- Written by Gordon Prentice
Planning approval for a 280 unit 20 storey condo at the intersection of Davis Drive and George Street was granted in 2009 yet, four years on, the site is still a patch of bare sand and gravel.
In theory, there should be residential units there, offering housing choices for Newmarket people, but the developer, for his own reasons, chooses to sit on the land rather than build on it.
The owner, Peter Czapka, (also known as 1858107 Ontario Inc) bought the land on 12 October 2011 for $1,000,000 cash.
Czapka is also into real estate in a big way.
He runs Tricap Properties Inc, a Markham based private corporation that “owns, develops and manages commercial and industrial buildings in York Region and Simcoe County.”
Tricap has an extensive land bank where sites can be offered up for development at a time when profits are likely to be maximised.
The problem with leaving land empty – especially when it has planning approval – is that it blights the surrounding area.
The millions of dollars of public money being poured into the Davis Drive rapidway will count for nothing if landowners along the corridor choose to sit on their hands.
Seems to me this is a perfect illustration of what is wrong with our broken planning system.
Once landowners get their planning approval from the Town Hall, they can sit on that approval indefinitely, waiting for the market to become favourable before developing.
This is not always in the public interest. There is a strong case for arguing that once planning approval in the form of a Zoning By Law amendment is received there should be an expectation that a site plan application to develop will be brought forward.
Just up the road from 39 Davis Drive lies another deserted development site, 22 George Street, that has approval for a 12 storey condo with 115 apartments. It, too, is owned by 1858107 Ontario Inc.
One simple way of stopping this blight would be to attach time conditions to planning approval.
Basically, use it or lose it.
If development has not started within, say, three years of approval being granted, then that approval expires.
Or a tax penalty could be applied to landowners who choose to wait. At the moment, landowners now can apply for a tax rebate when their commercial or industrial properties lie vacant for a certain period. Why not turn that principle on its head and tax, rather than reward, people for sitting on land where planning approval has already been given?
Every year since 2009 the owner of 39 Davis Drive, has been asked by the Town Hall when he intends to develop the land. And the answer always comes back, not now.
In the light of this, the water and sewerage allocation that would go to a major development on the Davis Drive corridor in the heart of Newmarket’s Urban Centre, will go elsewhere.
To Glenway, perhaps.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Mariannville Developments, the swashbuckling outfit that wants to build 730 dwellings on the fairways and putting greens of the former Glenway golf course, has published its “settlement offer”.
It is as toxic as a dose of anthrax and should be rejected.
Councillors should throw everything they’ve got, and more, into the marathon 8 week long OMB hearing scheduled for March 2014.
The settlement offer set out in the letter from Mariannville’s lawyer, Ira Kagan, could hardly be more disdainful or imperious in tone. (Ward 7 councillor, Chris Emanuel, who represents the Glenway neighbourhood, helpfully posts the details on his website.)
The blustering showman, Ira Kagan, who wants us to believe he has the whip hand, requires the Town to somersault at his command.
He insists Town staff present a report to councillors by November 2013 containing “recommendations” on whether or not to accept or reject the offer. A report without recommendations is not acceptable.
He stipulates that the Town must allocate sanitary sewer and water capacity for 730 units “forthwith” after approving this settlement.
There are other requirements and conditions too but these are secondary.
Kagan is making the “without prejudice” offer public to invite comments. So here is my pennyworth.
(1) Now that the final offer is public, councillors must declare their position. They should insist on retaining the open space at Glenway in line with the Town’s Official Plan.
(2) In the meantime, councillors must assert themselves. They should grill the planners at length before they (the staff) even put pen to paper. The planners are there to serve the interests of the Town, not the other way around.
(3) The staff report must recommend the settlement offer be refused.
(4) The Town should make it clear it will not hook up "forthwith" the proposed 730 residential units to the sewer network and water mains.
This last point is key. Development can only proceed if Mariannville gets all the necessary planning approvals and gets connected to the water main and sewers.
The Town has a servicing allocation policy, adopted by the Council in August 2009 (click Documents in the menu left and open Newmarket documents).
The latest report went to the Committee of the Whole on 29 April 2013. (Scroll to item 15)
Servicing capacity is limited and it is, in effect, rationed according to criteria set out. There is a clear hierarchy.
First call on water and sewerage goes to “applications within the Urban Centres” as shown on Schedule A of the Official Plan.
Then consideration is given to “providing allocation to those applications in the Emerging Residential Areas" as shown on Schedule A.
Only then should allocation go to developments in a Stable Residential Area – which is what Glenway is in the Official Plan.
The Town’s servicing allocation policy is designed to promote development in the Urban Centres in support of (a) Newmarket’s Official Plan and (b) York Region’s Centres and Corridors program and (c) the Vivanext bus rapid transit system.
What a terrible irony if the open spaces of Glenway are built over and Davis Drive remains a deserted wasteland.
(more on this to come)
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Councillors yesterday approved a staff recommendation to bring in a By Law designating Newmarket’s historic Main Street South as a Heritage Conservation District.
But, bizarrely, the two hour debate left unresolved the key question of finance and how the new By Law was to be resourced.
The Town’s Chief Administrative Officer, Bob Shelton, tells councillors that a soon-to-be-recruited Business Development Officer would provide support for the implementation of the Heritage Plan alongside planning staff already in post.
Shelton is quizzed by Regional Councillor, John Taylor, who says there never was any decision to allow staff to go ahead and fill the BDO post without first bringing a report back to councillors.
