Next month, Newmarket councillors will consider the draft Secondary Plan which guides future development in the Town’s Urban Centres – broadly speaking the Yonge/Davis corridors.

But before rubber-stamping the plan, they should ask themselves some simple questions. How fast do they want Newmarket to grow? And how big should it be at so called “build-out” - when there is no more land left to develop.

The Town’s future population is still surrounded by a huge amount of uncertainty and that number drives everything else.

Our Regional Councillor, John Taylor, who chairs York Region’s Planning and Economic Development Committee, as recently as October, had to press Newmarket’s planners in public for more clarity. And Taylor has an army of number crunchers and long term planning people employed by the Region to call on. If he doesn’t know what’s happening, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Fantasy figures

The Town’s 2005 Official Plan anticipated a population of 98,000 at build out in 2026. That projection is now woefully out of date.

Despite this, the Town will not be amending that figure before the Region has reviewed its own plan to bring it into line with the Province’s new population forecasts (2012) which are set out in the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Until then, the planners say

“it is premature to establish the projected population to 2031 in the Secondary Plan; and amend the current projected population in the Newmarket Official Plan for 2026.”

In a memorandum to the Mayor and councillors dated 28 October 2013, the Town’s planning staff tell us they expect Newmarket’s population to stabilise between 125,000 and 127,500 at build out, a 50% increase on where we are now (85,453). (Read the memo by clicking “documents” on the menu panel on the left and navigating to Newmarket documents. Open “Population Projections”)

Within the Town’s Urban Centres the population is expected to increase by a staggering 1,152% from 2,555 last year to 32,000 at build out. Elsewhere in Newmarket the planners anticipate a more modest increase of 12%-16% to build out. This equates to another 10,000 – 13,000 new residents.

Personally, I think these figures are for the fairies. They seriously under-estimate likely growth.

The 28 October memo from Newmarket’s Planning Department tells us that

“although the detailed planning undertaken through the development of the Secondary Plan, has forecast approximately 21,000 people and 20,000 jobs within the Newmarket Urban Centres by 2031, it is premature to include these figures until the (York) regional review is complete and their plan has been amended.”

York Region’s forecast population

Meanwhile, the Province’s Ministry of Infrastructure has pulled new growth forecasts out of its hat.

The Ministry believes there will be 1,590,000 people in York Region in 2031 – 90,000 more than the previous forecast - but it is not going to ask the regions and municipalities to bring their own plans “into conformity” with theirs because this would cause the most humungous upheaval.

So, in the Alice and Wonderland world of planning there are now two forecasts for York Region for 2031 (a) a phoney forecast predicting 1,500,000 people and (b) a revised real forecast of 1,590,000.

York Region’s Director of Long Range Planning, Valerie Shuttleworth, told regional councillors earlier this year that

“maintaining the current 2031 forecast (1,500,000 people) will ensure the continuity of work that municipalities have undertaken to bring their official plans into conformity with the Growth Plan.”

Newmarket’s forecast population

The draft Secondary Plan for Newmarket initially forecast a population of 107,500 in 2031 but this figure is now going to be dropped from the text. It mistakenly excluded growth in the Town outside the Urban Centres.

Newmarket’s outside Planning Consultant, Ruth Victor, who was engaged to work on the Glenway file, told councillors in a memo dated 20 November 2013

“Town staff has advised that for 2031, the projected growth is estimated at 116,521 people as per the secondary plan currently in progress.” (see documents section, panel left, open Newmarket documents and navigate to Population and Growth)

The 2031 population forecast is separated into two categories – those living (a) outside and (b) within the urban centres. By 2031, it is expected that an additional 9,004 people will be here living outside the urban centres and this number will grow to around 12,000.

And 21,000 people will be living within the Urban Centres by 2031. The developments housing this huge number of people will be

“received, approved and built prior to 2031.”

This assumption “is based on discussions staff has held with land owners within the centres related to their development plans and timing”.

I’d like to see that information.

Methodology and Assumptions

The methodology that got the planners to the 21,000 people living within the Yonge/Davis corridors is set out in the Draft Secondary Plan Directions Report (Appendix 2, Approach and Methodology).  The planners looked at land available for development and a

“hypothetical development was assigned to each parcel (of land) based on an application of the proposed minimum and maximum heights and densities, the application of the urban design principles set out in the draft policy directions, and a consideration of the parcel dimensions and adjacent land uses.”

It goes on:

“Between 2021 and 2031 development is anticipated to increase considerably… The 2031 demonstration (development?) concept was derived by making a series of assumptions regarding the most likely medium term development sites from the standpoint of complexity of parcel fabric, location, proximity.”

Another Twist in the Road: The Impact of Bonusing

The draft Secondary Plan will allow for gigantic increases in the size of developments through “bonusing” but this was not taken into account when forecasting the 2031 population figure.

With bonusing, 20 storeys can go to 30 storeys; 15 storeys can go to 25; 10 storeys can go to 18 and 6 can go to 8.

To qualify for bonusing, canny developers with very deep pockets will tempt the Town with a desirable public benefit. Perhaps some kind of community facility, new or upgraded. 

The cumulative impact could be enormous as councillors, over the coming years, find themselves taking ad hoc decisions on ever bigger developments that are presented to them for approval.

If, as the planners concede, no assumptions were made about the extent and impact of bonusing (on the grounds it would be too hypothetical) then the 21,000 figure looks very conservative.

“This (impact of bonusing) has not been calculated and would be a very hypothetical as it is difficult to anticipate if the development industry is prepared to provide the public benefits identified in the bonusing section of the Draft Secondary Plan.  Also, and as indicated in the Draft Secondary Plan, it is at Council’s sole discretion to approve density or height under the proposed bonusing provisions.”

People are waking up to the fact that Newmarket – trumpeted as the 10th most desirable place to live in Canada - will be a construction site for years to come as the planning professionals, frenzied city builders and developers transform Newmarket out of all recognition.

The people who live here also deserve to be heard.

I suspect they don’t want Newmarket to look like Richmond Hill.

Maybe they want a mid rise Newmarket, built on a human scale, and with a commitment to grow that is not totally open-ended.

I know I do.


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