Last night, Newmarket Council gives the go ahead to the massive Slessor complex opposite Upper Canada Mall that will take up to a decade to complete. It sets the precedent for future development in central Newmarket.

One by one, the councillors give their reasons.

Personally, I find this compelling stuff as, even after all this time, I still don’t know what some of them really think about it all.

The dance of the seven veils begins…

An agonised Tom Hempen is desperately looking for a way out. He wants assurances from the traffic experts that everything will work out in the end. That way, he can vote for Slessor and look his Ward 4 constituents in the eye. He pleads with the Town’s traffic consultant to throw him a lifeline. More traffic studies are on the way. Phew! What a relief!

No surprises from Maddie Di Muccio. She is the developer’s friend. No need to guess whose side she is on. She reminds us we have long known intensification is coming. And now it has arrived. Get used to it.

Joe Sponga deserves a pat on the back for taking the trouble to engage with the issue. He asks probing questions rather than sit passively, saying nothing, like a lump of lard. He wants the Council to take the decision rather than leave it to the OMB which could, he says, land us with an even worse development than the one proposed. He says it is showing “leadership” to vote for Slessor.

Ward 7 councillor and Glenway champion, Chris Emanuel, realises he is between a rock and a hard place. Despite clear misgivings about the process he has got to choose. He votes for Slessor.

John Taylor tells us earlier he is leaning towards supporting the Planning Staff recommendations but he is upset that councillors may be cut out of future decisions. He worries that the developer and planning staff will decide things. It is another one of these process issues that conveniently divert discussion away from the central point which is, in this case, density.

But, eventually, he gets round to it.

If it were up to him he would go for a 25% reduction in density. Alas, he doesn’t have the power to insist on this. He has got to take this and that into account. And weigh everything up. It is all very difficult. He, too, votes for Slessor.

Now it is the turn of Jane Twinney. In a rare intervention she asks if it is true that the density of the development can change after approval in principle is given. Yes, says Marion. But there is a height cap. The developer can’t go above 21 storeys.

Dave Kerwin now launches into a long paean of praise for the Slessors. He is concerned that further delays could bankrupt the developer. It has already dragged on for two years. He is firmly in the Slessor camp. Always was.

Now I hear Tom Vegh extolling the new options for seniors that Slessor will provide. There is a lot of congratulatory stuff .  Staff and councillors, working tirelessly right up to the wire, wringing concessions from the developer. Much back slapping.

Now it is the turn of the Mayor who reads something from a script prepared earlier. Then the roll call vote is taken. It is unanimous.

So what did they vote for?

Our councillors have given “approval in principle” to the largest development Newmarket has ever seen. But we don’t know the final density. That could change.  We don’t know the number of apartments. Or the nature of the commercial and retail units that are integral to the complex. Or the traffic impact on the adjoining neighbourhood and town more generally. Or the phasing of the four stage development.

Earlier, in the afternoon session, Slessor’s Project Manager, Bob Forrest, sporting eye catching bright orange shoes, tells us he wants the retirement residence to be built first. Hmmm. I wonder how many older people want to spend their golden years in the middle of a construction site.

I’d take a bet on the towers going up first.

He tells councillors “We want the flexibility to build what can be built.”

And that means eliminating, so far as possible, public involvement. The developers don’t want to find themselves at some point, further down the road, calling for another zoning by law amendment.

“A by law amendment is often questioned by the public” says Bob.

If we just deal with the planning staff  “there is no need to be nervous”.

Councillors are seduced by assurances from their own planners and lawyers that the multitude of outstanding issues parked in the so-called Holding Zone will be considered with meticulous care and that the Holds will not be prematurely lifted.

Innocents abroad, I’d say.

Anyway… all eyes now shift to the OMB which will convene in the Council Chamber at Mulock Drive at 10.30am next Tuesday for the so-called “settlement hearing”. The OMB is the “approval authority “ and it is up to them to decide what happens next. But with councillors, planning staff and developers all whistling the same tune, don’t expect any surprises.


It is decision time on the Slessor Square application.

Please come out and show your support against approval of the grossly oversized Slessor Square development, located at ground zero for gridlock in Newmarket.

Where: Newmarket Town Council Chambers, 395 Mulock Drive

When1.30pm and again 7pm Monday February 11th (Committee of the Whole ruling, followed by final decision at the evening Council meeting).

What: Town staff just released their report recommending approval of Slessor’s “Without Prejudice” settlement offer, which contravenes our Bylaws!

Why: Council need to see that residents care about traffic nightmares, and want to stop developers who try to bully a favourable decision.

Please spread the word to anyone who cares about Newmarket’s future. This development is more than 3 times the density and 2.5 times the height limit of current Town Bylaws, located at the worst spot in Newmarket for gridlock. Is this the precedent you want for Newmarket?


Shrink Slessor Square is now incorporated. Approval came through today, Friday 8 February.

Our objects are to secure a reduction in the density and height of the proposed development of Slessor Square and, more generally, to promote sustainable development throughout the Town of Newmarket.

The Town will be making a far reaching and irreversible decision on Monday 11 February if councillors  rubber stamp a Planning staff recommendation to approve Slessor "in principle".


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.


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.


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.