Less than three months ago Newmarket’s new Regional Councillor, Tom Vegh, was elected on a platform that promised a new library and seniors’ centre on the Hollingsworth arena site at Paterson and Davis Drive, a stone’s throw from Southlake Hospital. 

Now, sooner than most of us could have imagined, his capacity to deliver on this explicit promise will be put to the test. 

Vegh wants us to believe he doesn’t make promises lightly. But when he does he boasts of getting “real results”. 

On 14 January 2019, the Town’s Committee of the Whole will consider a staff report on the potential redevelopment of the Hollingsworth Arena site. Councillors will be asked to decide if they want a 

“non-statutory, developer-led Public Information Centre (PIC)” 

to be organised in February to canvass the views of the public on two redevelopment concepts prepared by Briarwood Homes.

The lands earmarked for development are at 693 Davis Drive, 713 Davis Drive and 35 Patterson Street which is the Town-owned Hollingsworth Arena property. 

Davis Drive is the yellow band at the bottom

Hollingsworth has a history

Of course, we’ve been here before with the Hollingsworth Arena. A few years ago  senior Council staff and the credulous former Mayor, Tony Van Trappist, were beguiled by the pseudo-developer Sandro Sementilli. He turned out to be all bluster and hot air and his ambitious plans to redevelop the site turned to dust

Now we must assume the Town is dealing with people who can deliver. 

Briarwood Homes submitted two revised concept plans dated 7 December 2018 and these are the ones to be presented to the public.

The report to councillors describes in planning-speak the nature of the two scenarios both of which develop the land more intensively. The planners see a mix of uses with a commercial frontage along Davis Drive. The buildings could reach 15 storeys on the Davis Drive side of the development.

Development options to be unveiled next month

But we have to guess what these two scenarios actually look like and what community facilities, if any, are proposed. We learn the development proposed by Scenario 1 is staged, developing the southern portion of the properties first. It applies:

“to the two properties that front on Davis Drive (693 Davis Drive, 713 Davis Drive) and the southerly 21m of the Hollingsworth Arena property (35 Patterson Street)”

By contrast, we are told Scenario 2 is more comprehensive and immediate. We learn it is a revised version of the initial concept put to councillors in closed session last June. It applies to all three parcels of land in their entirety.

On 11 June 2018 councillors were given a presentation on the options for the development of the Hollingsworth site and received confidential supporting reports from staff. A week later, in a closed session of the full Council, after an update from staff, councillors decided they needed more information from the proponent (presumably Briarwood Homes) and that any proposals should be shared with the public in the new term of Council – which is where we are now.

Vegh’s pitch to voters

It follows that when Vegh made his pitch to the voters last October about locating the library and seniors’ centre at Hollingsworth he knew what was in the mind of the developer (the initial concept) and what, according to staff, might be feasible and doable. 

Can Vegh deliver? Or is it just talk?

Many people would have taken Vegh at his word. But his Regional Council opponent, Chris Emanuel, spent the entire election campaign ridiculing Vegh’s promise of a new library, saying it was undeliverable without a humungous tax increase.

Vegh needs five votes out of the nine strong council to get traction on his new library. Does he have the votes in the bag? I don’t know but we should find out soon enough. If councillors want a new library and seniors’ centre they should nail their colours to the mast as Vegh has done – rather than say nothing and wait for the public to express a view through the PIC process.

Councillors can shape, mould and lead public opinion. It should be part of their job description. We don’t elect people to remain mute.

New Library Now!

Talking of which… Newmarket Public Library Chief Executive, Todd Kyle, has been championing a new library for years but in a whispered kind of way.

Four years ago, at an NPL IdeaMarket in front of a sympathetic audience of fellow library professionals, he called for a new library. But then things went quiet again.

Admittedly, Kyle talks from time to time about the inadequacies of the Park Avenue Library and how it is not really fit for purpose. But his remarks always come across to me as tentative, almost apologetic. 

Tom Vegh has put the issue up front and centre and if Todd Kyle and the Library Board are remotely serious they should row in behind him and start making the case.

Loudly.

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