarkable contribution last November when Altmann unleashed a torrent of questions about housing on the unsuspecting Chief Planner, Valerie  Shuttleworth - all in one go. She couldn't possibly answer a dozen questions all rolled up into this humungous omnibus question. And she didn't try to.

At the time I thought, how strange. It was more than a stream of consciousness.

It was like the dam had burst. And after months of bottling-up his contributions and saying nothing it all came cascading out.

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Update on 8 July 2017. Saturday's Toronto Star has more on the Mayor's "creepy" washroom.


The Clock Tower: Forrest silent on Town's decision to go to Court to enforce 2003 agreement

On 20 October 2017 the Town of Newmarket will ask the Superior Court for a declaration that the land swap agreement it entered into with Michael Bryan in 2003 is binding on Bryan's successor in title, Bob Forrest's Main Street Clock Inc.

The Town's counsel, Leo Longo, served notice on Forrest's lawyer, Ira Kagan, on 14 June 2017, and filed papers with the Court. As I tap this out there has been no response from Forrest's lawyer as of this afternoon when I wandered down to the Courthouse in Eagle Street to check the files.

We learn that those who wish to oppose the application

"must forthwith prepare a notice of appearance in Form 38A"

and serve it on the Town and file it, with proof of service, in the Court office.

Form 38A simply requires Forrest to state if he is going to respond to the application. Seems pretty straightforward to me. The complicated stuff comes later.

If Forrest chooses not to respond then it is all over. The Court would undoubtedly order the land exchange that was foreshadowed in the 2003 agreement but, inexplicably, was never carried out. It would mean curtains for Bob's dream of a towering new condo in the heart of the old downtown.

We have this weird situation where the OMB appeal and the Court application are running in parallel. Yet what happens with the latter directly affects the trajectory of the first.

All the Parties have to prepare issues lists for submission to Forrest's lawyer, Ira Kagan, who will combine them all into a draft Procedural Order which must be sent to the OMB by this Friday (7 July 2017).

I am a putative Party (representing the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario) but I am also a concerned taxpayer who wants to see the costs of going to the OMB kept to the absolute minimum. The Town is right to defend its position at the OMB but should take all possible steps to bring things to a close asap.

If Forrest is going to contest the Town's application to the Superior Court he should, M'Lud, do so forthwith.

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Note: The Town's application to the Superior Court of Justice is brought under Rule 14.05(3)(d), (e) and (g) of the Rules of Civil Procedure which state:

14.05 (3) A proceeding may be brought by application where these rules authorize the commencement of a proceeding by application or where the relief claimed is,

(d) the determination of rights that depend on the interpretation of a deed, will, contract or other instrument, or on the interpretation of a statute, order in council, regulation or municipal by-law or resolution;

(e) the declaration of an interest in or charge on land, including the nature and extent of the interest or charge or the boundaries of the land, or the settling of the priority of interests or charges;

(g) an injunction, mandatory order or declaration or the appointment of a receiver or other consequential relief when ancillary to relief claimed in a proceeding properly commenced by a notice of application;


Town Goes to Court over Clock Tower

The Town of Newmarket is taking Bob Forrest's Main Street Clock Inc to Court to enforce rights to lands in Market Square which the Town acquired in 2003 in an agreement with Michael Bryan, the then owner of 184-194 Main Street South.

On 17 April 2012, Bryan emailed Newmarket CAO, Bob Shelton, to say he was in the process of selling the properties to Forrest

"and I have authorised the purchaser, Main Street Clock Inc, including its parent company Forrest Group, to discuss details of my company's land exchange with the Town of Newmarket".

He went on:

"Accordingly, I extend my authorisation to the Town of Newmarket to discuss the land exchange details, as they relate to applications for development proposals for the property, with Forrest Group/Main Street Clock Inc."

The Town says the 2003 agreement involving a land swap (shown above) was entered into to facilitate the (then) redevelopment of Market Square and was a mutually beneficial exchange of surface parking rights. Nothing more; nothing less.

For years the Town and Michael Bryan kept to their agreement and it worked out just fine. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the actual transfer of lands never happened. Despite this, the Town now says the agreement reached with Michael Bryan is binding on Main Street Clock Inc, the successor in title.

This is clearly something for the lawyers. Is an agreement binding when parties abide by its terms for years even though it was never actually signed off?

The Town says Forrest's Clock Tower development application, first submitted in September 2013, has been revised over time. But until 3 May 2017 - the date of the first OMB pre-hearing -  the proposed development site excluded any surface development on the lands the Town was to receive "pursuant to the agreement".

Option B - which will replace the original application - involves building on that land.

Is this just lawyerly fancy dancing or does it amount to something?

I am left scratching my head.

Perhaps a more pressing question is whether the studies submitted by Forrest in support of his original application will be asked to fulfill the same function for Option B at the forthcoming OMB appeal hearing even though the two are very different.

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See relevant Freedom of Information requests here. And the link to the Clock Tower OMB page here.


Slessor Square rises from the dead.

Redwood Properties, the developer of the Slessor Square site, is holding a public Open House this evening (Tuesday 27 June 2017) from 5pm-8pm at the Seniors' Centre, 474 Davis Drive, Newmarket.

The flyer tells me

"the development team at Redwood Properties would like to invite the community and residents of Newmarket to an information session regarding the property at 17645 Yonge Street (formerly Slessor Square). A development proposal has been made to the Town of Newmarket to modify the approved zoning."

It will be purpose built rental. 

Development on the desolate Slessor Square site - directly opposite Upper Canada Mall - has been on the cards for years. It is a living example of our sclerotic planning system where things that are promised and approved, never materialise.

