Almost a year ago, former councillors Maddie Di Muccio and Chris Emanuel called for a meeting to consider the lessons to be learned from the Glenway disaster.

When, if ever, is this issue going to be addressed?

We were told in January 2015 that a report would go to councillors by the end of March setting out the “process”.  Councillors discussed some of the modalities on 2 February 2015 but no decisions were taken and everything was left up in the air.

We are still none the wiser on what the process will be or what the format will look like.

Tucked away, yet again, in the list of outstanding items on the Agenda for the Committee of the Whole on Monday 23 March 2015 is item 5 (Marianneville Developments) reminding everyone that Council on 5 May 2014 directed staff to organise a public meeting.

Item 5 tells us that a “facilitated public meeting is to be arranged” and that the matter will come back to the Committee of the Whole sometime before the end of June.

It is all far too leisurely.

Why can’t our councillors press for details – and give staff notice that they are going to do this? 

A little bit of urgency may help our neighbours in Aurora who are facing their own Glenway – the redevelopment of the former golf course at Highland Gate.

The Planning Opinion prepared for Highland Gate Developments Inc and submitted to the Town of Aurora cites the Glenway precedent:

The subject site presents a unique opportunity adjacent to an existing stable residential neighbourhood. As provided for by the OMB decision for the Glenway Golf Club site in Newmarket, there is no test of need to support intensification within the built boundary in the PPS and Growth Plan and therefore the policies contained in Section 3.3 should be interpreted as a directive of where growth ought to go, and not be restrictive in terms of the location and amount of intensification.

Although the subject site has not been identified as an area for intensification in the Official Plan, it represents a viable option for general intensification due to its location within both the built-boundary (utilizing existing municipal services) and settlement area, adjacent to the Yonge Street Regional Corridor. This is in keeping with the general policy intent of the Growth Plan and the YROP that intensification is to occur generally within the built-up areas of municipalities; while there are areas specifically identified and recognized by the Region and Town for intensification, this does not limit intensification to those areas.

History, it seems, is about to repeat itself. Chris Ballard MPP, take note.

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Davis Drive is still a moonscape but we learn construction will be completed by December 2015 and, once again, it will be open for business.

York Region councillors are told today that the project is now 70% complete. The report is nodded through without debate or comment.

During last year’s municipal election there was much talk about compensation for businesses that lost trade since construction began in May 2012. Some people claimed there was nothing on offer. Others loudly protested help was available - though it could take time to come through.

I am left wondering how much has actually been paid out to help businesses stay afloat. The information must be out there somewhere.

As with the construction itself, reaching settlements with the business owners on Davis Drive seems to be work in progress.

Full agreement has been reached with fewer than 50% of property owners:

“On January 22, 2009, Council approved the expropriation of the initial interests required for the construction of the Davis Drive corridor, which involved various property takings from 133 property owners. Possession of the lands was obtained in late 2009.

“To date, full and final settlements have been reached with 57 property owners, and partial settlements have been reached with 42 owners. The partial settlements are subject to future potential claims from former owners, for matters not agreed to when the settlement was negotiated. The remaining 34 properties, for which no full or partial settlements have been obtained, are subject to claims from owners.

Business casualties

The report looks at the Goodyear Mars Tire property at 135 Davis Drive where we learn

“a full and final settlement has been negotiated”.

The Region made an offer in 2009 but underestimated “the true extent of the impacts to the property”. The design was modified substantially in 2014 and

“As a result, compensation for damages is considerably greater than the amount offered to the owner when the property was originally expropriated in 2009. 

We learn the project’s design

“resulted in the significant permanent loss of parking, combined with the loss of vehicular access from the east to the west sides of the lot. These factors are considered to have made the existing use as an automotive service garage virtually impracticle. (sic)

One more settlement agreed.

75 to go.


York Region Administrative Annex Expansion Building (new name needed)

The long awaited debate on whether to locate York Region’s new annex at Yonge and Highway 7 is deferred.

It was down for debate today but the prime agitator, Markham’s Jim Jones, says he wants his motion to go to the next Council meeting  at 9.30am on Thursday 26 March.

Newmarket’s Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, stirs from his slumbers. He rarely bothers to say much. He wants various reports, including the business case, re-circulated to councillors reminding them why they previously chose the site next door to the Regional HQ as the best location. He wants a staff presentation too.

Van Bynen’s ally, Richmond Hill’s Vito Spatafora, wants a special meeting to consider the issue.

“This is a big ask.”

He conjures up the spectre of Ontario’s Gas Plants fiasco.

“We have already invested a great deal of money on this. We need to sit down with staff and go through this thoroughly.”

It is an effective intervention. 

Jones is in no rush. He wants a decision by the end of April.

No rush.


York Region sells home for $1

A quirky item catches my eye on the list surplus assets being sold off.

An historic house in Markham is sold "as is” for $1 but the cost of relocation, estimated at $200,000, falls on the buyer.

Good for them.

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Information is power.

Information that is hoarded or withheld, without good reason, or only released after an unconscionable delay, can determine outcomes.

Nowhere is this more true than in the rarefied world of urban planning with its hierarchies of overlapping plans and strategies. It is all made to appear much more complex than it is.

For me, Glenway stands as a classic example of how local residents were royally stitched up by their own municipality and its agents. Key information was never put on the table.

We urgently need to demystify “planning” and start sharing more widely the information that planners collect and use to inform their decisions and recommendations. Like the rest of us, councillors are often kept in the dark, bamboozled by planning-babble, but they have the power to change things – if they so choose.

Of course, the usual caveats and health warnings apply. Anything that identifies individuals is out-of-bounds. Data must be aggregated to guarantee anonymity.

Does planning have to be this complex? 

