- Written by Gordon Prentice
A special meeting of Newmarket’s Committee of the Whole met yesterday (Monday 17 June) to hear Chris Bobyk from the Forrest Group explain why the Town's historic Main Street needs a shiny new condo building, sitting immediately behind and dwarfing the iconic Clock Tower.
With a straight face, Bobyk assures councillors his goal is “to preserve the historic character of Main Street”. His boss, the close cropped self styled “entrepreneur”, Bob Forrest, is equally impassive but inside he is laughing.
We are told the developers are listening to what people want and they have modified the Clock Tower plans accordingly.
One storey is to be removed but, to compensate, the footprint of the new condo is to be extended out towards Newmarket’s Public Library.
There will be 145 apartments and six commercial retail units – exactly the same as the earlier proposal.
The developers have set back parts of the new condo to improve sightlines. They have replaced brick with glass here and there. They have employed heritage consultants to advise them and we are told their views have informed the redesign.
It is all complete cobblers. This is how they get their approvals. They put forward something completely outrageous and then make it slightly less so.
The planners recommend councillors "receive" their report on the Clock Tower. This means they don’t want any discussion. But the councillors are allowed to quiz the developers - but only to clarify points.
My heart sinks.
I expect to see a line of councillors, faces as blank and expressionless as Easter Island statues, saying nothing.
Here is their opportunity. They can ask a zillion questions of the developer. And, for good measure, they can grill the Town’s own professional planning staff whose report on the Clock Tower is inadequate.
The Clock Tower is in his patch but Ward 5 councillor Joe Sponga is absent. His empty chair speaks volumes.
Tom Vegh and Dave Kerwin say nothing.
John Taylor mentions the reduction in height and notes the number of apartments stays the same.
He asks Bobyk how far away the proposed development is from the GO station. Bobyk stutters and shakes his head. He has got the note somewhere but it is not to hand.
Now Taylor asks about parking issues. Who doesn’t?
Jane Twinney wants to know if the 80 parking stalls allocated to the Town (at a cost to the Town of $30,000 each) are underground? Yes, says Bobyk, adding triumphantly that there will be elevators too!
Twinney coos: “I do really like this development! Much better than the previous one.”
Now it is the turn of Chris Emanuel who starts with parking issues before asking a series of process questions about the statutory public meeting and so on. He likes the process stuff.
Now he asks Bobyk how the proposed development fits into the Town’s Cultural Master Plan, as claimed by the developer.
Bobyk appears flustered. He tells us “potters or artists” could take out a lease on the commercial spaces in the complex. Oh dear! Is that the best he can do?
We move on…
In the planners’ covering report to the Committee there is not a single reference to the decision of the Town’s Heritage Advisory Committee in April to reject the Clock Tower development.
Now Ward 4’s Tom Hempen wants to know if the developer will be meeting the Committee again and if its view will be reported in due course to the Council.
Bobyk says the Advisory committee had concerns about the building’s height, mass and scale (which doesn’t leave a lot). He plans to meet the Chair, Athol Hart, after this meeting and before the formal planning application is submitted to the Town.
Right on cue comes Maddie Di Muccio with a staccato series of questions that cleverly puts the developer on the spot.
She wants to know if the proposed development fits in with existing policy. What about the obvious conflicts with the Town’s Heritage Conservation District Plan, endorsed by the Council in 2011?
She asks how the proposal squares with the Conservation Districts height cap – two to three storeys max.
Maddie is on good form, asking the probing questions too often ignored by others.
She wants to know what people at the meeting on 4 April, where the proposed redevelopment was first unveiled, thought about it all.
I hear Bobyk say there were about 200 people there and the views split 50:50.
A complete invention! No vote was taken and the mood was politely sceptical.
Now Maddie innocently asks why staff time and resources are going into a proposed development where there is, as yet, no formal application.
Alas, this is how the system works. Private meetings are held between Town planning staff and developers before proposals are floated in public. Developers want to test the water.
Proposals can be changed and tweaked in endless “iterations” before the planners are confident enough to sign the project off. The councillors then rubber-stamp the planners’ decision.
