Slessor Square says it is making proper provision for affordable housing in its proposed giant development on Yonge opposite Upper Canada Mall.

They are simply following the provincial definition of affordability. I don’t blame them for that. Not at all.

But how realistic is this definition in York Region – one of the fastest growing areas in Canada?

An “affordable” unit, according to the Province, costs $410,987 or less (as of January 2012).

A home costing that much would mean a monthly outlay (for mortgage and other housing related costs) of $2,727. An “affordable” rental would cost $1,048 per month – but how many of those are on the market? Not too many.

The affordability criteria assumes a maximum household income of $109,000 or less in January 2012  but there are lots of people in York Region who don’t bring in that kind of money.

A new report (Housing Matters: A Review of the Housing Market in York region 2012) throws a spotlight on the challenges facing this part of Ontario.

You can access the whole PDF report here by scrolling to D3 on the agenda of the York Region Planning and Economic Development Committee of 2 May 2012.

The report tells us that increases in house prices have outpaced increases in incomes.

From 2002 to 2010 median wages (the point mid way between the highest and the lowest) increased by approximately 20 per cent, whereas the cost of ownership housing increased by approximately 56 per cent. 

Many households are now spending way more than 30 per cent of their gross household income on housing. (30% or less is supposed to be the measure of affordability.)

It seems to me the definition of affordability is pie-in-the-sky.

We need a new one, more in tune with what is happening in the real world.

This morning I am, quite literally, focussed on the future of Newmarket.

I join others who, like me, have clear views on how the Town should develop over the next few decades.

We are one of two self-selected focus groups invited to give the Town our thoughts on how Newmarket should develop and grow.

It is a terrific morning at the Doug Duncan Community Centre with lots of very clued-up people offering valuable insights. I learn a lot.

The omni-present Newmarket Planner, Marion Plaunt, takes us through the process.

First, we get an introduction to the Secondary Plan showing the implications for Newmarket of several possible futures – high growth and low growth.

The figures are startling.

In the Yonge Davis corridor and Southlake (the study area), the population could swell from 1,740 (the 2006 baseline figure) to 4,340 (low estimate) or 27,677 (high) by 2021.

Employment in the same area could rise from 16,218 (2006 baseline) to 22,889 (low) up to 33,604 (high estimate).

We are invited to look way over the horizon to Newmarket in 2051. It is all hugely speculative but fun nevertheless.

Now we divide into workshops and have maps, photos of sundry buildings, highlighters  and inky pens. Our job is to recommend appropriate heights and densities and building forms along the Yonge Davis corridors. It is all done at a furious pace with next to no time for reflection.

What did I get out of it all?

There is little enthusiasm for huge Towers. Most people in my workshop seem to think a 15 storey max is about right, but with lower heights predominating along both corridors.

There is a huge amount of scepticism about the transportation modelling showing how the main arterial roads would cope with given volumes of traffic. Long range forecasts showing uncongested roads are greeted with disbelief.  In 2012 traffic on these very same roads is already slow moving.

There is a lot of talk in the wider group about the difficulty of getting from A to B by car but next to nothing about the alternatives. We need to think hard about how we develop rapid transit.  What are we going to do about the Go Trains – the Puffing Billy train service to Toronto?

I tell everyone the Newmarket to Toronto railway had two tracks until 1987 when one was ripped up in a supreme act of vandalism. I soon as the words are out of my mouth I see a thousand heads shaking. Wrong! (Memo to myself: always double check “reliable” sources.)

Another thing strikes me. There is next to no information on the public ownership of land in the corridors. Clearly, this could shape the way the core develops. Are people working, as we speak, on a new library or, perhaps, a new theatre or some other public institutional use? If so, this should be fed into the debate. And what about new schools and public open space that will be needed to serve the growing population?

And let’s have some decent architecture and a streetscape we can be proud of. Who wants cheap and boring off-the-shelf designs foisted on us by profit hungry developers?

Left to their own devices, the professional planners and the developers (with the acquiescence of many councillors) will always come to some kind of accommodation about the best way forward. That’s the process that gave us the 20 storey condo at Davis and George - without anyone else being aware of what was happening.

