Last night, I make my way through the snow to Crosslands Church where the Glenway Preservation Association is holding its final briefing meeting for residents before the OMB hearing gets under way at the Best Western Voyageur in Yonge Street on 17 March.
The stakes are high.
The cold and calculating Marianneville Developments bought the former golf course for a song and now want to bulldoze their way through the neighbourhood, building 730 residential units on the old fairways and putting greens.
The President of the GPA, Christina Bisanz, tells the thinner than usual audience that it has been a long hard slog. I think issue fatigue has set in. Most people have done their bit and now are waiting to see how things play out
She insists “it’s a fight that ain’t fair” but we stand a good chance of success. The GPA is in lock-step with the Town and each will be supporting the other’s arguments.
Some local pundits shamefully threw in the towel ages ago, believing that nothing could stop a determined developer with time and money at their disposal. It is good to hear Christina Bisanz saying there is everything to play for.
Respect the lawyers
Now it is the turn of Esther Armchuck-Ball, the Town’s solicitor, who reminds us of the history of the Marianneville applications and then takes us through the procedures to be followed at the OMB hearing.
The first application to develop Glenway was filed by Marianneville in April 2012. It was complex and threw up a million and one questions. The Town was still mulling things over when the developer appealed to the OMB in April 2013, but on an amended application, not the original 2012 one. However, the number of residential units is precisely the same (730). Only the configuration has changed.
She tells us the decision of the OMB pre-hearing to have two phases in the main hearing works in our favour. The first phase, lasting a couple of weeks, addresses the simple question: should any development be permitted at all?
The hearing is open to the public and we are all encouraged to attend. But we are warned to maintain decorum and show respect to the lawyers and the witnesses. Hang on! It is a tall order asking the public to show respect for lawyers but I know what she means.
Marianneville states their case first
The procedures will be like a Court of Law even though the person in charge, the OMB adjudicator, may have no legal training whatsoever. The appellant, Marianneville, will open by presenting their case for the development of Glenway. They will have their three expert witnesses and have brazenly summonsed Ruth Victor who was commissioned by the Town to work on the Glenway file. (The Town’s planning staff were, apparently, too stretched with other matters for Glenway to be dealt with in-house.)
The GPA and the Town will be able to cross examine before Marianneville sums up their case. Then it is the turn of the Town and GPA to put their case to the OMB panjandrum.
At the end of Phase 1, everyone except the certified insane will be hoping the OMB rules on the principle of development. Should any development at all be permitted at Glenway? It would be lunacy of the first order if we embarked on the four week long Phase 2 only to be told at the end of the process that the OMB was not inclined to support any development at all.
What does "winning" mean?
The Town’s solicitor is now telling us what is meant by “winning”.
Winning would be the OMB dismissing outright any development of the Glenway lands. This would be like winning the lottery.
Alternatively, the OMB could rule that any development of the lands would require a further study, no doubt involving the Town and, perhaps, other interested groups.
The Town has hired Mary Bull who will be supported by the in-house legal team.
Also in the line-up is Eric Chandler, a former Director of Planning at New Tecumseth. He has also worked at the Ministry.
Now the Town’s solicitor is taking questions from the floor.
Inevitably there is a question about compensation. The OMB has no authority to award any. If people bought their properties because of some attractive feature that is now going to be obliterated by the Marianneville development then that is something between the aggrieved buyer and the original seller. (Translation: Forget compensation)
One astute questioner wonders aloud if we are not over-complicating things. He likens what is happening to being burgled and then being told by the Police to negotiate with the burglar to get your possessions back.
Esther Armchuk-Ball now wraps up by telling us that everyone has a fundamental right to ask for a change of use of the property they own. That is lawyer-speak telling us Marianneville can keep coming back so long as they have the stamina and the cash.
Now the Mayor is invited onto the stage. He is in full lyrical mode. I learn that we are in the cradle of the process. He tells us the closer we get to the Courtroom steps, the narrower are the options. He has been watching his old Perry Mason VHS tapes again.
There is no clarion call. He limply says we should stick with the Official Plan and “we shall see how equitable the process is.” (possibly, not very)
Next up is John Taylor who is more animated than usual.
He tells us we are on the final lap and we are in a great position. He congratulates the Glenway crowd for being “cohesive”.
He repeats to great effect a line I’ve heard before. “I have a forest behind my house and if someone wanted to build there I’d be furious!”
He sounded angry. (Or gave a good impression of sounding angry.)
That’s what people want to hear.
He says to enthusiastic applause that we have the right to decide what our community looks like, not the developers. He is hopeful, proud but also frustrated by the entire process.
Ward 7 councillor, Chris Emanuel, is now telling us he is “cautiously optimistic”.
The threat to Glenway has brought people out to public meetings in a way not seen for decades. He tells us the unanimous vote by the Town in November to oppose the development was hugely significant. Over 600 people witnessed it.
Now he is boasting “Newmarket hasn’t had public meetings like that since the rebellion of 1837!”
(Dave Kerwin remembers these)
This is great stuff.
Now Dave Sovran brings everyone back down to earth with a bump when he says the GPA’s legal and planning costs are burning money.
The GPA can pay for the legal and planning expertise they need for Phase 1 but then the cash would run out.
And if Phase 1 is lost then Marianneville, cunning and calculating as ever, could seek to exclude the GPA from Phase 2 that deals with the myriad of technical issues from storm water ponds to road lay-outs.
If this happens, the GPA will have to rely on the Town and its consultant planning expert, Ruth Victor.
With the OMB hearing now imminent, the councillors are forced to sing her praises. Taylor tells us she is quite tenacious and up to speed on technical issues. Chris Emanuel tells us she supported a phased hearing.
Tony Van Bynen tells us she was hired by the Town to provide professional advice, without fear or favour.
This is, of course, complete Mayoral cobblers.
When you buy in professional services you want the person to be singing your song, not composing their own at your expense.