(In this case, the planners’ report says the Owner has met with staff, giving the clear impression that Bob Forrest owns the entire site. He doesn’t. He owns the Clock Tower residence. He is negotiating to buy out the other landowner.)
The Town’s Chief Planner, Rick Nethery, tells Maddie the developer’s formal application will be evaluated against the policies set out in the Conservation District Plan.
I am left wondering what the developer will do about sightlines, vistas and panoramas that are highlighted in all the official literature on Heritage Conservation Districts.
The Province of Ontario says this in its heritage toolkit:
“The significance of a heritage conservation district often extends beyond its built heritage, structures, streets, landscape and other physical and spatial elements to include important vistas and views between and towards buildings and spaces within the district.”
The Forrest Group’s proposals would obliterate views of the Clock Tower from Lorne looking down Park Avenue.
The view down Main Street South from the brow of the hill would be destroyed.
The historic downtown skyline as seen from Prospect would be changed forever.
Now it is the turn of members of the public who found out about the meeting by luck and good fortune.
First up is Bob Buchan, President of the Newmarket Historical Society. He is speaking in a personal capacity. He doesn’t want councillors to rush into a decision and urges caution.
Chris Morris echoes these concerns. He wonders if six storeys on Main Street could set a precedent and that the now empty King George School on Park Avenue could become the next bone of contention with developers.
Many speakers fear a precedent would be set with ripple developments down Main Street destroying the historic Town Centre. This is something the planners do not address.
Now it is Ron Caister’s turn.
Ron is from the Town’s Heritage Advisory Committee and a man of few words. The little he says has great resonance. He tells Bobyk bluntly the development is way too big and would dominate the downtown.
I hear murmurs of approval around me.
Jackie Player steps forward to say her piece, amplifying the points made in her letter supporting the proposed development. She sweetly tells us she loves the old downtown but she loves the development too! She is convinced both can happily live together.
Now a blistering contribution from Dave Hunter who owns the furniture and upholstery business on Main Street “Lemon and Lime”.
In a gripping display of suppressed outrage he turns on Chris Bobyk who told us earlier that feedback on the proposed development from business owners on Main Street had been positive.
Dave reels off a list of business owners on Main who would reject that categorisation.
He tears into Bobyk, accusing him of misleading the Committee.
The pot is now coming to a fast boil.
The Mayor wants to cool things down.
Now Ann Martin, a property owner on Main Street, has her say.
She is not against condos but it would be nice on Davis Drive. Not on Main Street.
It is a sentiment shared by many.
Now the Mayor winds up, thanking everyone for their views, promising there will be plenty of opportunities to make our voices heard.
He always says that.
And we buy the line when we should know better.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The Forrest Group - the developers who are determined to wreck Newmarket's historic downtown by erecting a condo on the iconic Clock Tower site - will be addressing a special Committee of the Whole at 1.30pm on Monday 17 June in the Council Chamber, 395 Mulock Drive.
The agenda, which is yet to be posted on the Town's website, will appear here later today (Friday 14 June).
I find it astonishing that meetings to consider important and controversial matters are sprung on the public with next to no notice.
The developers are being enthusiastically backed by Jackie Playter, a member of Newmarket's Heritage Advisory Committee, whose letter of support for the Forrest Group is part of the agenda. She appears to be writing in a private capacity.
In April, the Heritage Advisory Committee voted overwhelmingly to reject the Forrest Group's proposal.
Seems to me that members of the public should be able to address the Committee of the Whole on Monday after the Forrest Group's presentation but I suspect that would be ruled out of order.
It will be fascinating to see if the developer's Project Manager, Chris Bobyk, makes a better fist of his presentation than he managed on 4 April when he unveiled his plans to Ward 5 residents and others at the Community Centre in Doug Duncan Drive. People were seriously unimpressed.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The Toronto Star’s Christopher Hume has extended my vocabulary, introducing me to the word “facadomy”.
This is where historic buildings are torn down in the name of progress but the façade is retained.
He tells me the City of Toronto has often been party to this “mutilation” but things may be changing. City officials have decided that knocking down heritage properties without permission is no longer OK.
