Newmarket’s Secondary Plan has been gestating for years and now we are assembling to see what is going to emerge.
On Monday evening (28 April) the Council Chamber is packed for a “special public meeting” but people seem curiously listless. There is no outrage or indignation.
Are people enthusiastic? No.
Are they satisfied? No. Probably politely sceptical.
Do I sense a feeling of weary resignation and acceptance? Yes.
Darryl Wolk, who dreams about taking over from John Taylor as regional councillor, comes in late with a giant Tim Horton’s in one hand. He sits on the steps. I see him from time to time tweeting and taking photos on his smart phone. He seems strangely preoccupied. He is more interested in recording the event than in participating.
Taylor’s Height Cap
John Taylor deserves a mention in despatches for getting the earlier draft of the Secondary Plan amended to scale back the proposed bonusing provisions – something introduced into the plan very late on. If we had known what was in the planners’ minds at the beginning of the process – a Newmarket studded with 25 and 30 storey towers - it would have altered the whole subsequent dynamic. But the sting has now been drawn - though I, for one, would have preferred a strict height cap of 15 storeys. This was Taylor’s original proposal. We have now drifted up to 17 storeys with a maximum of 20 with bonusing.
The meeting now gets under way. We start with a slide show and commentary on the revised draft secondary plan by Jason Thorne from the Planning Alliance, the outside consultants brought in by the Town to do the spade-work. Thorne has lived and breathed this plan for ages and his presentation appears effortless.
Future Transit Plans
Chris Emanuel is first up and asks about the Draft Plan’s recommendation for a proposed Mobility Hub Study of the GO rail station at Davis and Main. Would this also include the GO Bus terminal at Davis Drive West that is also within the Secondary Plan area?
Planning Chief, Rick Nethery, gives one of his classic cliché ridden non-answers telling Emanuel that, beyond the work on the Mobility Hub and the active transportation network “there is certainly the opportunity to identify and conduct additional work if necessary”. Taylor, too, asks for more detail on the proposed Mobility Hub study and what might be included. Would the Study look at relocation or co-location of the transit stations?
Marion Plaunt, the Stakhanovite senior planner responsible for the Secondary Plan, tells us
“One of the considerations in (the Mobility Hub study) is how do we, as we plan forward, integrate the bus station and the GO train station; whether they should naturally be joined at some point, at one location. That is part of the analysis identified within the Mobility Hub Study criteria.”
I see Chris Emanuel silently mouthing “Wow!”
Marianneville’s lawyer, Ira Kagan, told the OMB Glenway Hearing on 27 March:
“There is not a shred of evidence that the Town, Region or GO Transit want to move this bus terminal (at Davis Drive West, next to Glenway). This terminal is identified in a variety of planning documents that the various witnesses reviewed and never once was it identified for relocation. Mr McDonald (the Glenway Preservation Association’s planner) may think it should move but no-one else seems to agree with him. Even the ongoing OPA 10 study (ie the Draft Secondary Plan for Newmarket’s Urban Centre) is not proposing that the GO transit bus terminal be relocated.”
Are the population figures realistic?
Now Taylor is asking about the population figures for the area around the intersection of Yonge and Davis. With so much of the area already occupied by Upper Canada Mall (which isn’t going anywhere anytime soon) is it realistic to project a population of 13,000 there? A good point that reminds me how many of the figures are speculative or tentative.
Now Joe Sponga is asking a blank faced Marion Plaunt about a new East-West road connection. We learn this road exists only in Joe’s imagination. Marion tells him “it hasn’t been identified to date”. He moves on to ask what is affordable housing, which is a very real issue. I hear guffaws around me when we are told affordable means $400,000 “and change”.
The Mayor is fretting over the time councillors are taking to get through all their questions to the planners. He wants a break to allow people in the audience to say their piece.
A string of members of the public from Walter Avenue, north of Davis Drive, have questions about the last minute inclusion of their street in the Secondary Plan area. What were the implications for them? Are they going to be redeveloped? What will happen to their homes? What about the effect on their property values?
Others from the Hollingworth Arena neighbourhood make the case for open space. Now there is talk of angular planes and height limits and where shadows fall. Marion Plaunt and Jason Thorne explain everything with politeness and precision.
