Here is the text of an e mail sent to supporters earlier this week. If you share our concerns, come to our meeting next Wednesday...
 
Hi there
 
We are neighbours.
 
Many of you signed a petition earlier this year against the Slessor Square development, and we are now inviting you and others who share our concern to a crucial meeting in Newmarket Library's multi purpose room on Wednesday 12 December from 7pm - 9pm.  
 
After endless months of negotiation between Town and developer, things are now coming to the boil.
 
The Slessors are keen to press ahead with their gigantic twin towers on the Slessor site but they know there is vocal opposition. 
 
So now, at the eleventh hour, they are proposing an alternative, which is just as oversized as their original proposal, in the hope of getting the Town to agree.
 
Details of this so called "settlement option" can be found here in the planning applications page on the Town website. Scroll to 17645 Yonge Street (Dwight Slessor Holdings Ltd.) Go to “Without Prejudice” documents and open “Slessor Conceptual Design Package (November 2012)”.
 
The Slessors have now gone to the Ontario Municipal Board, by-passing our local council, hoping they can force their massive development through.
 
Fortunately, the OMB has given Shrink Slessor Square (SSS) "party status" and we can speak out on behalf of residents. 
 
But we need your backing or the OMB will not take our voices seriously.
 
For a modest membership contribution of $1 you can be part of the SSS residents' group. You can vote on key decisions, stand for election to our Board if you wish, and help shape the future of our neighbourhood and Town.
 
As a non profit organisation of residents, we are seeking "incorporation" to be able to demonstrate our solidarity to the OMB. If we stay silent, the developers win.
  
We know there are fears this could lead to expensive fees to hire lawyers. But we have absolutely no plans to hire lawyers, and, in any event, the OMB makes it clear that lawyer representation is not essential.
 
We are also proceeding on the basis of advice from other active residents groups with experience in OMB dealings (including Glenway and the recent mega-quarry victory). 
 
Closer to home, perhaps you know people with legal or technical skills that would help us strengthen our case.
 
Feel free to forward this e mail to friends, neighbours and acquaintances who may share your concerns about this monster project. Our group is open and welcoming, so please spread the word.
 
It’s time for all of us to unite to shrink Slessor Square.
 
Let us know if you are thinking of coming along to the meeting on 12 December. It helps with the planning.
E mail  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Best Wishes
 
Gordon Prentice and Bill Chadwick
on behalf of the Shrink Slessor Square Residents' Group

The Town of Newmarket will be deciding its position on the controversial Slessor Square development in early February.

Staff are preparing a report with recommendations for the meeting of the Committee of the Whole on 4 February 2013.

By e mail on 4 December 2012

Mayor Van Bynen,

I am writing to share a concern that Slessor’s lawyer may have placed the Town of Newmarket’s Council and staff onto a path that (without speedy action) could result in a “lose-lose” position for the town.

Allow me to provide a little background before I explain the risk. Since early this year there have been many meetings on this development, ranging from those between staff and developer, to public meetings, etc. During this time the developer has presented at least two new versions, the latest being designated as a “without prejudice” version. This version was introduced to several representatives of the “Shrink Slessor Square” residents group several weeks ago. At this meeting it was evident that extensive negotiations had taken place between the Town’s staff and developers on issues that are of secondary concern to residents (easement for Hydro, shading of the inner courtyard, etc). Meanwhile no progress had occurred on density,  and the design’s height had regressed from the previous versions’ 16 floors to 20 floors. The negotiations between this version and the previous one had occurred without any direct involvement of our residents group.

In summary, close to a year has expired with no progress on density, and only a little “down and up” change on height.

At Friday’s OMB Pre-Hearing, Slessor’s lawyer proposed the Town Council makes a decision on whether to accept or oppose the “without prejudice” design by early February, to be followed by a mid February OMB Hearing (if the Council votes to accept this design). In this event, presumably only the residents group would be challenging OMB’s approval, so the likelihood is the “without prejudice” version would gain OMB blessing. Hence, a dangerous precedence will have been created. The “floodgates” would be open for developments throughout Newmarket to ignore zoning and long term plans, because the Council capitulated on Slessor’s obscenely oversized demands “without a fight”. It would be “open season” for developers to almost do what they wanted.  Alternatively, If Council votes to oppose Slessor, you face an (un-budgeted?) expenditure for lawyers and experts that Councillors said may cost between $300,000 and one million dollars!…… Cancelling Council coffees will not pay for this…. Hence, you would be facing a “lose-lose” vote.