“The owner of a heritage building at 267 Queen Street East and the contractor who demolished it earlier this year have been served with a summons that could see them fined $1 million and spend a year behind bars.”
Excellent. This is precisely what is needed.
Anyway… The story gets me thinking about facadomy in historic Newmarket.
The Forrest Group is currently working up plans to redevelop the Clock Tower site in Main Street South (see earlier posts below).
In January 2011 the Clock Tower Inn Retirement Residence was offered for sale at $3,275,000.
On 1 March 2011 it was snapped up for $2,340,000 by 2259613 Ontario Inc.
Also known as Main Street Clock Inc.
Also known as Robert Forrest.
Unfortunately for Bob, he doesn’t own all the land required for the monstrous new Condo he wants to plonk down in the middle of Main Street.
He needs to buy out Michael Bryan, the owner of the row of historic buildings next to the Clock Tower. Forrest wants to demolish the buildings but retain the facades.
My spies tell me a very substantial pot of cash has been dangled before Mr Bryan’s eyes but the deal is conditional on Newmarket granting all the necessary approvals.
And these should not be forthcoming. No way.
Main Street is not for sale. Not at any price.
Newmarket councillors should take their cue from the Town’s own Heritage Advisory Committee which rejected the plan last month, saying it was unable to support the proposed building's mass and height.
Councillors have already designated the downtown area a Heritage Conservation District (although the concomitant By Law awaits) and that means preserving irreplaceable heritage buildings - and renowned views and panoramas.
In its Ontario Heritage Toolkit, the Ministry of Culture specifically addresses this issue.
“The significance of a Heritage Conservation District often extends beyond its built heritage, structures, streets, landscape and other physical and spatial elements, to include important vistas and views between and towards buildings and spaces within the district.”
Alas, despite all these fine words and reams of policies, Councillors can still side with the developer if they so choose.The Town’s top planner, Rick Nethery, tells me
“Proposals that do not necessarily conform to all aspects of a Heritage Conservation District plan, whether it is in full force or not, can continue to be approved by Council if deemed appropriate.”
Seems to me this gives councillors – and those who advise them – carte blanche to do whatever they please.
And it also gives encouragement to Bob Forrest who clearly believes the Town’s Heritage Conservation policies present no obstacle to his plans and, with a nod and a wink, he can navigate his way through them.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Mariannville Developments bought the Glenway lands for $9,900,000 on 21 January 2010 from Glenway Country Club (1994) Limited.
The sellers probably thought they were getting a good deal since the former golf course lands are designated as open space in the Town’s Official Plan.
But if the land can be developed its value, quite literally, goes through the roof.
To recap. Marianville wants to build on the Glenway lands a high density residential block with 292 dwellings, 219 townhouses, 54 one storey bungalows, 165 single detached dwellings and a commercial block.
On 7 December 2012, Mariannville took out a loan for $100 million from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. There is a charge for this sum attached to the Glenway land.
On Tuesday (21 May) Councillor Dave Kerwin quizzed the Glenway Preservation Association’s Dave Sovran about the purchase price but no figures were given. (see post below)
Dave tells me later it would be nice to know how much the land is worth.
I disclose Mariannville paid under $10 million for Glenway and he says it is “a fantastic buy”.
However, it is only a “fantastic buy” if the developers are allowed to build on the open space.
Otherwise it is a lemon.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Newmarket’s planners have posted on the Town’s website a new 114 page report on the Secondary Plan which looks at developments along the Yonge and Davis corridors.
As expected, it follows the template set out earlier, proposing high rise developments across central Newmarket ranging from 25 storeys at Yonge and Davis to 18 storeys at Yonge and Mulock and 18 storeys around the Regional Health Centre.
Personally, I’d prefer a lower height cap which would encourage development along the corridors and not just at these so called "nodes".
The planners are driving the whole process, saying they are reflecting back to us what we, the public, have been telling them.
The professional planners have their own agenda, reshaping Newmarket into a form few of us would recognise.
