Monday night’s Statutory Public Meeting on Bob Forrest’s proposal to dump a nine storey condo in the heart of Newmarket’s historic downtown was a watershed moment.

People turned out in droves and made their views known.

In the Council Chamber there is standing room only.

Packed Council Chamber

And our councillors, led by an impressively forensic Chris Emanuel, get straight to the point.

The Forrest redevelopment, involving the demolition of historic commercial buildings, can only proceed in its present form if Town owned land is sold to the developer or if there is some kind of land swap.

Chris Bobyk, the developer’s mannequin, tells Chris Emanuel that, for technical reasons, the underground car park could not be built solely under the land that Forrest owns.

Staying within the curtilage of the land that Forrest owns, they would have to go down 4 levels and that’s way too deep. The soil down there is simply too wet. 

We learn the car park would go down two levels but would have to be “spread out” and would, therefore, inevitably encroach on Town owned land.

This is the silver bullet that kills this monstrous speculative development stone dead.

The Town is not compelled to sell its own land to a speculative developer or trade it in some other fashion.

Bobyk tells us a development with fewer than 150 units wouldn’t work. He is unable or unwilling to tell us how many of these units will be two bedroom or one bedroom. This is something for later.

Regional Councillor John Taylor says he wants to see something happen in this location but he laments that the developer is not listening. He says developers always insist it has got to be done their way or they can’t make money. He sees the pattern repeating in Slessor Square, Glenway and now the Clock Tower.

Dave Kerwin, a Newmarket councillor since Confederation, innocently asks if the success of the project depends on a land swap. Yes, is the mumbled reply.

Our councillors worry about the impact of the proposed development on parking in the downtown. We are told the development is short of 90 parking spaces. Where would the condo people park?

Tom Vegh, a member of the Newmarket Public Library Board, says the proposal is comical. The Library would be the new condo’s next door neighbour. Parking, he says, is difficult enough now.

Maddie Di Muccio, typically the developer’s friend, comes down against Forrest’s nine storeys.

The increasingly garrulous Ward 5 councillor, Joe Sponga, is, once again, all over the place talking at inordinate length about modern kitchens in old buildings, property values and wet basements. But he too comes to the conclusion there are problems with the developer’s proposals.

Now it is the turn of residents to have their say and every shade of opinion is represented. Although no vote is taken, I sense a clear majority against the Forrest development.

For me, two contributions in particular stood out.

Bob Buchan, President of the Newmarket Historical Society, but speaking in a personal capacity, powerfully reminds us of Main Street’s central place in the Town’s history.

And Athol Hart, chair of Heritage Newmarket Advisory Committee, tells us he is not against the development, as such. It is simply in the wrong location.

Athol, too, spoke in a personal capacity and this perplexed me as there is no reason for him to do this. Seems to me it would have been helpful for people to have been told that his Committee is formally charged with advising the Town on all built heritage matters - and that it has formed a clear view on Forrest’s condo.

The Minutes of the Heritage Newmarket Advisory Committee of 17 December 2013 tell us that the Committee is recommending to the Town Council

(a)   That the three storey structure limit on development projects in the downtown core be upheld according to the Town of Newmarket Official Plan and the Heritage Conservation District Plan;

(b)  And that the application for the Zoning By-Law Amendment as submitted by Main Street Inc. be rejected.

Terse and to the point.

And all the better for that.


Bob Forrest’s speculative bid to erect a disfiguring out-of-place condo in the heart of Newmarket’s historic downtown can be stopped dead in its tracks if only the Town refuses to sell to the developer the extra land he needs for his project to work.

The underground car park in the original proposal and, we must assume, in the latest 9 storey version, extends beyond the boundary of the land owned by Forrest and under the existing Library parking and under part of Market Square.

In a memorandum dated 22 November 2013, the Town’s Director of Planning, Richard Nethery, told councillors that Forrest needed to buy Town land in order to proceed.

The Town is under no obligation to sell land it owns to a speculative developer.

It may be that Forrest has reworked his plans so that the underground car park does not extend beyond the footprint of the land he owns but, as I tap this out, no new plans have been posted on the Town’s website which indicates such a change.

There is other land too, above ground, that the developer needs from the Town.

There are a million reasons for rejecting Forrest’s Clock Tower development and these will be raised tomorrow at the Statutory Public Meeting.

But it remains a mystery to me that the proposal has gotten this far when the Town could have made it clear earlier on that it would not sell its land to a developer for a project that clashes so spectacularly with the objectives of the Heritage Conservation District.

