- Written by Gordon Prentice
Background: Tomorrow (10 February 2020) Newmarket Council will receive the report on the unlawful demolition of the historic Simpson Building in the heart of the Town's only Heritage Conservation District. Councillors previously debated the report at the Committee of the Whole on 3 February 2020. You can read the exchanges by clicking on the link "read more" at the bottom of this blog.
Guilty as Sin
The developer Bob Forrest is as guilty as sin.
(Photo right: Bob and Colleen Forrest with former Mayor of Newmarket and staunch supporter, Tony Van Bynen MP)
Forrest ordered the destruction of one of the Town’s most historic buildings having known for years that it was unique and irreplaceable.
In 2013 he commissioned a Heritage Impact Assessment from the heritage architects Goldsmith Borgal. This is what they told him about the Simpson Building at 184 Main Street South which he casually destroyed on 9 October 2019:
“This two-storey frame structure is the oldest extant building on the block, and perhaps one of the oldest buildings on Main Street South. Dating to the mid-nineteenth century, it may be the building referenced in an early drawing of the street as the Smith & Empey General Store. Smith & Empey was established in 1837 and was located immediately north of the North American Hotel. The building at 184 Main Street South is also represented on the 1862 plan of the Village on Lot 19. Charles Hargrave Simpson, whose wife, Anne Mary Simpson, was the Ontario’s first woman druggist, once owned the building. Simpson operated an apothecary from 1886 to 1914.”
The Town’s report is silent on the circumstances surrounding the demolition and why it was ordered by Forrest.
The settlement between the Town and Forrest on 17 January 2020 merely tells us that Forrest’s company, Main Street Clock Inc
“fully admits that the Demolition was unauthorised under the (Ontario Heritage and Building Code) Acts”
If Forrest sticks to the latest agreement (he broke the original one from 2 May 2018 by demolishing the Simpson Building without permission) then the Town will not:
“directly or indirectly, commence, facilitate or encourage any prosecutions… legal proceedings or punitive actions against Main Street Clock Inc (or) any of MSCI’s officers or directors…”
relating to the events and conduct that “gave rise to (the) said demolition.”
Admission of Guilt
Forrest’s “public admission of liability” is found at paragraph 28 of the agreement:
“The following statement of MSCI may be used by the Town in a media release after the signing of this Further Amendment:
“Main Street Clock Inc acknowledges and regrets that the Simpson Building was taken down without proper permissions. We accept the penalties and conditions being imposed by the Town and we are committed to a full heritage rebuild and the completion of the adjacent restorations.”
To the extent that the Town uses or reproduces MSCI’s statement, it shall be used or reproduced in its entirety.”
I set out my reasoning for prosecuting Forrest in an earlier blog. I sum it up this way: the decision to demolish was calculated and not inadvertent. It wasn’t a mistake. Forrest had been told by Jacques Carrier, the man in charge of the building works on site, that it would cost $100,000 to stabilise the Simpson Building and make it safe. Forrest then ordered him to “take it down”.
No-one has contradicted or challenged this version of events.
Very Strong Outcome
For his part, Newmarket’s Mayor, John Taylor, says the agreement with Forrest represents a
“very strong outcome”.
He says the decision not to prosecute was taken for the following reasons:
- Any penalty imposed by the Courts would not match what Newmarket has achieved
- The agreement reduces the possibility of further delays in getting construction on Main Street “moving forward”. (The New Simpson Building is supposed to be completed by 30 June 2021).
- The Town would avoid the delays and expense of going to Court.
These are all good reasons in themselves but they are predicated on Forrest pleading not guilty and fighting the case in Court.
Given what we all know (even though it is not in the Town’s report) I think it is much more likely that Forrest would have pleaded guilty and the matter would have been heard in double quick time – as happened in the famous Kingston case.
Huge gap in knowledge base
We shall probably never know (officially) why Forrest demolished the Simpson building. This adds to the huge gap in our knowledge base.