An impassive Shelton recalls a decision taken on 25 June 2012.
Now we are entering the theatre of the absurd as Shelton’s recollection is again challenged by Taylor. Now there are calls for the Minute Book to be brought up from the dusty old archives.
The Town’s top managers and the elected councillors seem to exist in parallel universes that collide at meetings of the Committee of the Whole.
How on earth is it possible for the report on the Heritage by Law to be written, circulated and debated in public without councillors, or at the very least the Mayor, discussing the financing and resourcing aspects beforehand with the report’s authors?
Now the councillors are zeroing in on Heritage Tax Rebates.
Rick Nethery, the Town’s Planning Chief, tells councillors “we don’t have a whole lot of take up”. (which must rank as the understatement of the year as the rebate cost the Town a meagre $5,377 in 2012)
Taylor fears there could be a huge increase in the number of applications from people living in the Heritage District that could cost the Town a fortune. He says it could be a tax break given to owners who don’t need the money to keep their properties in tip-top condition. He suggests a special heritage fund is created to help properties needing lots of love and attention.
Now an increasingly exasperated Taylor says the Town can adopt the Heritage By Law without necessarily increasing current staffing levels. (Sharp intake of breath from top managers present).
The Commissioner of Development and Infrastructure Services, Rob Prentice, tells an inquiring Maddie di Muccio, that, without resources, “it would be a challenge to do the work”.
Maddie asserts that too much of the Town’s money is being lavished on Main Street.
Jo Sponga, whose patch includes the downtown heritage district, says the most important thing is to press ahead and designate. Just do it.
Chris Emanuel agrees with Sponga. He says it is “imperative” the report is approved today.
With a municipal memory stretching back to Confederation, Dave Kerwin says the heritage issue has been left unresolved for too long and should be resolved now. No more delays.
The Mayor, who loves the paperwork, insists on another report on how everything is to be financed.
Tom Hempen, who declares an interest as his mother owns a property in the heritage conservation district, stays out of the debate.
Tom Vegh, a man of few words at the best of times, says nothing. (He really must learn to share his thoughts.)
After much huffing and puffing, councillors agree the By Law but leave the question of paying for it to a future meeting.
Maddie votes against.
So too does Jane “I’m not too sure where I am sitting on this” Twinney.
No surprises there.
The future of the OMB
At long last, a review of the dysfunctional OMB.
The power exercised by this unelected and unaccountable body is awesome - as people in Glenway may soon discover to their cost.
The Secondary Plan
If the Urban Centres Secondary Plan gets Council approval, Newmarket will soon be studded with huge high rise towers, some reaching 25 storeys.
I am not entirely sure Newmarket people are signed up for this but we shall see.
The Town will be holding a public meeting in October (date to be announced) when the latest draft will be unveiled.
Newmarket is going to grow. But who is going to shape it?
The developers and the "city builders" in the planning department or the people who live here.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
As the Town prepares to consult the public on its 2014 budget, the ever controversial Councillor Maddie Di Muccio, sets out her own shopping list of cuts.
She wants to “eliminate the tax heritage rebate program”.
I am left wondering why. Seems to me like a good thing.
In 2012 – the last year for which we have figures – Heritage rebates cost the Town a modest $5, 377.
Compare this with the $106,642 given to owners of vacant commercial and industrial buildings. This “vacancy rebate” mysteriously doesn’t rate a mention.
Of greater concern is Maddie’s determination
“to eliminate the $135,000/year grants handed out exclusively to business on Main Street. Some of these recipients have personal relationships that are too close for comfort with certain Council members”.
The statement, though carefully crafted, infers that some business owners on Main Street may be improperly receiving a financial benefit that arises directly from their relationship with (unnamed) Councillors.
If it is not her intention to leave this impression in the mind of the reader, then what precisely is she trying to say?
The names and addresses of people who receive grants are matters of public record. Members of the Newmarket Downtown Development Sub Committee are obliged to declare any conflicts of interest.
If she believes anyone is acting corruptly she should take her concerns in the first instance to Bob Shelton, the Town’s Chief Administrative Officer and, if needs be, the police.
Until then, she should break the habit of a lifetime and steer clear of smearing people.
King George School
Now that the Committee of the Whole will be considering the proposed Heritage By Law on 26 August, it is time for an update on King George School on Park Avenue, just up the road from Newmarket Library.
The school – which is just outside the Heritage Conservation District – was built in 1912-13 and is designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.
The Town’s 1986 By Law says it is
“a well preserved example of early twentieth century public school architecture”.
The property was purchased from the York Region District School Board on 15 November 2011 by the numbered corporation, 1569121 Ontario Limited, for $1,275,000.
The owner of Ontario Corporation 1569121, Chrisula Selfe, is based in Toronto.
My spies tell me that the owner has been working on a plan that retains the existing building but with an additional two stepped back floors on top of the existing roof. There would also be a westerly extension added to the building.
People in the immediate neighbourhood obviously have their concerns. But we all want to know the developers’ intentions.
The site is designated for institutional use so any departure from this would require an Official Plan amendment and a zoning by law amendment. (Such amendments are ten-a-penny.)
This historic building has already been empty for too long. It should not be allowed to decay and crumble by neglect.
That way lies demolition and wholesale redevelopment.
And we don’t want that.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Planning staff are recommending councillors adopt a By Law designating Lower Main Street South as a Heritage Conservation District when the Committee of the Whole meets later this month.
This is good news.
The full report can be accessed here.
Download the Committee of the Whole agenda for 26 August 2013 and scroll to item 13.
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