We need some kind of standing citizen’s committee (if that doesn’t sound too grand) to keep an eye on them all as the plan unfolds.

Public Information Meeting

There is another Public Information meeting on the Secondary Plan from 7pm-9pm on Wednesday 9 May in the Council Chambers at 395 Mulock Drive. There is a presentation and then a Q&A afterwards.

This morning I write to the Editor of the Era Banner.

Newspapers make mistakes all the time. No problem about that.

Dear Mr McFadden

Your article on Slessor Square (Newmarket Condo Shorter, Same Amount of Units. 24 April) contains a serious inaccuracy.

The report asserts that the density of phases II-IV of this controversial development will be determined by the Secondary Plan the town is creating with input from residents.

In fact, the density - that is, the number of people living and working at Slessor - will be decided outside the Secondary Plan process which is now underway.

If people don't want Slessor Square on their doorstep they should speak out now.

Tomorrow may be too late.

Your readers can check for further details

Yours sincerely

Gordon Prentice

Shrink Slessor Square 

The Slessor development is important enough for the record to be corrected.


Newmarket's senior planner with responsibility for the Slessor file, Marion Plaunt, writes:

At the request of the Community Group, the Community meeting Scheduled for May 2, 2012 has been cancelled to provide more time for the community to review and prepare their comments on the proposed revisions to the Slessor application presented at the Community meeting on Monday, April 23, 2012.

The Monday evening power point presentation is attached for your review and comment.

We will aim to reconvene the Community meeting toward the middle to end of May, and you will be informed subsequently of the date and  the location.

We look forward to the ongoing dialogue.

The Era Banner tells me that Slessor Square is to be brought within the Secondary Plan process.

This is hugely significant as the Plan will look at densities (and much else besides) for future development along the Yonge Davis corridors.

Up until now, there was a general assumption that Slessor fell outside the Secondary Plan process because the planning application had been lodged with the Town and was already in the pipeline.

Era Banner reporter, Teresa Latchford, says Newmarket’s senior planner, Marion Plaunt, told the Community Engagement meeting (see below) on Monday evening that, other than phase 1,

 the density of the rest of the development will be determined by the urban centres secondary plan the town is creating with input from residents

I was at the meeting and, indeed, blogged about it but I didn’t pick up that golden nugget of information. (You, Prentice, at the back of the class. Pay more attention boy!)

Yesterday, I email Marion and Teresa for clarification.

I am waiting to hear from them.

And all this is happening as the Secondary Plan process moves up a gear with focus groups, organised by the Town, meeting next week (2 May) and again in the following week.

John Taylor

I read Regional Councillor John Taylor’s excellent blog about the Community Engagement meeting.

Taylor stakes out a position and argues for it. 

We know where he stands on this crucially important issue.

I hope other councillors will follow his example and let us into their thinking.

Consulting "the community" on Slessor Square

At the Community Engagement meeting on 23 April, Marion Plaunt, the Town’s planner responsible for the Slessor file, announces a follow-up meeting with the developers on Wednesday 2 May at the Ray Twinney complex.

I find myself asking:

What is the point of this meeting so soon after the last one?

And who is going to turn up?

There is little point in rushing things if the developers are still unable or unwilling to put all their cards on the table. To be useful, the developers should be in a position to address traffic and the other outstanding issues – including density.

Seems to me it would be better to wait for the loaf to be fully baked than go ahead with something that is still so obviously half baked.

Slessor Square is a huge development in a very prominent position.

It is an issue for everyone – not just those living in its shadow.

So how do we bring in other groups – within Ward 4 and beyond - who may have an interest?

Seems to me the Town should get the ball rolling by advertising these “Community Engagement” meetings on its website and posting agendas so people know what to expect when they turn up.

This is not spoon feeding community groups. It's giving them a helping hand to get the message across.

And, at some stage, I hope the Town will reconsider its decision to ban YouTube or live streaming of these events, for privacy reasons.

There is no need for conversations about the future of Newmarket to be the best kept secret in town.