Backstory: The developer Bob Forrest bought the Clock Tower (the old Post Office) in the Town’s Lower Main Street Heritage Conservation District in 2011 for $2.3m and the adjacent properties at 184-194 Main Street from the then owner Michael Bryan a few years later. Forrest wants to demolish historically significant commercial buildings and build a condo in the heart of the historic downtown, casually disregarding the Town’s official policy which seeks to limit any development to three storeys.
Newmarket Mayor, the secretive former bank manager, Tony Van Bynen, looks set to cave in to developer demands to build a six or seven storey condo in the heart of the historic downtown, wrecking acclaimed views and panoramas in one of the most identifiable main streets in Southern Ontario.
Proposed condo will dominate Lower Main Street
Forrest recently told associates that his proposed condo will have 139 residential suites and five commercial uses.
The controversial project can only go ahead if Forrest strikes a deal with the Town over a land swap. The Town is, of course, under no obligation to make its land available to facilitate a development of which it disapproves. But I learn the land swap agreement is being drafted and will be reviewed by Van Bynen and senior staff. Forrest says the deal will be put before the Committee of the Whole in closed session but that he already has their agreement in principle. Clearly, we need details of this so-called “agreement in principle”.
Forrest has been examining rental options as well as the alternative, an owner-occupied condo. He expects rental, potentially, to deliver a better deal than the condo option which, apparently, is showing a profit of $10m. Forrest explains the advantages of rental which includes being able to negotiate the amount of Development Charges payable to the municipality which can then be deferred for five years. He also wants to renegotiate the Town’s parking requirements, believing he can save money.
Forrest hoping for seven storeys
Forrest says the development is now settled on six storeys but believes there is a real possibility of getting a seventh storey if the building is rental.
Forrest has been meeting various potential development partners including Rose Corporation where discussions are most advanced.
It is now perfectly clear that Bob Forrest is getting encouraging signals from the Town’s senior planners – who follow their own agenda - and from Van Bynen whose carefully cultivated honest-broker style has long concealed his real intentions. He wants the old buildings demolished. In recent years, John Taylor has been loudly banging the drum for more rental and could be tilting towards that option.
Ward 4 councillor, Tom Hempen, who owns a jewellery shop in Main Street has said his preference would be four storeys while conceding the By Law says it should be three.
Heritage Conservation District policy
If this latest proposal goes through, either in its six or seven storey version, the Town’s Heritage Conservation District policy will not be worth the paper it is written on. It is not possible to protect the integrity and historic character of the area by allowing new apartments to tower over two and three storey buildings. And if approval is given, where does it stop?
There may be some who say the buildings are past their sell-by-date and are falling down. True, they are currently neglected, but they are structurally sound. And, remember, they are historically significant.
It would be a scandal of epic proportions if the Town chooses to become a party in their demolition through an ill advised land swap with a calculating developer whose aim is to sweet talk the Town’s senior planners, mollify councillors, find a development partner, take the money and get out.
Main Street is unique
One business owner who was evicted by Bob Forrest on the grounds that her rented property was to be demolished and redeveloped (a premature assumption at best), tells me she believes Main Street is unique and has the potential to be extraordinary.
“I would never have placed my business there had I not believed in the street and seen the potential in it and its people. I stand by my conviction that this is the wrong development in the wrong place and, as such, has the potential to do more harm to a community that is slowly blossoming.”
So, before councillors do anything rash that they may later regret, they should insist on a second statutory public meeting on the latest, revised proposals and put all their cards on the table. At the end of the day, what is a Heritage Conservation District all about if it is not about protecting our heritage?
Tony Van Bynen may not owe Bob Forrest any favours but he does owe the rest of us an explanation.
The Clock Tower timeline
June 2015: The Clock Tower is coming back again – and we need a second public meeting
9 April 2015: Clock Tower – Here we go again
2 February 2015: Developer appeals to the OMB
6 October 2014: Tony Van Bynen. Does the Mayor have a view on how to protect the historic downtown from predatory developers?
1 October 2014: The Clock Tower and Joe Sponga. The councillor tells us his position is clear.
9 September 2014: Bob Forrest tries to relocate his Main Street tenants. He wants them out so he can demolish and build a condo on Main.
19 June 2014: The Clock Tower is up for sale
26 April 2014: Two months after the Statutory Public Meeting everything has gone eerily quiet.
4 March 2014: Clock Tower eviction threat lifted – for now.
5 February 2014: 9 storey condo gets the thumbs down
2 February 2014: Council can veto Clock Tower development. Forrest needs Town-owned land to proceed.
23 January 2014: Nine storey condo planned for Newmarket’s historic Main Street.
17 January 2014: Clock Tower Statutory Meeting.
26 November 2013: The Town could stop the Clock Tower development dead in its tracks. Don’t make Town land available.
27 October 2013: Heritage District gets designation despite plea from developer
2 October 2013: Forrest serves eviction notices on his Main Street tenants saying the properties are to be demolished and redeveloped. But then, as now, he has no permission from the Town to knock down the historic buildings.
16 July 2013: Clock Tower developer needs Town owned land
21 June 2013: We need a Heritage By Law now – not when it is too late to matter
18 June 2013: Clock Tower plans get a rough ride. Developer accused of misleading people.
14 June 2013: Jackie Playter backs the developer
30 May 2013: Bob Forrest buys the Clock Tower for the knock-down price of $2,340,000 in 2011. It was on the market for $3,275,000. But he needs more land for his condo project.
30 April 2013: Historic Newmarket needs the protection of a By Law now to keep it safe from developers.
16 April 2013: In 2011 the Town published a Heritage Conservation Plan for Lower Main Street showing how the historic downtown could be preserved. But there was no By Law putting the policy into effect. An astonishing oversight or a deliberate decision?
4 April 2013: Developer promises to bring vitality to Newmarket’s historic downtown. But doesn’t mention the Town’s Heritage Advisory Committee has decisively rejected the proposed development.
1 April 2013: Developers propose a brutal new addition to the Town’s historic skyline