An interesting little nugget of news buried in the agenda of Newmarket’s Committee of the Whole meeting today.

Way back in April last year, the Committee of the Whole carried a resolution on the OMB’s Glenway decision which went up to the full Council meeting on 5 May 2014 for ratification. Councillors agreed:

THAT Council direct staff to organize a public meeting after the Ontario Municipal Board releases its written decision and within this term of Council, on what has been learned about the Official Plan Amendment, Zoning Bylaw Amendment and Draft Plan of Subdivision for Mariannevile Developments Limited (Glenway) process and the effects of future development as York Region prepares for growth.

Today’s agenda item 15 (List of Outstanding Matters) tells us that a report on the “process” will come forward to Council in Q1, 2015 – by the end of March.

Neither Maddie Di Muccio nor Chris Emanuel (who moved and seconded the original motion) will be there to follow things up. Such is life.

York Region gets down to business

With the election a fading memory, York Region is getting down to business – under the jolly leadership of its new well-padded Chair, Wayne Emmerson.

He tells councillors at last week’s Committee of the Whole (8 January) that if they want to catch his eye they should raise their right arm and then, next time, their left.

“Let’s get some exercise in here!”

I am warming to his droll sense of humour.

Newmarket’s John Taylor has moved across from chairing the Planning and Economic Development Committee to his new berth at Community and Health Services. Here he will be responsible for housing, health and well being.

The Region’s top administrators – grandly dubbed “commissioners” – present their reports to the newly elected councillors in easily digestible chunks, point-by-point and slide-by-slide. The performances are polished. Burnished, perhaps.

The programmes for the next four years are set out in colourful slides. Councillors are told what they can expect to get in the way of reports, and when. It occurs to me the whole well oiled machine would purr along quite nicely, thank you, in the complete absence of councillors.

Seems to me we need some grit in the oyster.

Better off and better educated 

The Regional HQ on Yonge Street is like a giant report-generating factory, constantly mining data-sets, allowing us to look at ourselves in new and interesting ways.

The Chief Executive, Bruce Macgregor is now taking his audience through the Region’s draft 2015-2019 Strategic Plan.

We hear that residents think transportation is the most important issue – by a long way. In 2009, just over 20% of York residents thought it the most important local issue. By 2014 this had soared to 50%. No surprises there.

55% of people in employment live and work in York Region. The average each way commute is 32.1 minutes which strikes me as an under-estimate. This compares with 30.3 minutes in Peel and a more comfortable 23.6 minutes in Durham.

The average household income is $110,751 compared with the Ontario average of $85,772. I learn we are better educated. 70% of people in York Region completed post secondary education compared with the Ontario rate of 54%.

Surveys tell us a low crime rate is one of the factors that makes for a good quality of life. Now I am looking at a slide that tells me the total crime rate per 100,000 people dropped 23% between 2009 and 2013. We are not told what the actual figures are – and no-one asks - but it all sounds quite impressive. Now I am told that “Mental Health Act apprehension per 100,000 people” is up a staggering 45% over the same period – but again no actual figures, just percentages.

Affordable Housing = $425,000

Now the screen tells me that 7 out of ten residents say affordability of housing is an important local issue. 30% of households spent at least 30% of their income on housing costs in 2011.

Now everyone is getting unusually animated about “affordable” housing which, in reality, is not affordable for thousands of people.

The Mayor of Vaughan, Maurizio Bevilacqua, is clearly exasperated. He says our own sons and daughters (meaning everyone’s) can’t afford to buy a home in the area. He wants to know how to make it happen. There is a note of urgency in his voice. If we do nothing we shall be storing up problems for ourselves in the future.

Adelina Urbanski, the Housing and Health Chief, tells us a “Housing Steering Committee” has been set up. I hear silent groans.

John Taylor too wants to know what the options are – ones that go beyond what the Region is currently doing. Perhaps it is time for another workshop?  (Now I groan!)

OMB Review

Someone asks the Region’s newly promoted Chief Planner, Val Shuttleworth, what is happening with the review of the OMB, promised by the Premier in last year’s election. Kathleen Wynne told the Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Ted McMeekin on 25 September 2014 that he should lead

“a review of the scope and effectiveness of the OMB and… recommend possible reforms that would improve the OMB’s role within the broader land use planning system.”

Val Shuttleworth tells us:

“I’ve heard nothing about the breadth or extent of that review.”

This is refreshingly candid. It occurs to me the way to keep the Commissioners on their toes is for councillors to ask short, simple, straightforward questions. And if councillors don’t get an answer they should repeat the question.

It is not rocket science and in my experience it generally works.

The next Committee of the Whole is at 9am on 15 January 2015 at the York Region HQ on Yonge Street. Councillors will be getting another series of overviews, this time on environmental services, finance, corporate services and legal and court services.

We shall soon know who is really setting the agenda.


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