York Regional Police tell me that the investigation into the alleged threats against Stephen Somerville and his family “has been concluded and our file is closed”.

Somerville pulled out of the race for the Progressive Conservative nomination to succeed retiring MPP Frank Klees on 19 February. He cited threats against himself and his family as the reason for withdrawing.

Nominations close today (6 March) with the candidate selection due on 20 March.

Earlier today, Regional Council candidate, Darryl Wolk, tweeted:

I expect that there will not be a democratic race for Newmarket-Aurora PC nomination. Unless there is a surprise, it will be an acclamation.

This is an astonishing turn of events. A big ripe plum has just fallen into the lap of Jane Twinney who could inherit a relatively safe PC held seat without ever being tested against other contenders for the nomination.

I understand there were as many as 12 candidates who thought about throwing their hat into the ring when Klees announced his intention not to seek re-election.

Who knows what impact the alleged threats against Somerville had in thinning out the potential field?

In the October 2011 Provincial election Frank Klees (PC) received 17,201 votes (46.2%); Christina Bisanz (Liberal) received 13,487 votes (36.2%); Robin Wardlaw (NDP) 5,477 (14.7%) and Kristopher Kuysten (Green) 1,061 (2.9%)


 

 

Last night, I make my way through the  snow to Crosslands Church where the Glenway Preservation Association is holding its final briefing meeting for residents before the OMB hearing gets under way at the Best Western Voyageur in Yonge Street on 17 March.

The stakes are high.

The cold and calculating Marianneville Developments bought the former golf course for a song and now want to bulldoze their way through the neighbourhood, building 730 residential units on the old fairways and putting greens.

The President of the GPA, Christina Bisanz, tells the thinner than usual audience that it has been a long hard slog. I think issue fatigue has set in. Most people have done their bit and now are waiting to see how things play out

She insists “it’s a fight that ain’t fair” but we stand a good chance of success. The GPA is in lock-step with the Town and each will be supporting the other’s arguments.

Some local pundits shamefully threw in the towel ages ago, believing that nothing could stop a determined developer with time and money at their disposal. It is good to hear Christina Bisanz saying there is everything to play for.

Respect the lawyers

Now it is the turn of Esther Armchuck-Ball, the Town’s solicitor, who reminds us of the history of the Marianneville applications and then takes us through the procedures to be followed at the OMB hearing.

The first application to develop Glenway was filed by Marianneville in April 2012.  It was complex and threw up a million and one questions. The Town was still mulling things over when the developer appealed to the OMB in April 2013, but on an amended application, not the original 2012 one. However, the number of residential units is precisely the same (730). Only the configuration has changed.

She tells us the decision of the OMB pre-hearing to have two phases in the main hearing works in our favour. The first phase, lasting a couple of weeks, addresses the simple question: should any development be permitted at all?

The hearing is open to the public and we are all encouraged to attend. But we are warned to maintain decorum and show respect to the lawyers and the witnesses. Hang on! It is a tall order asking the public to show respect for lawyers but I know what she means.

Marianneville states their case first

The procedures will be like a Court of Law even though the person in charge, the OMB adjudicator, may have no legal training whatsoever. The appellant, Marianneville, will open by presenting their case for the development of Glenway. They will have their three expert witnesses and have brazenly summonsed Ruth Victor who was commissioned by the Town to work on the Glenway file. (The Town’s planning staff were, apparently, too stretched with other matters for Glenway to be dealt with in-house.)

The GPA and the Town will be able to cross examine before Marianneville sums up their case. Then it is the turn of the Town and GPA to put their case to the OMB panjandrum.

At the end of Phase 1, everyone except the certified insane will be hoping the OMB rules on the principle of development. Should any development at all be permitted at Glenway? It would be lunacy of the first order if we embarked on the four week long Phase 2 only to be told at the end of the process that the OMB was not inclined to support any development at all.

What does "winning" mean?

The Town’s solicitor is now telling us what is meant by “winning”.

Winning would be the OMB dismissing outright any development of the Glenway lands. This would be like winning the lottery.

Alternatively, the OMB could rule that any development of the lands would require a further study, no doubt involving the Town and, perhaps, other interested groups.

The Town has hired Mary Bull who will be supported by the in-house legal team.

Also in the line-up is Eric Chandler, a former Director of Planning at New Tecumseth. He has also worked at the Ministry. 

Now the Town’s solicitor is taking questions from the floor.

Inevitably there is a question about compensation. The OMB has no authority to award any. If people bought their properties because of some attractive feature that is now going to be obliterated by the Marianneville development then that is something between the aggrieved buyer and the original seller. (Translation: Forget compensation)

One astute questioner wonders aloud if we are not over-complicating things. He likens what is happening to being burgled and then being told by the Police to negotiate with the burglar to get your possessions back.

Esther Armchuk-Ball now wraps up by telling us that everyone has a fundamental right to ask for a change of use of the property they own.  That is lawyer-speak telling us Marianneville can keep coming back so long as they have the stamina and the cash.

