To York Region’s Committee of the Whole. The agenda is fat and loaded with interesting and significant items but you’ve gotta be there in person to see it all happen. The Committee is not live streamed – neither in video nor in audio – and the official minutes can be economical with the actualité. I am in and out of the building so don’t catch everything.
As I enter the Council Chamber I see that it is crawling with developers. I see Marianneville’s Joanne Barnett going in and out of the Chamber with a mobile phone glued to her ear. In front of me a developer takes photos of slides from staff presentations and emails them back to the office there and then.
York Region's Chief Planner, Valerie Shuttleworth, hung out to dry
The big news is all about Markham where a long list of lands designated for employment uses is being challenged. Salivating developers want residential and other uses rather than boring old “employment” and the Mayor, Frank Scarpitti, is here to sing their song. Ten areas designated for employment in the Markham Official Plan have come up to the Region for further scrutiny. York’s Chief Planner, Valerie Shuttleworth, immediately concedes the case for change in four. But in the remaining six, she says the designation should stay. They are next to the 404 or 407. They are needed to deliver the Region’s targets. Now she offers an olive branch. As a concession she says the Region could look at the definition of “employment” and, perhaps, expand the category.
Scarpitti brushes all this aside. We hear about his many visits to industrial parks where his eyes were opened. Inside huge industrial buildings he finds delicate office workers instead of men in oily overalls gripping wrenches in their huge hands. The nature of work is changing, he says. More people will be working at home in future. Or, perhaps, leaving home on the 10th floor to go to work on the 14th. His delivery is sonorous and accommodating but he knows exactly what he wants and will get it.
His allies are lined up to speak. Regional Councillor Jack Heath (from Markham) agrees with Scarpitti that the lands should be converted from employment. He is backed by fellow Regional Councillors Jim Jones, Nirmala Armstrong and, in part, by Jo Li, also from Markham. Mayor Davis Barrow from Richmond Hill supports the conversion from employment use. “Things can change over the years.”
Newmarket's John Taylor is clearly uncomfortable with the way things are going. He says any decisions should be rooted in policy. He wants a review. It is clear he thinks this is no way to make policy – off the cuff and with the ink still wet on the papers in front of him. He complains he doesn’t know what the Markham staff’s position was.
Markham’s Nirmala Armstrong proves Taylor’s point with a rambling contribution that ends with her declaring: “Planning is not static”.
Now Vaughan’s Mayor, Mr Smooth, Maurizio Bevilacqua, weighs in. Scarpitti makes a good case and he acknowledges the detailed work that the Markham councillors put in, reviewing over the hot summer months each and every case for land conversion “but John Taylor is not wrong either”. He asks a series of rhetorical questions. How do Governments respond to changes in demography or the world of work? He predicts changes in land designation will happen more often than we think in the future. He closes by taking a swipe at the Region. “Perhaps we need to look at governance style; whether we need further decentralisation.”
Taylor closes by calling for a review of employment lands policy. A deflated Shuttleworth says this is already in hand through the update of the Regional Official Plan.
In the vote, Taylor is steamrolled. He is supported by Richmond Hill's Brenda Hogg and, I think, one other.
The developers’ faces are creased with broad grins.
York Region Office Attraction Review
Doug Lindeblom, the Director of Economic Strategy and Tourism, takes us through a series of slides showing how we can attract more office development into York Region. He says offices should be located in the four main centres and corridors, inadvisably illustrating the point with a slide. East Gwillimbury’s Mayor, Virginia Hackson, complains her municipality is missing. Clearly, she sees offices stretching along Green Lane, close to the GO rail station.
Taylor wants to know about “innovative approaches” where businesses are attracted to the area without dangling financial incentives in front of them. We hear about city building and the importance of clustering like-businesses together. And good transit.
Van Bynen, the wired up Mayor
After a long presentation in which the importance of broadband (astonishingly) did not rate a mention, Newmarket’s wired up Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, stirs from his slumbers. Van Bynen tells us that ultra high speed broadband is part of the critical infrastructure and, he says, we need a more aggressive approach. On this at least he is right.
Lindeblom tells us the Region adopted a broadband strategy in May 2014 and he expects high speed broadband to be available in centres and corridors. A report will be coming up to councillors in June.
York Region Employment and Industry Report (#100 jobs)
As expected, this is approved without debate. Neither Van Bynen nor Taylor have any comments to make. Newmarket’s jobs growth between 2009-2014 is officially 570.
York Region Municipal Comprehensive Review and Official Plan Update
The Chief Planner, Valerie Shuttleworth, warns us she is going to be speaking for half an hour as if this will be some kind of hardship. On the contrary, she is very easy to listen to, talking in complete well-formed sentences. There is always something new and interesting that the planners are working on. Today we learn about the forthcoming “cemetery needs analysis”. It is getting difficult to find places to bury people.
As one cohort departs this earth, another arrives. Now she is on to “population forecast scenarios” with three possible totals depending on the intensification of development. My eye is drawn to East Gwillimbury, the Town on steroids, whose 2014 population of 24,300 is expected to balloon to (a) 108,700 (b) 113,300 or (c) 135,300 by 2041.
Now Shuttleworth is talking about the number of housing units required to accommodate this tsunami of new residents. Bizarrely, she refers to houses as “ground related product”. (It reminds me of churches ludicrously re-branding themselves as “worship centres”.) Apartments are still, I think, apartments though I suppose they could be “above ground related product”.
Now we are looking at an arresting slide showing the number of “persons per household” in York Region from 1971-2041. The planners came up with a projection for 2041 in 2010, as part of the Regional Official Plan. A year later, in 2011 the census came up with another figure. The difference between the two in terms of housing units required by 2041 amounts to a staggering 75,000 units, underlining yet again the perils of long range forecasting.
John Taylor now asks a series of questions on the impact of an economic slow down on forecast employment and population numbers. I learn to my surprise from York’s Finance Chief, the knowledgeable Bill Hughes, there are two forecasts. One from the “growth plan people” and another from the “finance people”.
He tells us that growth will continue to come to the region. The question is really about its pace. The finance people think it will come more slowly than the growth people. That figures.
Community and Health Services Report
This is John Taylor’s new bailiwick having moved from planning after last year’s election. We get a presentation on mental health initiatives from Adelina Urbanski and Superintendent Carolyn Bishop, gun in holster, with lots of arresting (sorry) statistics.
Only 20% of calls are crime related. The other 80% range from community events to missing people. The police switchboard handles a staggering 220,000 calls a year and I learn that only 0.1% ends with a police officer using force.
Personally, I’d like to know how much time police officers spend gazing uselessly at construction crews.
Low Income Trends in York Region
No debate. No discussion.
No-one here is on the breadline.