Now we are talking about delays to the VivaNext programme with the completion of work on Davis Drive slipping from 2014 into 2015. There is concern that work could begin on the Yonge Street rapidway before Davis Drive is completed. Don McKee, a smiley-faced lawyer from Lancaster Avenue, tells councillors that the Town should minimise inconvenience to current residents otherwise they will be urinated off! I hear some suppressed giggles around me.
Plan will be tweaked to address vulnerabilities
There are a few more contributions from the floor and then these dry up. Now we are back with the elected officials. In her matter-of-fact way, Maddie Di Muccio says it is inevitable that some property owners will challenge the Town’s plans. Nethery tells her the document may need to be tweaked “ensuring there are as few vulnerabilities as possible”. (A good example of planning-speak)
Jane Twinney wonders how it is possible to change the proposed built form so dramatically (getting rid of the very tall towers) but sticking pretty much with the original population projection (down 1,000 or so). A good question.
The answer, which I have now forgotten, nevertheless satisfied me at the time.
The Ring Road that isn’t
Ward 4 councillor, Tom Hempen, is now asking about George Street and Kingston Road that have been designated as part of a new ring road. Jason Thorne tries to reassure saying the road will have the functionality of a ring but it is not a thruway or anything like that. Personally, I am not convinced. And how do the traffic engineers and planners stop traffic bleeding into the adjacent residential area?
Hempen wants to know if the roads will be widened or changed in any way. Marion Plaunt assures him that whatever happens in future will occur incrementally as development proceeds. (Translation: no need to worry. You will hardly notice any change at all.)
Now Chris Emanuel is focussing on parks and recreation. The loss of Glenway’s open space is still an open wound. How does the Town manage expectations if the open space promised doesn’t materialise – either because the owner is not prepared to negotiate with the Town or the Town is unwilling to expropriate?
Affordable Housing that isn’t affordable
Tom Vegh picks up Sponga’s point about the affordability threshold for affordable housing and is asking whether this is enforced in any way. Marion Plaunt tells us the Town will have to work hard with the development community to put affordable housing on the ground. There are, she confesses, no easy answers.
This provides the perfect cue for Newmarket’s old man of the sea, Dave Kerwin, who tells us sewage is responsible for rising real estate prices.
The old teacher grabs our attention by holding a report up in front of him as he speaks. It has the memorable title:
Upper York Sewage Solutions
He tells us (quite frequently, in fact) he bought his house in the middle of the last century for $30,000 and now properties are going for anything up to $800,000. He thunders the question: Why?
Sewage, we learn, costs hundreds of millions of dollars to deal with and someone has to pay for it.
With this image fresh in our minds, the Mayor wisely chooses to close the meeting, assuring everyone that they will have an opportunity to comment on the latest comments. He asks the Planning Chief, Rick Nethery, about the next step.
This was a special public meeting. Apparently we have already had the statutory public meeting. Is another meeting needed to sign everything off?
Maybe, says Nethery.
It all depends.
Update (1 May 2014) on Next Steps
Here is the exchange that took place at the end of the meeting on 28 April.
Mayor: Mr Nethery, before we adjourn, just briefly again for the benefit of our viewing audience and the people who are still here. Next steps and what is the likely timing of those next steps.
Rick Nethery: Mr Mayor, we will need to assimilate what we heard tonight and as I mentioned as well we have to try to wrangle through some of those Agency comments and other comments and we will need to come back to you at some time. I think Marion optimistically said May so we’ll hold her to that. Our goal is to see if we can have this back to you in a final formal way by June at the latest so if folks have left contact information and they are still interested we can make sure people are made aware of when it is coming back.
Mayor: Now, earlier in my comments I indicated this was not a Statutory Public Meeting so there will, once we address all the points, issues, be a report to the Committee of the Whole with a recommendation for a subsequent Statutory Public Meeting. Is that correct?
Rick Nethery: That will be up to Council. We have already held the Statutory Public Meeting and we’ve had a number of informal meetings. This one, even although it was structured very much like a Statutory Public Meeting, was another one of the informal meetings so it will be up to Council to decide and, frankly, that will probably have a lot to do with what the nature of the changes, if any, are coming out of it.
(The Statutory Public Meeting on the Draft Secondary Plan took place on Monday 28 October 2013.)