Why is the Slessor site, opposite Upper Canada Mall, still a moonscape of dirt and debris years after Newmarket Council controversially gave planning approval for a mixed use, high density development?

Why is the 4.6 acre site taking so long to sell?

Probably because the site poses some major challenges that would test the brightest engineering and planning brains on the planet. Clearly, they have not been solved yet.

Take the cavernous underground car park designed to accommodate more than 1,200 vehicles – as huge as the (surface) car park at Southlake Hospital. How to get vehicles in and out without clogging up Yonge Street in the process? Good question. It is one of the many imponderables.

Planning approval was granted in February 2013 for the giant development with all sorts of conditions attached. These “holds” were set to ensure the Town could be satisfied that the development as first conceived would actually work. Although the original proponents are selling, their retirement/ entertainment/ retail concept lives on with the zoning approval remaining in place. This explains why the land is worth a fortune.

Colliers, the Brokers charged with selling the site, tell us:

“Zoning is in place for a proposed four-phased mixed use development containing 600 residential units in three mid to high-rise condominium buildings, a 221-suite retirement building and a four-level commercial/retail component fronting on Yonge Street.”

The canny Slessors, with decades of experience in the auto trade, have drained millions out of the equity while they wait for a buyer to come along.

As an issue, Slessor Square dominated the early part of the last Council term. It got the green light from councillors terrified that the matter might go to the OMB and be taken out of their hands completely. Only a few months after approval, we learned a sale was on the cards.

With approval in principle safely tucked under the Slessors' belt, the “adult retirement living” project was put on hold and the site was put up for sale in May 2014.

In the world of planning, Slessor Square is all too typical. Councillors are told they must move at the speed of light or else the OMB will be called in. Approvals are then given for half-baked developments that, for one reason or another, fail to materialise.

We are left to contemplate empty, desolate sites while the landowners sell on and walk away, laden down with cash.

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