There is no single repository of information on unlawful demolitions and what happened afterwards. The legal databases do not catch examples which are settled out of Court. And, so far as I can gather, there are no up-to-date academic knowledge bases that capture both types.
Because of this even heritage specialists hesitate to suggest what might be the most appropriate penalty for the deliberate demolition of a designated heritage building within a Heritage Conservation District.
The Ontario Heritage Act sets a maximum penalty of $1Million or a term of imprisonment. But Newmarket Councillor Bob Kwapis told us last week, quoting from a confidential report from Town staff, that most cases result in penalties somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000.
(Bob, flustered and hesitant, gets his knuckles gently rapped by the Mayor. Bob says the figures he is seen to be quoting were not from any report. No. No. No. They were recalled from a conversation he had with someone, somewhere. Oh dear! Click on the link below to see what Bob said.)
But why on earth should this information be confidential anyway? We can all learn from each other.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
I contacted over 50 municipalities that are home to 134 Heritage Conservation Districts between them asking if they had ever brought a prosecution under S42(1)(2) of the Ontario Heritage Act and/or S8 of the Building Code Act for an unlawful demolition within a Heritage Conservation District.
Despite falling short of a 100% response rate I can say with some confidence that unlawful demolitions within HCDs are very, very unusual. I found one example close by in Unionville.
But I did not find an exact parallel to the Forrest case where an owner had ordered demolition after having commissioned a Heritage Impact Assessment which found the building to be both early and historic.
Maybe municipalities settle out of Court for the reasons Mayor Taylor cites.
But what’s the point of having a $1Million penalty if municipalities don’t go to Court?
A seven-figure penalty is no deterrent at all for developers who can make millions in profits from a single deal. (Forrest told his financial backers he expected to make a profit of $10Million had his condo project been approved by the Town.)
But the reputational damage following a conviction in Court is not so easy to brush off.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Whatever happened to Buck-a-beer’s promise to allow convenience stores to sell beer and wine, ending the Beer Store’s quasi monopoly?
It was Doug Ford’s signature election pledge in the Provincial General Election on 7 June 2018.
The legislation was duly introduced and passed in a flash on 6 June 2019 with the legislative process taking less than two weeks from start to finish.
But the legislation has not been proclaimed and is not yet the law of the land.
(The Ontario Cabinet decides when to ask the Lieutenant Governor to proclaim it.)
Breaking Contract could cost $1 billion
A report in today’s Globe and Mail reminds us:
“Last year, sources with the big brewers told The Globe that breaking the contract could see the government forced to pay up to $1-billion for added distribution costs and Beer Store layoffs.”
It goes on:
“Constitutional experts said the government has the power to legislate any such penalties away. But critics, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, warned doing so would create a chill on signing contracts with Queen’s Park.”
“In a co-ordinated social media campaign last June, cabinet ministers posted photos of themselves expressing dismay at the lack of beer and wine at convenience stores across the province. Then-finance-minster Vic Fedeli pledged that change was imminent. But the government’s critics repeatedly decried its focus on alcohol, which also included the Premier’s “buck-a-beer” campaign and new rules meant to allow tailgating.”
As it happens, I met Newmarket-Aurora’s MPP Christine Elliott at her Constituency Office last August, focussing entirely on the Beer Store legislation and on the casual abandoning of standard Parliamentary procedures. (The Bill had no Committee Stage and there was no opportunity for interested parties and members of the public to give evidence.)
Health Minister Christine Elliott, who is also Doug Ford’s Deputy, assured me local convenience stores would be able to sell beer and wine by August 2020.
Promise made. Promised delivered.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Newmarket Mayor John Taylor has abandoned plans to allow a fourth storey on buildings in the Town’s downtown Heritage Conservation District.
He planned to allow these so long as the additions were set back 15 feet from the street.
Taylor signalled the change of heart at Monday's Committee of the Whole after a short debate on the unlawful demolition of the Simpson building and the negotiated settlement with Bob Forrest’s Main Street Clock Inc. The recommendation will go up to Council for approval next Monday (10 February 2020.)