May I suggest the Town and staff needs to immediately launch intensive negotiations with the Slessor team to downsize density as a minimum. The residents group would like to be part of these negotiations, and I commit to seek expedient resident buy-in to a serious counter proposal that brings the density much closer to the often mentioned planning objective of 200-250 people+jobs/Hectare.

In addition, it seems prudent for Councillors and yourself to expediently approve the staff report paragraph that seeks approval to pursue outside expert help (an item that was postponed at the last Committee of the Whole). Otherwise the Slessor team will not be motivated to seriously negotiate. 

Bill Chadwick on behalf of the Shrink Slessor Square concerned residents

Forsyth Road, Newmarket

Copies to all Councillors, Regional Councillor John Taylor, Senior Planner Marion Plaunt

 

Shrink Slessor Square was today granted “party” status by the OMB at a special pre hearing in Newmarket Council Chamber.

Bill Chadwick told the OMB Adjudicator, Sylvia Sutherland, that he was seeking Party status on behalf of the residents’ group “Shrink Slessor Square”. He said the group would be seeking incorporation.

There were no objections.

This means that Shrink Slessor Square is now an active player on an equal footing with the Town, the Region of York and, of course, the developers.

We can quiz the developers and the other parties – and be questioned in turn.

The full OMB hearing is pencilled in for 11 April – 2 May 2013.

The developers are now proposing (a) a ten storey building with 203 units (b) a 20 storey building with 248 units (c) another 20 storey building with 193 units and (d) a nine storey building with 218 units – all squeezed into a tight site of under five acres.

The Slessors describe this as their “settlement offer”.

The Town will be meeting to consider its response.

If the Town doesn’t accept it, then it is taken off the table and the matter goes to a full hearing on the original twin towers application. 23 and 26 storey towers on three storey podiums.

Sounds like 26 and 29 to me!

A hearing on this “settlement offer” is down for 19, 20 and 21 February.

But, in the meantime, for Shrink Slessor Square, it is full steam ahead.

We will be keeping everyone informed as we take steps to become incorporated as a non-profit body and meeting in the near future to plan the way forward. 

The Slessor Residents’ Group has decided not to ask for “Party” status at the pre hearing on Friday 30 November.

This is a big mistake.

A leading light in the five strong residents’ group, Bob Bahlieda, knows the Slessor application inside out.  His forensic skills can lay bare inconsistencies and errors in the most densely argued case.

Other members of the group bring with them detailed knowledge of the Slessor application in all its forms, as it has mutated over the months.

The Town’s Planning Department has consulted the group from the outset, believing it represents the views of residents. And tri-partite meetings have been held with the developers so the group knows the nuts and bolts of the application in a way that no-one else does.

Given all this, it seems to me inconceivable that the OMB Adjudicator would refuse a request from the Slessor Residents’ Group for Party status.

I can’t see the Town of Newmarket objecting.

The developers, quite possibly.

They want to convince us that their sky high development is just the tonic that Newmarket needs.

But, ultimately, the decision will be for the OMB panel member adjudicating.

The Slessor Residents’ Group say they are content with Participant status. Their lead spokesperson, Anna O’Rourke, explains:

(1)         There is little to be gained by our group (in going for Party status). Party status requires full time commitment to attend and participate in the hearings which could last up to four weeks.

(2)         We also have few witnesses to call and cross-examination would only rehash the same disagreements we have had with the project already and allow them to attack them through cross-examination.

(3)         We also have no legal standing at the OMB but must use our moral arguments to oppose the project. Party status leaves us open to having our position undermined. Expert witnesses at the hearing will be prepped by their legal team. We have no expertise in being witnesses.

(4)         In contrast, the role of participant allows us to fully present our case while not having the OMB distracted by cross examination or by throwing us off our message. We will still make all the same points as we would being a party but without the distraction of cross examination and the potential that we say something that will prejudice our case. Given our limited resources the role of participant is a more preferred strategy that lets us control our message.

The Slessor Residents’ Group don’t need to pretend to be something they are not. They are not Bay Street lawyers or planning professionals. They are concerned citizens. No more and no less. And they don’t need to be frightened of their own shadow.

As Participants, they will get one kick at the ball and then they are off the field and are spectators again. Those with Party status are key players throughout.

I hope it is not too late for the group to reconsider.