The original Zoning By-law application was submitted by Dwight Slessor Holdings in September 2011, proposing a mixed use development which included a seven storey retirement residence/special needs centre, two towers at 26 and 23 storeys (one down from 29 storeys) and another seven storey retirement residence.

In all, 731 suites/units. And a conference centre and a medical centre. Oh yes. In the early stages we were promised an hotel but that failed to fly. It all seems so long ago now.

The drawing (right) is an early imagining.

Then there was a "without prejudice settlement offer" in August 2012, modified in November 2012 by a "without prejudice refined offer" put forward by the ever inventive lawyer, Ira Kagan. Our innocent councillors were beguiled and agreed the settlement offer on 11 February 2013. The OMB Hearing, wrapping it all up, followed later that month. Then everything was put on hold. This is the story of Slessor Square.

The towers are now 21 and 19 storeys with a third tower proposed.

In June 2015 I was sitting next to Kagan at the Glenway "lessons learned" autopsy. He acted for the Glenway developer, Marianneville. I reminded him about Slessor Square.

I tell him that years after the decision it is still a patch of bare earth. Yes, he says. But it’s got a fence round it.


Over the years the plans morphed and morphed again. The land - by now a moonscape - was sold. The Slessors took the cash and disappeared. And here we are. Wondering what to do with a key strategic site on the Town's Yonge Street corridor.

The early proposals called for on-site parking provision for 1,263 vehicles. That's more than the parking capacity at Southlake Hospital. How could all those vehicles get in and out of the underground parking garage without snarling up the traffic on Yonge?

Over five years ago, I recall a certain Bob Forrest in the Doug Duncan Community Centre telling us the giant underground parking garage could go down three levels, rather than four. Now we are being told the four level parking is all above ground because of the soil conditions and the high water table.

I am gonna stop. I am disappearing into the weeds...

What's on offer?

This is what the developer says about the new proposal:

1) Does Redwood on Yonge have more density than Slessor Square?

* No, the approved density has not changed. 

2) Does Redwood on Yonge have a seniors residence?

* No, it will be purpose built rental with commercial at the base along Yonge Street. 

3) Is Redwood on Yonge higher than Slessor Square?

* No, the max height is the same at 21 storeys. 

4) Why is Redwood changing the site to have a parking podium?

* The soil conditions and high water table on the site do not allow for any more than 1 level of underground parking. Therefore a podium has been added to accommodate the parking needs on the site. It will be faced with residential townhouses and commercial retail.

5) Will adding a third tower make the site more of a visual obstruction than Slessor Square?

* No, Redwood on Yonge will be visually less obstructive. While Slessor Square had only two towers, it also had 8 and 9 storey slab buildings. Slab buildings of 8 and 9 storeys are significant visual obstructions. By removing these buildings and adding a more slender third tower, Redwood has improved the sight lines through the site.

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Note 1: The zoning of the Slessor Square site can be found here. Go to page 149 of the Comprehensive Zoning By-law for details.

Note 2: The parking is all above ground. I mistakenly wrote earlier that there would be one level of underground parking. (Update on 27 June 2017)


York Region councillors make no comment on their Code of Conduct

At long last a Code of Conduct is to be brought in to police the behaviour of members of York Regional Council. 

York Region is responsible for spending billions of dollars of public money but, curiously, doesn't have one. Its members never regarded a Code of Conduct as a top priority. The Chair, Wayne Emmerson (right), thought it unnecessary.

Last week, Regional Solicitor, Joy Hulton, outlined a raft of changes to the Municipal Act designed to keep the members on their toes. The measures - which include the mandatory appointment of an Integrity Commissioner - have long been resisted by members of the Council even when one of their own was behaving in a scandalous way.

Elephant in the room

At the Committee of the Whole on 22 June the elephant in the room is, of course, their  disgraced former colleague Michael Di Biase. No-one dares utter the words "Code of Conduct" or "Integrity Commissioner". Their silence on the core issue speaks volumes. Instead, they witter on about anything but.

Markham's Deputy Mayor Jack Heath opens with a confession. He has something very personal to say. First I hear a collective sharp intake of breath. Now I hear nervous laughter and chortling. What a tease!

He says with an air of faux embarrassment that if he gets re-elected next year and serves another full four year term he will be two weeks short of his 25 year long service award.

What can be done about this injustice?

"Round it up" cries a wag.

He asks about alternate members - where a local council can appoint one of its members to act in the place of a person who is a member of the Regional Council. As I am listening to Jack Heath my eye strays to the right to see Van Trappist gently snoozing.

Van Trappist and diversity

In two hours he makes one feeble contribution lasting around 15 seconds. He is talking about the application of the Retail Business Holidays Act. Some businesses are upset they are forced to close on certain days of the year. Van Trappist tells us we live in a diverse society and cautions against singling out Christmas and Easter and ordering retail businesses to shut up shop on these days.

I groan silently. No-one mentions employees forced to work on Christmas day. Not even a glancing reference.

Roll on Judgement Day

Now we are getting a presentation on the Court Services Annual Report. I learn it is the mission of Court Services

"to provide timely, quality and cost effective access to Justice."

As I am listening to this my mind drifts off to the case of Di Muccio v Taylor which, astonishingly, is still live and active.

The fragile former Newmarket councillor, Maddie Di Muccio, is demanding $5,000 from Regional Councillor John Taylor for defamation and hurt feelings. The case opened on 15 June 2015 and is 743 days old. The two day trial ended on 3 May 2017 and we are waiting for the Judgement to be delivered or "handed down" as they used to say.

No rush, M'lud.

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