Taylor told councillors he floated the four storeys proposal years ago as a response to Forrest’s condo plans:
“The (Heritage) Conservation District Plan allows a maximum, I believe, of three storeys and this came about at the time of the Clock Tower application for first nine storeys and then seven storeys. This was I believe actually moved by myself but as a way of suggesting that we would not consider seven storeys but perhaps one more storey for the set-back – and if it was appropriate.”
Main Street "thriving"
Taylor now says four storeys are no longer needed.
“The street is thriving. There’s people investing in it. There’s new building and renovations, extensive ones going on all the time and it (the Heritage Conservation District Plan) is doing exactly what it should do.”
Taylor’s decision draws a line under one of the most tumultuous and chaotic periods in the recent history of Newmarket’s historic Main Street.
In November 2019 the Heritage Advisory Committee considered a report on Little Brew Hops at 209 Main Street South which proposes a change to the facade of the building and an additional floor at the back of the building. Concerns were raised about whether the rubble stone foundations could carry the weight of the proposed additional storey.
Height and Heritage. This is how the City of Toronto wants to protect the area around Queen Street West.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Newmarket Councillors deserve a round of applause for acting decisively to bring developer Bob Forrest to book for ordering the unlawful demolition of one of the Town’s most historic properties smack bang in the heart of the downtown Heritage Conservation District.
That said, Bob Forrest got off lightly.
Councillors agreed their negotiating strategy in a closed session meeting of the Council on 2 December 2019 which led to the decision not to prosecute:
“Town staff gathered evidence and information, including speaking with others included in the project, regarding the demolition and undertook a fulsome review and assessment of its recourse options…
“After careful consideration of past penalties imposed by the Courts under the Acts in similar situations that may provide precedent, and the Town’s objective to protect its heritage and continue to move forward with the development and revitalization of Main Street, the Town determined that it was more effective, efficient and would render the best possible achievable outcome to pursue recourse and consequences against Main Street Clock Inc. outside of legal action. Accordingly, rather than pursue prosecution under the Act, the Town sought and achieved a prosecutorial result through an agreement with Main Street Clock Inc. securing both a penalty payment and a full rebuild of the Simpson Building. The rebuild requirements will be registered on title.”
Unfortunately, the report going up to councillors tomorrow (3 February 2020) doesn’t tell the whole story. (Click the link at the bottom of this blog to get to the full report.)
Astonishingly, the narrative does not formally tell us who ordered the demolition (though we know it was Forrest) nor why. The Town pulled its punches in order to get Forrest to agree to settle without going to Court.
Bob Forrest says he
“acknowledges and regrets”
that the historic building which once housed the apothecary of the first female pharmacist in Ontario was
“taken down without proper permissions”.
Forrest says that ultimately he was responsible.
It’s a bit like a dog owner getting caught when his pet poops on a neighbour’s lawn. He didn’t do the deed, of course, but he accepts responsibility.
Limiting reputational damage
Cleverly, Forrest has limited the reputational damage to himself personally and to his business but he will still make millions from his project. He bought the Clock Tower (the old Federal Post Office building and the adjacent 1956 telephone exchange) for $2,340,000 in March 2011. It had been on the market for $3,275,000.
Forrest later bought the buildings to the south of the Clock Tower (184-194 Main Street South) for $1,760,000 from Michael Bryan. In total he paid $4.1M.
His Clock Tower property with the 1956 addition was listed for sale in November last year for close to $9M. The parcel of 188, 190 & 192 Main was listed at $1.25M and 194 Main at $1.19M. The demolished 184-186 Main Street did not have a price attached to the vacant land.
Last week, the first property to be restored and renovated, 194 Main Street South, was listed for sale at $1,299,900. (photo above)
Paying off the penalty
In the space of three months the asking price for one of Forrest’s properties had leapt by more than $100,000 – enough to pay off the Town’s penalty.
