Last night (4 February) Newmarket councillors put off a decision on the controversial Slessor Square development until 11 February.

After a marathon three hour session, they conclude there are too many issues – especially on traffic – left up in the air.

The Slessors want a zoning by law amendment that would allow them to build a huge complex on a scale, height and density currently prohibited by the Town’s Official Plan.

Nevertheless, Councillors can give the go ahead but only if they are satisfied the development will be compatible with the adjoining residential neighbourhood and that the traffic impact is manageable. That’s a tough call.

The Town’s Planners are recommending approval “in principle” with all the unresolved issues (and there are many) parked in so-called “Holding Zones” for resolution later.

To my mind, it is an unusual way to proceed, storing up problems for tomorrow that should be dealt with today.

We now know more about these Holding Zones thanks to some probing questions by the mercurial Maddie Di Muccio and Joe Sponga.

Maddie asks if a development which is agreed in principle can be subsequently altered, perhaps in height or density, if matters in the Holding Zone don’t turn out as expected.

Marion Plaunt, the planner in charge of the Slessor file, nods in agreement.

Yes, she says.

After an agreement in principle the development can be stopped or changed at any stage, depending on whether the matters in the Holding Zone have been satisfactorily dealt with, or not.

Joe Sponga, who has five developments in the pipeline in his Ward 5, wants to know if the developer can appeal to the OMB if something in the Holding Zone – for example, transport assumptions - doesn’t go their way.

Yep! That’s the  zany way it will work.

We can all look forward to zillions of appeals to the OMB as projects approved “in principle” continue to morph endlessly.

For multi-phase projects that take years (Slessor will happen in four phases over 8-10 years) we are introducing a whole new level of uncertainty into the planning process.

What madness.

Tom Hempen, is in good form. He manages a kind of suppressed outrage on behalf of his Ward 4 constituents whose residential streets will be clogged with traffic. He doesn’t want yet another report to read. He wants answers now.

Alas, answers are in short supply.

Regional Councillor John Taylor asks a series of insightful questions about the matters referred to the Holding Zone.

Councillors are being asked to rely on holding provisions which are lifted when the Town and developer reach agreement on the question at issue.

He wonders aloud how councillors can lift the hold when everything is so vague.

He calls for more precision.

He zeros in on traffic, a major concern.

The Town’s own traffic consultant, Burnside, has a long list of questions the developer has yet to answer. Here is one…

Traffic volumes may be understated as the trips generated for the Commercial Retail component was based on general office which is generally lower than retail uses.

Marion states the obvious: different uses generate different traffic.

The uses, she admits, are “not nailed down at this stage”.

Henry, the Town’s consultant from Burnside, tells us he has not received comments from the Slessors on his long list of concerns (page 73 of the report to councillors).

Here is another one…

The Planners say the settlement offer promises greater connectivity between Yonge and George but in all the traffic scenarios that have been number crunched, there are no traffic forecasts whatsoever for Street A which bisects Slessor Square.

Now a moment of light relief when the Slessor’s cheery lawyer, Ira Kagan, full of bluster and bonhomie, tells us a traffic report was sent to the Town’s Planners at the end of January. Marion and her colleagues look totally blank.

More evidence, if needed, that the whole thing is being rushed through at breakneck speed.

Ward 7 councillor, Chris Emanuel, picks up on this, regretting the timetable for the OMB hearing was fixed to suit the Slessor’s lawyer rather than allow adequate time for the proper consideration of the issues raised.

Chris wants to know if the developer will make any more concessions to address residents’ concerns.

No, says Kagan, smiling. His clients have bent over backwards to accommodate the Town. That’s it.

It is now after 10pm and the Mayor takes the vote to defer consideration until the Committee of the Whole next Monday.

He wraps up the meeting and, in so doing, gives residents’ spokesperson, Bob Bahlieda, a poke in the ribs for his sustained attack on planning department staff.

Bob accuses the planners of leading residents up the garden path and of caving in to the developers at every turn.

My view too, but I wouldn’t have put it so indelicately.

On Monday (4 February) councillors will hear Newmarket’s Planning Department Staff recommend they accept the developer’s “Settlement Offer” in principle with crucially important matters put into a “Holding Zone” to be sorted out later on.

The Slessors want the Town to set aside its own zoning by laws which currently prohibit a development on this scale.