The Mayor

Now the Mayor is invited onto the stage. He is in full lyrical mode. I learn that we are in the cradle of the process. He tells us the closer we get to the Courtroom steps, the narrower are the options.  He has been watching his old Perry Mason VHS tapes again.

There is no clarion call. He limply says we should stick with the Official Plan and “we shall see how equitable the process is.” (possibly, not very)

Next up is John Taylor who is more animated than usual.

He tells us we are on the final lap and we are in a great position. He congratulates the Glenway crowd for being “cohesive”.

He repeats to great effect a line I’ve heard before. “I have a forest behind my house and if someone wanted to build there I’d be furious!”

He sounded angry. (Or gave a good impression of sounding angry.)

That’s what people want to hear.

He says to enthusiastic applause that we have the right to decide what our community looks like, not the developers. He is hopeful, proud but also frustrated by the entire process.

Ward 7 councillor, Chris Emanuel, is now telling us he is “cautiously optimistic”.

The threat to Glenway has brought people out to public meetings in a way not seen for decades. He tells us the unanimous vote by the Town in November to oppose the development was hugely significant. Over 600 people witnessed it.

Now he is boasting “Newmarket hasn’t had public meetings like that since the rebellion of 1837!”

(Dave Kerwin remembers these)

This is great stuff.

Burning Money

Now Dave Sovran brings everyone back down to earth with a bump when he says the GPA’s legal and planning costs are burning money.

The GPA can pay for the legal and planning expertise they need for Phase 1 but then the cash would run out.

And if Phase 1 is lost then Marianneville, cunning and calculating as ever, could seek to exclude the GPA from Phase 2 that deals with the myriad of technical issues from storm water ponds to road lay-outs.

If this happens, the GPA will have to rely on the Town and its consultant planning expert, Ruth Victor.

With the OMB hearing now imminent, the councillors are forced to sing her praises. Taylor tells us she is quite tenacious and up to speed on technical issues. Chris Emanuel tells us she supported a phased hearing.

Tony Van Bynen tells us she was hired by the Town to provide professional advice, without fear or favour.

This is, of course, complete Mayoral cobblers.

When you buy in professional services you want the person to be singing your song, not composing their own at your expense.


 

Bob Forrest, the developer who wants to demolish irreplaceable historic commercial properties in Newmarket’s Main Street, has given the tenants a reprieve for at least 6 months.

In a rumoured $1.7m deal last year Forrest bought a string of properties adjacent to the Old Post Office as the land was needed for his proposed condo.

He gave the small business tenants six months notice to quit by 31 March but he has had a re-think following recent set backs.

A packed public meeting in the Council Chamber on 3 February showed a clear and vocal majority of local residents against the developer’s latest plan. Councillors have also grasped the simple fact that Forrest needs Town owned land for his project to work.

It is in no-one's interests for flourishing small businesses to be kicked out onto the street and for retail frontages to be boarded up. As I understand it, Lemon and Lime, the upscale furniture and upholstery store, is determined to keep trading. So too is the Pizza Place next door and the DVD shop. The Upper Crust coffee shop has already closed and the hairdresser, next to the Old Post Office, is relocating. My spies tell me the Insurance broker wants to stay put.

Town planners will be putting a report on the Clock Tower to the Committee of the Whole in April.

Councillors should reject the Forrest condo plan outright. The question then is how long will Forrest want to hold on to land he cannot develop? If he sells the land on, I suspect we shall see a more sympathetic proposal come forward.


 

The anonymous blogger NTHW takes great offence that I rely on (an unnamed) "impeccable authority" to report that councillor Maddie Di Muccio withdrew the allegation made in her press release of 11 February that Stephen Somerville was responsible for the now notorious YouTube ad which portrayed her as a scheming opportunist.

The self important blogger fears for the credibility of his or her blog.

There is a simple solution.

Instead of foaming at the mouth and getting all indignant why doesn't the blogger simply ask Di Muccio (publicly, via NTHW) if she told the Era Banner

(a)  she did not know who was responsible for the YouTube ad

(b)  the press release she issued on 11 February in which she referred to “a fellow candidate” being responsible was misinterpreted.

(c) the references to he “were in a general sense and not directed at a male”.

The blogger shouldn't be coy about pressing Di Muccio for clear, straightforward answers. After all, she is a great fan.

To refresh our memory, in the 11 February press release Di Muccio

“…expressed sadness and shock that a fellow candidate has targeted her with an ugly, negative personal attack ad.

“Desperate candidates do desperate things,” said Di Muccio. “My opponent knows I have strong support in the party’s grassroots, he knows my message is resonating with PC members, he knows I can win this nomination, so in response he’s resorted to attacking my character with a negative ad. It’s sad; it’s shocking; it’s wrong.”

If that isn't an explicit reference to Stephen Somerville then I am Harry Potter.


 

 

Last week (Tuesday 18 February) our councillors met to be briefed on the draft Secondary Plan that will guide development in Newmarket over coming years.