Forrest has very deep pockets and - even when added to the rebuilding costs of 184 Main Street (put at around $300,000) and the forfeiting of the Town’s grant of $100,000 for doing up the facades - the penalty doesn’t look too painful.
Town staff tell us they reviewed past penalties imposed by the Courts in similar situations. My own survey of Ontario municipalities with Heritage Conservation Districts confirms that what happened here in Newmarket was very, very unusual.
All the elements of a successful prosecution were there. Forrest knew the importance of the property he demolished – he had commissioned a Heritage Impact Assessment on it. He knew his way around the Ontario Heritage Act and he is a developer with decades of experience under his belt. His decision to order the demolition was calculated, not inadvertent.
Of course, if it had gone to Court all sorts of things could have come out in the wash – including the lamentable record of the municipality in protecting its most historic buildings. Forrest’s Main Street properties were allowed to deteriorate and visibly decay over the long years they were left empty.
So, what more is to be done?
I hope the Town will do a “lessons learned” exercise – as it did with Glenway.
Here in Newmarket, which markets itself as an historic destination complete with a huge triumphal arch at Main and Davis telling people they are entering the historic downtown, heritage should be part of the warp and weft of policy making.
It shouldn’t be an afterthought or be left to one “heritage” planner to hold the fort with no oversight. Protecting our heritage is a matter for everyone.
Bob Forrest is probably thanking his good fortune. That he will walk away from the chaos he created, millions in the black.
Photo above right from Newmarket Today.
The Minutes of Settlement between the Town and Forrest's Main Street Clock Inc, dated 17 January 2020, are here.
Update on 4 February 2020: You can watch the Council debate on the settlement at 2.52 into the video.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Yesterday’s summit on gun violence convened by Toronto Mayor John Tory turned out – at least for me - to be a bit of a damp squib.
The Mayor says the meeting didn’t focus on a handgun ban but on controlling the flow of guns coming across the border. We’ve known about the porous border for years.
We are told that of the 78 homicides in Toronto last year 44 were gun related.
But how many others were maimed and left with life changing injuries? We mourn for those who are killed but what about the living? The young woman in the prime of life, Danielle Kane, shot in the Danforth, left paralysed from the waist down. We should weep for her too – and for all the others who survive, injured and traumatised.
Until we get details of the Federal Government’s plan to give powers to Toronto and cities like it to ban handguns we shall continue to dance around the main issue rather than confront it. We need to ban handguns.
Our new MP for Newmarket Aurora, Tony Van Bynen, believes, like me, there should be a nationwide ban.
Unworkable and ineffective
The Toronto Star has been demanding that politicians act, describing the Government’s proposal to give cities like Toronto the powers to ban handguns as “unworkable and ineffective”.
“The idea that individual cities can usefully impose bans on handguns defies logic…”
I have asked Mr Van Bynen to explain how the Government’s proposal will work in practice. I have also asked him to raise the issue in the Liberal caucus and seek a meeting with the Minister responsible, Bill Blair. Only last week, in Blair’s own patch in Scarborough, one man was shot in the chest and died and another was shot in the head and is in hospital with life threatening injuries. A woman was shot in the hand. This kind of brutal gun violence – which appeared at the bottom of page 4 in the Toronto Star on 26 January 2020 - is becoming normalised.
I’ve also asked our MP to table a series of Parliamentary questions (see below) and to let me know if he supports the class action lawsuit brought by victims of the Danforth shooting against gun maker Smith and Wesson.
Elsewhere… Tony Van Bynen has been appointed to the House of Commons Health Committee. It meets this afternoon (Wednesday 29 January 2020) to elect a Chair and Vice Chair.
- What estimate the Minister has made of the cost to Municipalities of (a) implementing and maintaining a local ban on handguns or (b) restricting access to handguns?
- If the Minister will make it his policy to collect statistics on the number of people who have been left permanently disabled as a result of a handgun assault, specifying in each case the nature of the injury?
- How many persons under the age of 18 have been (a) fatally shot and (b) wounded in each of the last 10 years by someone using a handgun?
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