Councillors can do this but they must first be satisfied that appropriate studies have been submitted demonstrating the proposed development will not create an unacceptable level of traffic; will be compatible with the existing surrounding neighbourhood and be in conformity with the intent of the applicable provisions of the Official Plan.

This sounds like Mission Impossible to me.

These studies are incomplete. 

We are told the loose ends will be tied up later by relying on “Holding Positions”.

The staff say:

“In order to ensure that unacceptable traffic impacts do not occur, staff recommend that development proceed only when there is appropriate transportation planned and implemented with each phase of development.”

We are told these Holding Positions are commonplace.

Really?

I am left wondering how many other developments in Newmarket have been given the go-ahead in principle with hugely important issues left, waiting in the wings, to be resolved later.

Councillors are, of course, not obliged to accept the staff recommendation to approve the Settlement Offer. But, if they went against their own Planners’ advice, there would be consequences.

The Slessors have made it clear that they reserve the right to proceed to the scheduled 11April 2013  OMB hearing on their original application filed in September 2011 if a settlement is not achieved.

Bizarrely, Councillors never considered that original application in all its terms. It included an hotel but by the time the paperwork came before councillors (November 2011) the hotel component had vanished.

The proposed Conference Centre survived as part of the re-imagined application right through until November 2012. But it, too, has now been removed.

On Monday evening Newmarket’s Planning Staff will recommend rejection of that Original Application in favour of the Settlement Offer.

They say, with commendable candour, the original application is not compatible with the adjoining settled residential neighbourhood and would create an unacceptable level of traffic.

Yet the Settlement Offer raises precisely the same concerns.

And they are still unresolved.

We do not know what the traffic impact will be. And we do not yet have York Region’s comprehensive transportation study, due for completion in a few months time, in Spring 2013.

Despite this, we are told:

staff conclude that the principle of the application does not pose any conflicts with the provisions of the Regional or Town Official Plans but there are urban design and density issues that will need to be addressed before the application can proceed.

But isn’t this putting the cart before the horse?

Errr… Yes.

We are placing way too much faith on these Holding procedures delivering results.

And how on earth can the Planners recommend approval in principle when even they can’t say with any certainty how Slessor Square will impact on the town?

I discover this gem in the mammoth 123 page report:

  1. “The Holding Zone will address the potential traffic and parking impacts… once there is a more comprehensive understanding of the proposed application” (my italics for emphasis)

Sounds like we are all in the dark.

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Slessor on Sunday 

There will be a meeting tomorrow (Sunday 3 February) to discuss the Slessor application.

It will start at 2pm in the meeting room at Newmarket Public Library, Park Avenue (just off Main Street). Everyone is invited.

Regional Councillor John Taylor and Ward 4 Councillor Tom Hempen will be there to take questions.

The Committee of the Whole will meet at 7pm on Monday 4 February in the Council Chamber at 395 Mulock Drive to vote on the Slessor application.

 

Newmarket's planners are recommending councillors give the green light to the Slessor development at the Committee of the Whole meeting on 4 February.

Slessor's original twin tower proposal is rejected but the refined, re-worked, modified and endlessly re-imagined alternative gets the go-ahead.
 
Bad news!
 
The staff report says two buildings at 21 and 19 storeys and another two at 8 storeys would be OK. All levered into a tight 4.6 acre site.
 
If councillors accept the report - and the thinking behind it - Newmarket will be utterly transformed within a decade.
 
Even now, after months of discussions and negotiations, there are major issues still outstanding - traffic impact for example. These are to be subject to so-called "holding provisions". The developer will have to satisfy the Council that these are being addressed. Hmmmm.

We shall see.

Newmarket may be about to throw overboard the very feature that makes the town so attractive - its human scale.

You can read the report here. Scroll to Slessor Square - staff report 4 February 2013.

Newmarket councillors will consider the Slessor application at a meeting of the Committee of the Whole in the Council Chambers at Mulock Drive at 7pm on Monday 4 February.

The meeting is open to the public.

The staff report with recommendations will, unfortunately, not be available this week “due to complexities of this application”. The senior planner responsible for the Slessor file, Marion Plaunt, says it will be available no later than Thursday, 31 January 2013.

The report will be posted on the Town’s website in the usual way and also on Shrink Slessor Square.

Our sister organisation - the Residents Group Opposed to Slessor Square - has produced this excellent briefing, submitted by the Group's spokesperson Anna O'Rourke. It will help to inform the debate when councillors meet on 4 February 2013 to consider the Slessor proposals.