As I watch the presentation and listen to the questions the thought takes hold that we should elect the planners – or, more specifically, someone to take charge of the planning department. Alas, this option is not on offer.

Such an election would, by its very nature, offer the voters competing visions and different choices.

Instead we have had endless “iterations” of the planners’ “city-building” template.

Most of the people who were involved when the Secondary Plan process started have since dropped by the wayside. Few have had the stamina to stick with it. We have policy making by attrition.

I feel councillors, like the rest of us, have been ground down by the process.

Important issues are not being addressed head on. We have policy making by stealth.

The draft Secondary Plan, published in September 2013, refers to the completed Phase 2 report of the Urban Centres Transportation Study carried out by GDH. We learn that the number of people taking transit as opposed to using their own cars falls far short of what York Region wants. The September draft Plan says:

This suggests that aggressive Transport Demand Measures, parking management, transit priority and other measures will be needed to encourage transit use.

Five months on, we are told it (the Phase 2 study) “will be out shortly”. When Ward 4 councillor Tom Hempen raised the issue of car use we were treated to a folksy little tale from the planning director, Richard Nethery.  He tells us if we are stuck in a traffic jam we are part of the problem. He should have been telling councillors the details of the aggressive traffic management that will be needed as part of the corridor development strategy. After all, he has had the information for months.

That would have triggered a lively debate.

How big should Newmarket be?

The central question is the same now as it was at the beginning of this exercise. What are the Provincially mandated population growth targets that we must hit?  And how big should Newmarket be when there is no more land left to develop?

Regional Councillor John Taylor says 32,000 jobs in the Yonge Davis corridor, envisaged by the Plan, is going to be hard to achieve. He says we are growing at around 400 units a year – which translates into 1,200-1,600 people or around 2% a year. He wants a projected trend line showing how the town is going to grow in future. This is indeed what we need.

Tom Hempen thinks we are 10-15 years away from seeing significant height and density. Tom Vegh, likewise, does not believe we are going to see a spurt in development tomorrow.

Chris Emanuel wonders what are the consequences for the Town’s revenues if there is a slow down in growth. The Town’s Senior Planner in charge of the Secondary Plan file, Marion Plaunt, admits there could be spikes in development. She says the Town has tools to smooth things out if needs be through, for example, the allocation policy for water and sewerage.

The Mayor says investment strategies that gave us the Magna Centre and the Town’s Operations Centre were predicated on a population of 98,000. He wants population forecasts for the town. Why hasn’t he insisted on all this before now? He should be leading the process, not acting as a disinterested commentator.

Boundaries

The boundaries of the Secondary Plan area are being expanded in three areas. In one, a whole row of housing at Walter Avenue (near the junction of Longford and Davis Drive) is to be sucked into the new Centre. We are told this is required to give more depth to allow development. The planners picture a nice quiet Townhouse block.

Taylor cries Whoa! This is a bit late in the process to be adding substantial parcels of land to the urban centre. What about the people living there? It is a pretty big change even though the land may never be redeveloped.

Now we are into a long discussion on heights, density and bonusing policies which will transform the look and feel of Newmarket as we know it.

The draft gives three options with developers being allowed to go above the maximum height if they offer the Town some kind of public benefit (bonusing).

At the high end, options 1 and 2 allow a maximum height of 25 storeys with bonusing. The “medium high” variation allows for 20 storeys; the “medium” variation has a 15 storey maximum and low, 8 storeys. All these are with bonusing.

Option 2A reduces heights with bonusing to 20 storeys (high) 15 (medium high) 10 (medium) and 6 (low).

The planners tell us that bonusing is intended to be the exception and not the rule – but it is at the discretion of the Council. I suspect keeping a cap on heights would be difficult given pressure from developers and the tempting offer of some public benefit.

Tom Vegh is in favour of option 2a which he says will accommodate our targets for growth.

The Town’s outside consultant from the Planning Alliance, Jason Thorne, says all three options can carry the projected population numbers. The built form can either be “tall and skinny” or “shorter and fatter”.

Taylor is on record as being in favour of lower height caps. His October election opponent, Darryl Wolk, would let the market decide. A crucial difference between the two.

Burying hydro

Ward 5’s Joe Sponga focuses on undergrounding hydro. This will involve developers dedicating land to the Town. He fears law suits and wants the region to have a role. We learn that York is not interested and is content to leave policy on undergrounding hydro to the municipalities.

Much discussion follows on “triangular and angular planes” in the context of protecting low rise established residential areas from new, higher, developments alongside.  Councillors focus on Queen Street in particular and development around the hospital. Taylor is particularly exercised by the thought of five or six storey buildings cheek by jowl with single family dwellings.

Dave Kerwin wants them all to go on a site visit before making decisions.

The planners warn that there is only so much you can put in a Secondary Plan before it becomes too prescriptive.

Flexibility seems to be the watchword.

Perhaps we do need to elect the planners after all.

 

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