Planning staff are recommending councillors adopt a By Law designating Lower Main Street South as a Heritage Conservation District when the Committee of the Whole meets later this month.

This is good news.

The full report can be accessed here.

Download the Committee of the Whole agenda for 26 August 2013 and scroll to item 13.

The battle for the future of Newmarket’s Glenway neighbourhood started in earnest today and I am here to chronicle the tale as it unfolds.

Marianneville Developments wants to shoehorn a staggering 730 new residential units of assorted shapes and sizes onto the former fairways and greens of the Glenway golf course which closed for business in October 2011.

The developers bought the open space in 2010 for a trifling $10 million. Their plans involve building on 61% of the open space they purchased with the remainder being set aside for a nine hole “executive” golf course.

This morning, I am in the Council Chamber at Mulock Drive observing the polite formalities of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) pre-hearing that will set the timetable and agree the modalities for the hearing proper which is pencilled in for eight long weeks starting on 3 March 2014.

The Mayor is here, sitting at the back, keeping an eye on things and I see Chris Emanuel, Jane Twinney, Tom Hempen and the elusive Joe Sponga.

We are here because the Town of Newmarket hasn’t yet come to a view on whether building on the old golf course is a good thing or not. We learn this slothfulness prompts the developer to appeal to the OMB.

The planning lawyer, Ira Kagan, who last appeared in Newmarket for the Slessors, is again acting for the developers.

And he follows precisely the same script.

He tells OMB adjudicator, Jason Chee-Hing, that Marianneville will make a “without prejudice” settlement offer (just like Slessor Square) which, he says, will be submitted “within a week or so”.

He intones: “It is my hope that the Town planning staff will be able to report on the offer in a public report.”

Kagan is a sly old fox!

This tactic worked with Slessor Square, where pusillanimous councillors retreated at the first whiff of grapeshot, so why not try the same formulation again?

He has it all mapped out. The Town staff could have their recommendations ready by October and, he says, we could reconvene in November to find out what the Glenway Preservation Association thinks.

The anticipated second pre-hearing could then be turned into a settlement hearing. Straight out of the Slessor Square play book.

Now calendars are consulted. Diaries are checked.

The Town’s Lawyer, Esther Armchuck-Ball, shakes her head and tells us the planners will not be able to report until late October.

Why on earth so long? They are not deciphering the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Where on earth is the sense of urgency?

When she suggests a decision on the date for the full OMB hearing could be postponed until December she is given short shrift by Kagan and the Chair who both say no, smiling.

Jay Feehley, the lawyer acting for the Glenway Preservation Association, questions whether an eight week full hearing is required. He says it is unnecessarily long but his protestations too are steamrollered.

Now the Adjudicator has to decide who gets Party status (which brings full rights to cross examine witnesses) and who has to settle for being a Participant.

Participants say their piece and then sit at the back of the class, mute thereafter.

Now Feehley announces that the Glenway Preservation Association seeks Party status (no surprises there) but also wants to appeal against the Town’s failure to reach a decision on the Marianneville proposals.

Kagan leaps to his feet, announcing theatrically that such a manoeuvre would not be legal! He has checked the Act! Only the Minister can do something or other.

I am waiting for Feehley to respond with a quick one, two to Kagan’s chin. But Feehley stays seated. He is not inclined to trade punches. 

(I thought the brothers-in-law were supposed to share such information beforehand.)

Now a rather intense Jeff Brown steps forward. He represents the Glenway Community Group and seeks Party status.

Bizarrely, he accuses the Glenway Preservation Association of being run by Liberals, with a capital “L”. What relevance has this to anything?

The difference between the GPA and his group is that he seeks compensation should the development be given the green light.

He says he wanted a planning advisory committee set up in 2010 when Mariannville bought the golf course but his pleas fell on deaf ears. The proposed development has progressed without proper oversight.

He says it is unreasonable not to compensate people who will lose money as a result of any development. And, to rub salt into the wounds, he and others are faced with a tax burden to defend Glenway against the developer.

He wants to appeal to the Courts against any adverse OMB decision.

Brown is given participant, not Party, status. The Adjudicator tells him that compensation is not a proper planning consideration.