The Residents Group Opposed to Slessor Square represents a significant group of people who are deeply concerned about the immediate and long-term implications of the Slessor Square Adult Lifestyles Condominium project proposed by Dwight Slessor Holdings Inc.

At 23 & 26 stories (with approval sought for 29 stories max), 774 persons/jobs/hectare and 446 units/hectare the height and density of the project is far in excess of the 200-250 persons+jobs/hectare and 125 units/hectare indicated in various Provincial, Regional and Town planning documents. It also exceeds the stated maximums of 125 units/hectare and FSI of 1.0 indicated in the town’s Official Plan for Phase 1 development.

It is an extreme departure from the progressive and reasonable intensification of Newmarket’s core and is not consistent with the guidelines for intensification targets or the wishes of the citizens of Newmarket.

Our Primary Concerns:

Height

  • At 26 and 23 stories (as submitted with 3 story commercial platforms) (23 stories- 73.92 m (242.5 ft.) 26 stories – 81.87 m (268.6 ft.)  The relief sought by the By-law application is for 26 & 29 stories which would make the tallest tower approximately 89.82 m (294.68 ft.) almost 3 times the height of the highest buildings in Newmarket.
  • Close proximity of the project to residential off George St.
  • Current proposed 15 story cap under review
  • Existing residential consists of half a dozen buildings at 10-12 stories scattered across town.

Density

  • FSI of 3.63 vs. 1.0 permitted in the Town Plan in Phase 1 and 2.5 minimum indicated in the Regional Growth Plan.
  • 446 units/hectare vs. 125 maximum permitted in the Town Plan.
  • 774 persons+jobs/hectare vs. 200-250 minimum   and a maximum of 349 as the projected goal in the Regional and Town Plans by 2031.

Traffic

  • The most recent traffic study indicates that the Slessor Development will add 542 rush-hour trips to the already overloaded Yonge/Davis corridors.
  • The only Regional collector road egress is Yonge St. The development would add 542 rush hour trips to an already grid-locked Yonge St.
  • George St. is a local collector street not suited to handle overflow. It also exits at Davis Dr. and Yonge St. via Kingston Rd. providing no ancillary relief to traffic overflow. Bleed out into the residential areas to the north and east is unacceptable.


Our Supplementary Concerns

  • Lack of truly “affordable” housing – 35% of the development will be under $300,000 which is classified as the accepted affordability index. Newmarket recently ranked 13th overall in the MoneySense survey of the quality of life in 190 cities around the world but was 143rd on the affordability ranking. There are upwards of 10,000 people in Newmarket/Aurora living below the poverty line.
  • Setbacks, stepbacks and angular planes – Buildings on George St. have only a 3.46 m setback from the property line.
  • Impacts on future infrastructure support costs
  • Cash payments “in lieu of” parkland and greenspace provisions. Parkland should be included in the plan to respond to intensification guidelines for urban spaces. We have no assurance that this “in lieu of” money will be spent beautifying the intensification corridor.
  • The inability of emergency services to adequately respond to situations at the site.

Our Expectations:

  • Reduce the height and density of the project by 50% (15 stories or 150 ft. / 390 jobs/persons/hectare / 1.8 FS|). This still meets and exceeds all intensification targets set by the province, the region and the town while creating manageable, sustainable growth.
  • Reduce the proposed 446 units/hectare to the permitted maximum of 125 indicated in the Official Plan.
  • Approve 15 (150 ft.) story cap on future developments and a limit of 390 persons+jobs/hectare on future density. Hold FSI to the regionally recommended 2.5. Allow additional stories or density in exchange for other indicated expectations in the intensification guidelines i.e.  affordable housing units, additional public spaces etc.
  • Require the provision of a percentage  (5%) of units of any development at no charge for assisted or low-income individuals with condo fees waived in perpetuity (see OMB Greatlands Development decision in Richmond Hill)
  • Provide setbacks, stepbacks and required angular planes (45 degrees) from lot lines to reduce the footprint and impact of this and future projects on George St. and other residential neighbourhoods.
  • Require mixed use low-rise commercial/retail/residential for street-level built form and higher density (see previous slide) in developments stepped back behind this to reduce imposing street level designs.
  • Require developers to fund undergrounding of hydro as part of their project costs.
  • Require developments to conform to traffic growth load factors in their density and built form to ensure growth can be managed.
  • Require underground parking as part of all major developments in the intensification corridor to provide above ground use for greenspace provision.