To read the report go to the planning page on the Town’s website and scroll to the bottom of the page and open: Urban Centres Secondary Plan Directions Report (17 May 2013)
Focus Groups are meeting to consider the report on Thursday 23 May 2013 from 6.30pm - 9pm in Lounge 1 at the Ray Twinney Centre and again on 28 May from 9.30am - 12pm in Hall 4 at the Community Centre, Doug Duncan Drive.
The Glenway saga finally reaches Newmarket’s Council Chamber. It is Tuesday 21 May 2013.
As always, the councillors divide into two camps.
On the one hand, our elected spectators, on $47,000 a year, who ask no questions, venture no opinions and say nothing about one of the biggest and most controversial developments ever to hit Newmarket.
And then, fortunately, there are the others.
After a clear, measured presentation by Dave Sovran, who speaks for the Glenway Preservation Association, Ward 7 councillor Chris Emanuel launches into a series of questions. Glenway is in his patch.
He says there is no need to go into camera today even though he understands why this may be felt necessary. People from Mariannville Developments are in the Council Chamber watching and it is not clever to receive your legal advice in front of the opposition. Fair enough.
But why not consider the legal advice in camera? And have the resulting informed debate in public. Councillors can then choose their words with care.
Chris wants the Glenway Preservation Association to have access to the planning consultant hired by the Town to advise on the Glenway file.
Rob Prentice, the head honcho on development and infrastructure matters, says “without prejudice” discussions are going on with the developer. But these, he says, are not in the public domain as was the case with Slessor Square. It is his way of saying no.
Everyone expects an OMB hearing later in the year but what if the OMB moves swiftly. Could there be an OMB summer hearing when the Town’s final report on Glenway may not be available before September? The Town’s trousers would be down around its ankles.
Now Maddie Di Muccio elbows her way to the front of the line, determined to have her say.
She doesn’t want to talk about Glenway in private session. She wants to get it all off her chest now.
She fumes that the Council voted, against her advice, to hire an outside consultant at $65,000 a year to advise on Glenway.
She says she wanted Glenway residents to have oversight of the whole process but her proposal was torpedoed by the Council.
Now it’s getting personal. She turns to look at Chris Emanuel.
They sit next to each other but, ideologically and temperamentally, they are a million light years apart.
An exasperated Chris Emanuel says he opposed, on legal advice, Maddie’s idea of an “ad hoc” committee.
Maddie is now getting very agitated and I am waiting for her to stomp out of the Council Chamber. Her performances are beautifully theatrical.
There isn’t anyone else who can affect indignation in quite the way she can. She is superb.
Now the Mayor is insisting she retract something or other. And she does, while protesting, as is her way.
It is as plain as a pikestaff they can’t stand each other.
John Taylor makes a few interventions addressing process issues. He says the 180 days specified in the Planning Acts that municipalities have to consider complex applications is unrealistic. Most appeals to the OMB by developers now cite the failure by councils to meet this impossible deadline. And, yes, he supports convening in camera to receive legal advice.
Now a touch of vaudeville as Tom Vegh waves a yellow sheet of paper in the air that, apparently, relates to the secret session on Glenway that comes up later in the agenda.
What if the Council votes not to go into camera? What, he asks, would be the status of this confidential report?
Robert Shelton, the top administrative man, intones that the report stays confidential even if the Council votes to discuss things in open session.
The proceduralists are now tying themselves in knots.
Now an interesting question from Dave Kerwin.
He calls Dave Sovran back to the stand, so to speak, and asks him how much Mariannville paid for the Glenway lands.
Dave is unwilling to go down that road and bats the ball back to Kerwin.
But I am intrigued.
How is this relevant? And what was in Dave Kerwin’s mind when he asked the question?
He tells me later it would be nice to know how much the land is worth. It is all knowledge. Hmmm.
Seems to me that if Mariannville loses at the OMB they will be stuck with land they cannot develop and the Town, of course, is under no obligation to buy.
But Councillor Kerwin’s question gets me thinking.
Perhaps we do need to publicise widely the price paid by developers for land in Newmarket.
We could go further and unmask the developers who shelter behind numbered companies.
And we could report on political donations made by those very same developers to our elected representatives in Newmarket.
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