The unofficial minutes...
We are in the Community Centre at Doug Duncan Drive with pages of questions about the Slessor Square development. It is February 2012.
We are meeting the developers face-to-face under the expert eye of Marion Plaunt, one of Newmarket’s top planners who will be chairing the event.
The Slessor Square file is on her desk.
Sitting opposite me are the Messrs Slessors flanked by a team of advisers. There is the traffic expert and the water expert and the man from Goundswell, the urban planners.
Then there is the developer’s lawyer. Alongside him sits Bob, the project manager, who fields the questions.
The Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, is here too along with regional councillor John Taylor.
Bob kicks off by explaining the twin towers are not going to be as high as we all thought. It is certainly an arresting start, grabbing our attention.
We are told the zoning plan differs from the concept plan.
In this multi-million dollar project we learn that the left hand appears not to know what the right hand is doing.
Bob is disarmingly frank. He says they didn’t have their act together.
He explains there is a difference between the height of a “residential storey” and a “commercial storey”.
Seems to me that overall height – not necessarily storeys - is the main thing.
I ask Marion.
She confirms that the concept plan submitted to the Town shows the taller tower at 268 feet.
As for the four levels of underground car parking. Well… that could turn out to be three levels.
Bob tells us:
“If we manage to improve the efficiency of our plans we could put two (underground parking levels) under the retirement home. We could go down to three.”
Brad Rogers from Groundswell – the developers urban planning consultants – announces that the application conforms to the Town’s Official Plan. In the course of the evening he says this a number of times.
Then why are the developers asking for a zoning by law amendment to permit increased height and density? (Answer: the Official Plan allows for this if certain conditions are met.)
Brad tells us that municipalities around Newmarket are building skywards. In Vaughan there are ones over 20.
“When I drive by them they look pretty big.”
John Taylor asks about traffic studies and how the results might vary depending on the type of land use. Good question.
Slessor’s traffic expert says the traffic impact of the development would be modest. He distinguishes between traffic generated by the site and “background traffic growth”.
But traffic is something for another day. The numbers are being crunched by the region and the town hall.
Bob signs off this part of our conversation by reminding us that this is a ten year project.
A decade of dump trucks and dust. Aaaaaaaargh!
Phase 1 is the retirement building. Then, Phase II, the “adult lifestyle community” in the higher of the twin towers. Then the rental building. Then the long term care or retirement facility.
But Bob explains there are question marks over long-term care.
“It is very unlikely we’ll do it.”
What about affordable housing? Here again, the developer’s thinking has changed.
They originally said they were proposing “a specialised form of housing that will be marketed towards older adults and seniors” and that the Region and town’s affordable housing provisions “cannot be applied to the units within the proposed development.”
Now we are told there will be affordable housing. (see Developer’s Documents)
Now we ask about step backs to the retirement home fronting George Street.
Bob says: “we will never be putting a step back in the retirement building”.
That’s unfortunate. Seems to me the Town’s Official Plan says they should.
We now move on to environmental matters.
Green buildings are smart. For example, they use shower water (so-called grey water) to flush the toilets.
Bob, who describes himself as assertively green, tells us that, alas, grey water is not part of the development.
“It is so hard to make that stuff work!”
Brad again reminds us that the developer’s plans fit in with the Town’s Official Plan.
To underline the point he tells us that the 20 storey tower at the corner of Davis and George (and which has already been approved by councillors) is three times the density of Slessor Square.
This is a jaw dropping statistic we must investigate further.
What else did I learn?
There will be no privacy wall around the site during construction – or, at least, not one worthy of the name.
On a series of questions about the impact on the adjoining neighbourhood we are, for the most part, still in the dark.
Some residents will experience a loss of sunshine as the towers’ shadows fall across their homes.
Bob promises to come back to us on this one.
“It is a while since I last looked at the shadow study.”
The developers confirm they will do a “viewshed’ analysis showing how the towers will look when viewed from different vantage points around town.
On soil remediation, we are told the developers will dig down 3-4 metres and cart the contaminated soil away to landfill.
On water, we are assured there is absolutely no threat to the aquifer that supplies part of the town’s drinking water.
On fire safety, we are told the fire chief seems to be content with the proposals.
We are concerned that the tower’s adult lifestylers will be able to look down on adjacent properties and gardens, invading people’s privacy. The developer’s solicitor looks baffled.
Now we are getting close to wrapping up the meeting.
Brad Rogers says he prefers to dialogue with small groups to find solutions to the issues raised.
I see problems with this.
I like open door meetings (tightly chaired and respectful of others’ opinions) where people participate, listen and learn.
That simply doesn’t happen in small atomised groups – which is why developers prefer them.
Finally, Marion reminds us that the Town is convening focus groups to look at the Secondary Plan as work on it evolves.
This is news to me – and to my Shrink Slessor Square friends.
It must be the best kept secret in town.