Key sections of Newmarket’s Secondary Plan, the blueprint that will guide development on the Yonge/Davis corridors for the next few decades, have been re-written at the 11th hour by unelected Regional officials and people from other agencies.
The Plan, over two years in gestation, goes to the Committee of the Whole next Monday for adoption (16 June). It differs markedly from the “revised draft Plan” recently agreed by Councillors.
Opening yesterday’s Council workshop, the Town’s Planning Chief, Rick Nethery, reassures weary councillors “the end is nigh”. Nethery, who always gives me the impression his bank of knowledge is wide but very shallow, tells councillors the Town had consulted outside agencies and that “some adjustments” to building heights had been made. This must be the understatement of the year. Why do I feel Nethery is never quite up to speed on things?
He says York Region Rapid Transit expressed concerns about the Plan “not achieving planned intensification”. Comments from other agencies came in late in the day but this, he says, is “not untoward”.
Maximum Heights to be increased
Schedule 4 of the Plan shows whole swathes of Yonge and Davis where maximum permitted heights have been changed. So a string of future development sites, previously limited to 8 storeys (or 10 with bonusing), go up to 12 storeys (or 15 with bonusing). Other sites around Mulock and Yonge and around the Slessor site go from medium high density (12 storeys or 15 with bonusing) to high (17 storeys or 20 with bonusing). The lowest density is increased from a maximum of four floors to six with a seventh floor via bonusing.
The senior planner in charge of the Secondary Plan file, Marion Plaunt, tells councillors “we are not increasing densities we have just re-shuffled them”.
We are told the planners are proposing two exceptions to the plan. 39 Davis, owned by Tricap, where planning approval was given in 2009 but the site is still a patch of dirt and the Slessor site, now up for sale, which has “approval in principle” for 21 storeys.
The boundaries of two blocks at Penn Avenue and Walter Avenue are deepened, making them more attractive to developers.
Technical stuff relating to transitional and angular plane policies (preventing high buildings going up next to much lower ones) are to be changed to allow for more “flexibility”.
Our councillors, to their credit, express polite scepticism.
(Joe Sponga and Tom Vegh are absent. Jane Twinney is on the "campaign trail")
Tom Hempen, clearly exasperated, says there have been numerous changes to height and density. What happens if we don’t change anything and just submit the Plan to the Region? What would happen?
Nethery tells him the Region is the “approval authority and they could effect modifications to the Plan”.
Regional councillor John Taylor trips up Nethery by suggesting the Province has a role in that its approval powers are, in effect, delegated to the Region. It is the kind of process question Taylor likes. Nethery agrees this is so.
Maddie Di Muccio innocently asks if the Secondary Plan’s proposed building heights were (a) reduced following public consultation and (b) are now increasing again following comments from agencies. Hmmm. Yes, says Marion.
I think that counts as a bullseye.
Putting names to faces
As I am watching Marion go through her Powerpoint presentation, I find myself wondering who these influential (unnamed) people are who can re-write the Town’s Secondary Plan. Of course, it is all done in the name of “the Region” or York Region Rapid Transit or some other Agency giving the changes a spurious authority they don’t necessarily deserve. Other entities representing landowners also make their views known.
Perhaps, next Monday, we can have some photographs inserted into the Powerpoint presentation to allow us to put a face to the change. “Here is Mr Jones behind his desk in the Long Range Planning Department at York Region who changed the building heights on Yonge from medium density to high density. Here is Ms Smith, a consultant from the development industry advising local landowners, who is proposing changes to the bonusing provisions.” You get the idea.
Now there is a long and complex discussion on transportation and transit and the future of Upper Canada Mall which I fear may have left me behind. Chris Emanuel wants to know about Mobility Hubs and why there isn’t one at Yonge/Davis. (There is one proposed for the Tannery.) John Taylor wants to know if there is any reason why the Town can’t simply press ahead and do a Mobility Hub study anyway.
We are told that Metrolinx believes the “mobility hub principle” should apply to Yonge and Davis. Marion, more Delphic than usual, tells us this is reflected in the text but “there is not going to be a circle on the map”. I am struggling to make sense of all this.
Will the GO bus terminal (which featured so prominently in the Glenway OMB Hearing) be relocated onto the Upper Canada Mall site? We learn that Metrolinx will be involved in a “fulsome analysis”.
Open Space needed
Now Dave Kerwin moves on to parks and open space. He wants to know where the children are going to play in future, especially as the population grows. He is against the Town taking cash from developers in lieu of green space. Nethery tells him that parkland and open space issues are next in the queue to be addressed by the Town’s planners. In any event, cash in lieu says Nethery can be used to buy open space. (Question: when did that last happen?)
Now Kerwin hits his stride and is talking about the fast food industry and, with employees getting $11 an hour, he is wondering aloud how they can afford to live in Newmarket. He tells us there is not enough affordable housing to sustain the fast food industry.
Meanwhile, the Planners are telling us that the 35% affordable housing target should be scaled back to 25% in the “Regional Healthcare Character Area” on the grounds there are too few people there to make it worthwhile. The 35% target would still apply to the “Provincial Urban Growth Centre (PUGC)” (from Eagle in the south up to Slessor or thereabouts in the north). But Davis Drive and the rest of Yonge outside the PUGC would have a 25% minimum.
Now I am looking at our councillors and their faces tell me there is some unhappiness out there. The Mayor, who enjoys steering the ship but is unconcerned about its destination, decides it is time to jolly up the crew.
The Mayor is now applying his trademark soothing balm, telling councillors - and others watching on the live stream - who may be worried about the way things are going that there will be many, many other occasions to review the Secondary Plan. (Actually, once every five years.) He is, of course, talking the usual Mayoral cobblers. If there are good reasons for changing the Plan, now is the time to do it.