Finding out what is happening locally means consulting a multiplicity of documents. There is no one document that will tell you what you need to know. Complexity, it seems, is built into the system. It really shouldn’t be this difficult to understand.

mapyourproperty.com is a new app that should make it easier to find basic information about any property in Newmarket (and beyond). The map uses overlays showing how provincial, regional and local official plans impact on any given property. The site is still under construction and will be available free of charge to non profit organisations. Professional firms, developers and the like will be expected to pay.

Open data catalogues

We can access open data catalogues at Federal and Provincial level.

The Federal Government’s open data portal is the gateway to over 240,000 data sets. Many of these are related to the physical environment although there is stuff there that informs social policy.

The Provincial Government toots its open-data horn and asks for suggestions on the kind of data sets that should be put out there. Its catalogue of open datasets needs to be massively expanded.

I don’t know the full range of information the Province collects – but we are told the “sunshine list” is the most popular. But why not list all the data-sets –closed and open – indicating why the closed ones are so classified? In many cases the answers will be blindingly obvious but for others, not so.

Toronto strikes up a conversation with local people

Toronto is also keen on open data and has a number of interesting sites aimed at striking up a conversation with residents.

The ward profiles allow readers to paint a picture of their neighbourhood based on a stack of striking economic and demographic data. (In his first election campaign, my own councillor, Tom Hempen,  wanted ward 4 to get "its fair share". He was, I recall, talking about a splash pad. But detailed ward profiles would help us identify priority areas.)

York Region, too, advertises its open data offering. But it needs to be more proactive.

In Newmarket, we should have a list of data collected – both open and closed - and an invitation to add further data-sets.

A commitment to open data presents a terrific opportunity for our secretive Mayor Tony Van Bynen to move beyond the sound bite.

He can surprise us all by enthusiastically embracing open data as he marches forward with his "ground breaking broadband network".

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The kerfuffle over the 100 new jobs in Newmarket isn’t going away any time soon.

Mayor Tony Van Bynen and Regional Councillor John Taylor have both asked Newmarket staff to check and validate York Region's figures and report back.

If the “100 jobs” figure is accurate that’s bad news for Newmarket.

If it is inaccurate it is also bad news but in a different way.

The York Region Employment and Industry Report 2014 is compiled “with the assistance of local municipalities” and it describes the process for collecting and analysing the data. The Region was unable to contact 19% of businesses and 1% chose not to participate - but they make assumptions. It will be interesting to see how Newmarket staff mark the work of their colleagues at York Region. I suspect the caravan will silently move on and we shall hear no more about it.

Working for peanuts

The report makes a passing reference to precarious work. It detects a continuing shift away from full-time work.

“Over the past five years, there has been a shift in the shares of employment types with full-time employment decreasing from 75.6% to 73.5%, part-time employment decreasing from 19.9% to 19.0% and contract/seasonal employment increasing from 4.6% to 7.5%. The decrease in full-time employment can likely be attributed to the increase in retail/personal services jobs which are typically population-based and primarily generate part-time and seasonal/contract positions. Overall, sustained strength in full-time employment continues to bode well for York Region, since these positions normally provide increased stability, income, and opportunities for growth.”

The Employment and Industry Report 2014 tells us that over a quarter of people employed in York Region (27.3%) work in retail/personal services - which includes restaurants and fast food joints.

And of the 139,476 jobs in the sector, 43.5% are in retailing and 24% in accommodation and food.

This is a sector that typically pays low wages. The CIBC told us last week that Canadian job quality has sunk to a record low and “low paying jobs are becoming the norm”.

Perhaps next year’s report will tell us how much of Newmarket’s employment is precarious and doesn’t offer the pension and other benefits we used to take for granted. And how many people are scraping by on the minimum wage.

York Regional Expansion Building

The great debate on whether to locate the so-called "Region Administrative Annex Expansion Building" at the junction of Yonge Street and Highway 7 continues this Thursday (12 March 2015) at York Region's Committee of the Whole. It is currently planned to go next to the Region's Administrative HQ in Newmarket.


 

After today’s formal blessing by the Region of York, Newmarket’s Urban Centres Secondary Plan becomes a revered document. The last minute additions and deletions will soon be forgotten and the clean text will have impressive new authority.

It will be folded into the Town’s Official Plan and pored over for years to come by lawyers, planners, developers and, perhaps even, by OMB adjudicators.

The Region’s Director of Community Planning, Karen Whitney, took councillors through the highlights. Looking on were Rick Nethery, Jason Unger, and the Plan’s midwife, Marion Plaunt, who brought it into the world after much labour.

His Worship the Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, acknowledges their presence as a feudal superior would in late medieval times:

“You have all done yeoman’s work in producing outstanding work for our community.”

John Taylor says he is “very, very happy with the outcome”.

Taylor then gently raises the issue of Upper Canada Mall as a “special study area” and its relationship with the mobility hub at Yonge and Davis.

Ms Whitney, who seems slightly bewildered, says they can take a “deep dive” into the UCM issue, suggesting they can study it in greater detail. (This is what planners say when they don’t have an answer immediately to hand.)

Newmarket has, in effect, contracted out responsibility for the Regional Shopping Centre Master Plan to the owners, Oxford Properties who will, presumably, lead the process with the Town, Region, Metrolinx and others tagging along behind as “partners”.

According to the schedules, the GO Bus Terminal, across the road from the Mall at Davis Drive West, does not fall within the study area.

In the planning world where colourful schedules and lines on maps are accorded huge significance by planning lawyers and the OMB, we are assured by staff, in this case, it doesn’t matter.

We are told the Regional Shopping Centre Study Area has been elevated into a Mobility Hub Study (as a result of late amendments to the text of the Secondary Plan in June 2014).

I think we should see a timetable and a work plan.

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