The battle for the future of Newmarket’s Glenway neighbourhood started in earnest today and I am here to chronicle the tale as it unfolds.
Marianneville Developments wants to shoehorn a staggering 730 new residential units of assorted shapes and sizes onto the former fairways and greens of the Glenway golf course which closed for business in October 2011.
The developers bought the open space in 2010 for a trifling $10 million. Their plans involve building on 61% of the open space they purchased with the remainder being set aside for a nine hole “executive” golf course.
This morning, I am in the Council Chamber at Mulock Drive observing the polite formalities of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) pre-hearing that will set the timetable and agree the modalities for the hearing proper which is pencilled in for eight long weeks starting on 3 March 2014.
The Mayor is here, sitting at the back, keeping an eye on things and I see Chris Emanuel, Jane Twinney, Tom Hempen and the elusive Joe Sponga.
We are here because the Town of Newmarket hasn’t yet come to a view on whether building on the old golf course is a good thing or not. We learn this slothfulness prompts the developer to appeal to the OMB.
The planning lawyer, Ira Kagan, who last appeared in Newmarket for the Slessors, is again acting for the developers.
And he follows precisely the same script.
He tells OMB adjudicator, Jason Chee-Hing, that Marianneville will make a “without prejudice” settlement offer (just like Slessor Square) which, he says, will be submitted “within a week or so”.
He intones: “It is my hope that the Town planning staff will be able to report on the offer in a public report.”
Kagan is a sly old fox!
This tactic worked with Slessor Square, where pusillanimous councillors retreated at the first whiff of grapeshot, so why not try the same formulation again?
He has it all mapped out. The Town staff could have their recommendations ready by October and, he says, we could reconvene in November to find out what the Glenway Preservation Association thinks.
The anticipated second pre-hearing could then be turned into a settlement hearing. Straight out of the Slessor Square play book.
Now calendars are consulted. Diaries are checked.
The Town’s Lawyer, Esther Armchuck-Ball, shakes her head and tells us the planners will not be able to report until late October.
Why on earth so long? They are not deciphering the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Where on earth is the sense of urgency?
When she suggests a decision on the date for the full OMB hearing could be postponed until December she is given short shrift by Kagan and the Chair who both say no, smiling.
Jay Feehley, the lawyer acting for the Glenway Preservation Association, questions whether an eight week full hearing is required. He says it is unnecessarily long but his protestations too are steamrollered.
Now the Adjudicator has to decide who gets Party status (which brings full rights to cross examine witnesses) and who has to settle for being a Participant.
Participants say their piece and then sit at the back of the class, mute thereafter.
Now Feehley announces that the Glenway Preservation Association seeks Party status (no surprises there) but also wants to appeal against the Town’s failure to reach a decision on the Marianneville proposals.
Kagan leaps to his feet, announcing theatrically that such a manoeuvre would not be legal! He has checked the Act! Only the Minister can do something or other.
I am waiting for Feehley to respond with a quick one, two to Kagan’s chin. But Feehley stays seated. He is not inclined to trade punches.
(I thought the brothers-in-law were supposed to share such information beforehand.)
Now a rather intense Jeff Brown steps forward. He represents the Glenway Community Group and seeks Party status.
Bizarrely, he accuses the Glenway Preservation Association of being run by Liberals, with a capital “L”. What relevance has this to anything?
The difference between the GPA and his group is that he seeks compensation should the development be given the green light.
He says he wanted a planning advisory committee set up in 2010 when Mariannville bought the golf course but his pleas fell on deaf ears. The proposed development has progressed without proper oversight.
He says it is unreasonable not to compensate people who will lose money as a result of any development. And, to rub salt into the wounds, he and others are faced with a tax burden to defend Glenway against the developer.
He wants to appeal to the Courts against any adverse OMB decision.
Brown is given participant, not Party, status. The Adjudicator tells him that compensation is not a proper planning consideration.
Now Jane Ross from the York Region district school board asks for participant status. She wants an elementary school considered “as part of the site”.
Someone from Mosaic Homes, with a development next door to Glenway, also gets the OK to appear.
The whole process is enormously drawn out with, it seems, half of Ontario going to the OMB with appeals against developments of one sort or another.
The OMB is creaking under the strain.
And so is our entire discredited planning system.
We now wait nervously for the planners’ recommendations on the settlement offer, no doubt chiseled on tablets of stone.
But it doesn’t have to be like this.
Our elected officials should demand to know the planners’ thinking even before they put pen to paper.
And, if necessary, our councillors should grill the planners at length, and in public, on their reasoning and conclusions.
I know I would.