Now Jane Ross from the York Region district school board asks for participant status. She wants an elementary school considered “as part of the site”.

Someone from Mosaic Homes, with a development next door to Glenway, also gets the OK to appear. 

The whole process is enormously drawn out with, it seems, half of Ontario going to the OMB with appeals against developments of one sort or another.

The OMB is creaking under the strain.

And so is our entire discredited planning system.

We now wait nervously for the planners’ recommendations on the settlement offer, no doubt chiseled on tablets of stone. 

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

Our elected officials should demand to know the planners’ thinking even before they put pen to paper.

And, if necessary, our councillors should grill the planners at length, and in public, on their reasoning and conclusions.

I know I would.        

I marvel at Bob Forrest’s chutzpah.

He wants to construct a huge condo on Main Street South that will permanently disfigure the face of Newmarket’s historic downtown but doesn’t own all the land he needs to pull it off.

On 21 June, his colleague, Chris Bobyk, gave a presentation to councillors outlining the latest “iteration”.

The developer is planning to shave off one storey but intends to enlarge the footprint of the condo to ensure the number of units remains the same.

However, extending the building westwards towards the public library means the development will encroach on Town land. The Forrest development, as currently envisaged, can only proceed if the Town sells land to the developer or comes to some other kind of arrangement.

This rather important fact was omitted from Bobyk’s presentation.

We have long known the developer wanted to excavate under Town owned Market Square for the underground car park but the latest land grab comes as a surprise.

Forrest is already in negotiations with Michael Bryan who owns properties on Main Street that are needed if the monster Clock Tower development is to go ahead.

My spies tell me that Bryan has been offered $1.7m – but only on condition that the developer gets all the necessary approvals from the Town.

No planning application has, as yet, been formally submitted to the Town.  Forrest is getting his ducks lined up in a row first.

Meanwhile, I see that the Town has received a grant of $18,542 from the Province’s Creative Communities Fund “to develop a downtown arts, cultural, heritage and economic development action plan”.

We are not short of plans.

Just a reluctance to implement fully the ones we already have.

The Committee of the Whole meets on 26 August to consider a staff report on the Town’s Heritage Conservation District policy and whether a By Law is needed to give it teeth. 

A Heritage By Law could be a reality within months.

A by law which would put into effect all the provisions of Newmarket's downtown Heritage Conservation District policy is going to the Committee of the Whole on Monday 26 August.

The Conservation District policy was endorsed by the Council in 2011 but was not fully implemented because the money hadn't been earmarked.

People are fed up with the endless - and pointless - foot dragging on this issue.

Either the Town's heritage is worth saving or it is not. 

Take the vote. Pass the by law. And protect the Town's priceless heritage.

I wrote to Tony Van Bynen, the Mayor of Newmarket, on 30 April 2013 urging him to take immediate steps to bring forward a By Law to create a Heritage Conservation District on Main Street South.

Developers, I said, are knocking at the door.

The Mayor asked the Director of Planning and Building Services, Rick Nethery, to reply on his behalf and he tells me that funding would be sought in the 2014 Budget. The Director says:

“While I don’t expect a specific report on the Heritage Conservation District by law, I do expect that its resources will be part of the budget request.”

Mr Nethery tells me in a later exchange that

 “…the by-law adopting a Heritage Conservation District is required to fully implement the District Plan and have it be in full force and effect. While we utilize the (Heritage Conservation District) Plan to assist in evaluating proposals, the passing of an adopting by-law gives the Plan its Official status.”

On Monday 17 June, Newmarket’s Committee of the Whole sat through a formal presentation on the proposed Clock Tower development given by Chris Bobyk (see earlier blog post).

Councillors now know what is in the developer’s mind even though no formal application has been lodged.

The Clock Tower building at 180 Main Street South is designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, but the Town’s planners tell us the historic commercial buildings at 184, 188 and 194 Main Street South have not been formally adopted by the Council“and as such have no legal standing under the Ontario Heritage Act”.

Clearly this leaves a gaping hole in the Town’s defences if the Council decides to resist the Clock Tower redevelopment.

The drafting of an implementing by law is the work of moments.

For reasons now obvious to all, it should be done without further delay.