With his typical bravura, Bob Forrest’s lawyer, Ira Kagan, last November appealed to the OMB to block the Town’s Heritage Conservation District By Law

 “if it creates any additional burden (procedural or substantive) to the redevelopment of our clients lands”

Some mistake there surely?

Bob Forrest needs land that is owned by the Town of Newmarket if his project is, literally, to get off the ground.



Newmarket Regional Councillor candidate, Darryl Wolk, is refusing to rule out taking campaign cash from developers.

Wolk is a declared candidate for Newmarket Regional Councillor in the October 2014 election.

While conceding “municipal campaign finance reform is needed” he will, nevertheless, “follow the current rules as they are in place right now”. 

“Donations for all municipal candidates are public information. I support a provincial discussion on municipal election reform, but will not be accepting a political challenge designed to provide Mr Taylor with an even bigger advantage financially than he already has.”

You can read Darryl Wolk’s views on campaign financing here.


Regional Councillor, John Taylor, says he will not accept campaign contributions from developers and hopes all candidates running for election in Newmarket will do the same.

Taylor tells me: “I’ve never taken developer donations. I don’t do it.”

He also stresses that when he accepted a $750 campaign donation from Dwight Slessor Holdings Ltd that was before the Slessors put in their planning application to develop Slessor Square (see blog Developers, Money and Politicians 25 January 2014).

He tells me he had no way of knowing at that stage that the Slessors were planning a huge development on their car lot in Yonge Street, directly opposite Upper Canada Mall.

Fair enough. That is why politicians should hand back campaign contributions from friends, colleagues and supporters who subsequently morph into developers, explaining publicly why the cash is being returned.

Now that John Taylor has made his position crystal clear, I hope that Darryl Wolk, who is challenging Taylor this year, will follow suit. I have written to him and will post his reply here.

There is also a role for the Era Banner.

An editorial calling on candidates of every stripe to reject developers’ money could make the difference.

Bottom Line: Developers should stay out of elections.


We are nine months away from the municipal elections but already candidates are declaring themselves and thinking how they are going to finance their campaigns.

The Mayor of Newmarket, Tony Van Bynen, was quick off the mark, taking a half page ad in the Era Banner on 16 January 2014 telling us he was seeking re-election. (See page 13 here)

Underneath an impressive roll call of supporters we read

“This advertisement was paid for by the Committee to Re-elect Tony Van Bynen.”

Phew! No developers in that list. At least I hope not.

All Council candidates, without exception, must ensure that not a single penny of their campaign spending comes from developers who are planning to build in the town.

Money from developers is tainted. The sums may be modest but the donation comes at a high price.

Professor Robert MacDermid of York University has studied in detail the nexus between developers and politicians both in Toronto and in the GTA and his findings are disconcerting. He explains his concerns here.

Developers don’t help finance everyone running for election. They are not interested in promoting a healthy democracy where all views get an airing. No. They pick and choose, most often supporting those seen as sympathetic or influential, preferably both.

Sometimes they will just back the candidates running for the big jobs.

According to Toronto’s Integrity Commissioner (whom I take as an authority on such matters)

 “At present, the receipt of campaign contributions does not in itself give rise to a conflict of interest for Members when the donor subsequently has a matter before Council or one of its committees.”

Here in Newmarket, the publicly available returns on election expenses show that at the last election Regional Councillor John Taylor received a campaign contribution of $750 from Dwight Slessor Holdings Ltd.

In 2010 Dwight Slessor Holdings gave the Committee to re-elect Tony Van Bynen $750.

In neither case did the Mayor or John Taylor declare an interest before voting on the Slessor application for the huge development opposite Upper Canada Mall. They were not required to. 

In any event, no-one in their right mind would suggest a politician could be bought for a mere $750 (and I am sure Tony Van Bynen and John Taylor could not be bought at any price) but donations –even very modest ones – transmit below-the-radar signals to politicians that the developer is supportive and on-side.

Long before the Slessors made their millions from Slessor Square they were oiling the wheels of local political machines. The Slessors gave the Newmarket Aurora Progressive Conservative Association $1,000 in 2010. And they allowed Frank Klees to use their old car showroom property as his election HQ in the last provincial election (having donated $1,120 to his previous election campaign).

Campaign contributions from developers are not crude bribes. It is altogether more subtle.

The developers’ unstated aim is to build a relationship and foster mutual understanding.

It is in everyone’s interests to have squeaky clean politics in Newmarket and I think, in general, we do. But accepting campaign contributions from people who stand to make millions out of the Town’s planning decisions undermines trust in the system, and in politicians.

Candidates should not take money from developers. And if they take money from friends who subsequently become developers they should hand it back, publicly explaining why.

Or, at the very least, they should declare an interest.