So what are the pros and cons of going for Party status?

Pros

(1)         The Group would be giving voice to a large number of local people who object strongly to the Slessor development. There is no other group that purports to represent the views of local people on the Slessor development.

(2)         It doesn’t cost anything to become a party – other than in terms of time. (And, yes, that is a big deal.)

(3)         Parties do not need to be “experts” or be legally represented. They just need to be able to speak on their own behalf and present their evidence to the hearing. In the pool of 23 OMB adjudicators there are “lawyers, former elected officials, engineers, surveyors, planners and public administrators.”

(4)         Parties can cross examine if they choose. In the course of the OMB hearing, the developers may make statements that cry out to be challenged.

(5)         Crucially, Parties can ask the OMB to help broker an agreement. The OMB says it may try to settle disputes or reduce the number of issues at a hearing by bringing parties together informally through mediation. Those with participant status are expressly excluded from the process. The Slessor Residents' Group would be in on any mediation talks.

Cons

(1)         There would be a major investment in time, not necessarily money. There would be modest photocopying costs and so on.

(2)         The bona fides of the Slessor Residents’ Group could be challenged. Are the spokespeople elected or self appointed? Is there a membership? And do they meet and vote on positions?

(3)         It is too big a burden for a single individual to be expected to carry.

(4)         Anything that needs to be said at the hearing can be said as a participant.

(5)         Being cross examined by smart silver tongued lawyers wouldn’t be much fun and the Group might look foolish or unprepared, or both.

An unincorporated body such as the Slessor Residents’ Group has a major hurdle to overcome (point 3 above) when going for Party status.

The OMB rules say “if an unincorporated group wishes to become a party, the group must appoint one person to speak for it. The person appointed must accept the responsibilities of a party.”

That means being present throughout the OMB hearing. And that’s a big commitment.

One way around this is for a community/residents group to become incorporated. There are special rules for non profit organisations and incorporation can be quick and relatively straightforward. And it doesn’t cost much.

This is what the Glenway Preservation Association has done. 

The Glenway people say incorporation ensures “appropriate governance and accountability”.

Maybe the Slessor Residents’ Group should take steps to become incorporated. If it's not too late.

I’d vote for that. 

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The OMB guide explains how the system works:

“Parties take part in the hearing by exchanging documents, presenting evidence, questioning witnesses and making submissions to the Board. Parties may also request costs, adjournments or a review of the decision.”

How to become a Party

(1)         Submit your request in writing to the Board, and provide a copy of your request to the other parties

(2)         Be at the first day of hearings, at the start time. If you are not there you may be denied party status.

(3)         At the beginning of the hearing, the Board member asks if anyone wishes to become a party to the matter. You may stand up and ask to be added as a party.

(4)         Give the Board member your name and address for the record.

(5)         Explain why you wish to be added as a party. After explaining your position, the Member will ask if any of the other parties object to to you being added.

(6)         The other parties may agree or disagree to adding you as a party.

(7)         The Board Member decides if you will be added as a party.

A Participant is a person or organisation that participates by making a statement to the Board on some or all of the issues at a hearing. A participant may attend all or only part of the proceedings. Participants are not required to make submissions to council before becoming involved in an OMB matter.

When making a statement to the Board, participants must swear to tell the truth. They may be questioned by the Board and other parties. Participants generally do not question witnesses and cannot ask for costs, adjournments or request a review of the decision.

How to become a participant:

(1)         Be at the first day of the hearing, at the start time. If you are not there you may be denied participant status.

(2)         At the beginning of the hearing, the Board Member asks if anyone wishes to become a party or a participant. At that time you may stand up and ask to be a participant.

(3)         Give the Board Member your name and address for the record.

The Member will set aside time during the hearing for participant statements. Usually statements are scheduled at the end of a hearing. During a longer hearing, the Board may set a different time for participant statements so participants do not have to sit through the entire hearing.

Click on this link http://www.omb.gov.on.ca/english/home.html  to access the OMB’s website. 

·        http://www.omb.gov.on.ca/english/FrequentlyAskedQuestions/faq.html (“Frequently Asked Questions”)

·        http://www.omb.gov.on.ca/stellent/groups/public/@abcs/@www/@omb/documents/webasset/ec081184.pdf (“Guide to the Ontario Municipal Board”)

·        http://www.omb.gov.on.ca/english/InformationSheets/index.htm (“Information Sheets”)

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