Later this month (31 August) Newmarket’s Planners will be asking councillors to approve a development of 28 Townhouses on designated meadow land which is part of the Natural Heritage System in the Town’s Official Plan. (See agenda item 15) The developer wants the Town to rezone the lands he owns from “Natural Heritage System (Meadow) to Emerging Residential”.
The planners hope to avoid an OMB hearing, triggered by the developer (292145 Ontario Limited) that is penciled in for 28 September 2015.
The proposed development which would be squeezed in between a hydro corridor and the GO rail track at the end of Silken Laumann Drive (a stone’s throw from the Municipal Offices at Mulock Drive) can only proceed if the Town makes available Town-owned land. In this respect it echoes similar concerns people had with the stalled Clock Tower development in Newmarket’s historic downtown.
The meadow lands project has been in gestation for years, with the developer waiting for all his ducks to be lined up in a row. And now, apparently, they are.
Incredibly, planners want to give approval for a housing development which will be only 45 metres from the rail track. They say the results from noise and vibration studies are in “compliance with Ministry of the Environment requirements” while omitting to say that all windows in the Townhouses would first have to be closed tight shut.
The report from HGC Engineering, published over two years ago in July 2013 warns of low frequency noise and rumbling which has a “greater potential to transmit through exterior wall/window assemblies”.
Air Conditioning on 24 hours a day
It goes on: “The sound levels outside the front facades of the dwellings during day time and night time hours will exceed the criteria” (for acceptable noise). As a result air conditioning will be required.”
The small print in the developer’s Planning Justification Report concedes that warning clauses will have to be inserted in contracts alerting potential owners and tenants that railway noise could be intrusive.
The study was carried out before the announcement last year that the Province intends to dual track the Barrie line within ten years with a huge increase in rail traffic. The July 2013 report measured “sporadic rail pass bys”. The Transport Minister, Steven Del Duca, told me last month that the 70 GO trains per week on the Barrie line will increase to 200 within five years.
But there is more to it than this. We know the widening of the railway corridor – a public policy imperative set by the Provincial Government – will, inevitably, consume additional precious meadow land.
Protecting or Salami Slicing our Natural Heritage?
Newmarket’s Official Plan explains the Natural Heritage System is made up of:
“locally significant Meadows, Woodlots and Wetlands and the network of water courses and floodplains feeding the Holland River”
and says these will be protected.*
The developer’s land sits in Meadow Type 2 which is outside the flood plain as opposed to Type 1 which is within it. No development is permitted in Type 1 meadows. The designation was changed from Type 1 to 2 by the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) after representations had been made by the developer and the Authority found inaccuracies in its earlier calculations which erroneously put the developer’s land within the flood plain.
In any event, even though the land is outside the floodplain, various reports submitted with the application make it clear the land, at least in part, is wet and marshy.
The developer’s Environmental Impact Assessment says “the lands to be developed represent 2.5% of the 60 hectare open field/meadow in which the development lands are located”. We are asked to believe this is OK. Yet we don’t allow people to build on the Greenbelt because they plead the land they want to develop is only a tiny fraction of the whole.
Developer needs Town owned land for project to proceed
The planners’ 31 August report to councillors says the LSRCA will accept the proposed development and the disturbance to the wetland,
“if the disturbed wetland community (is replaced) in an appropriate location within the vicinity of this development”.
This requires lands currently owned by the Town.
So, what public benefit will arise from the Town making its own land available to the developer to satisfy LSRCA’s concerns? I don’t see too many advantages.
The Environmental Impact Assessment says the development means the “potential loss of habitat for two threatened species of grassland birds” but says there is no evidence of nesting by the Bobolink nor the Eastern Meadowlark. If such nesting were to happen before work starts it says a permit would have to be sought from the Ministry of Natural Resources.
Planners tell councillors everything is now resolved
The planners tell us that since the OMB pre-hearing on 26 March 2015
“the applicant has been providing additional material to departments and agencies for review. Staff have now received additional reports, studies and other submission material that indicates that most of the outstanding issues have been appropriately addressed.”
This additional material on which we are all expected to rely has not been posted on-line. We are taking it all on trust. As it happens, I have salvaged the earlier material and studies referred to above from the Town’s old website and it can be checked out here. Scroll to “Cougs (West of Silken Laumann Drive)”
To my mind, the Town should not be making land available to a developer to ease the way for him to build 28 Townhouses on scarce meadowland, a deafening 45 metres away from a railway that is only going to get busier and busier.
Are we going to be told this is good planning?
* See page 65 of Newmarket Official Plan – September 2014 consolidation.
Postscript: There is an at-grade crossing at Mulock Drive which is in the immediate vicinity of the proposed development. According to the noise study, trains begin sounding their whistles at 0.4 km on either side of Mulock Drive. We shall know at the turn of the year from Metrolinx if they are proposing a grade separation at Mulock Drive. If so, the deafening whistles could go but the train noise and vibration would, of course, remain.
The staff report mentions the possibility of a safety berm being required but says Metrolinx concludes one is not required because it would provide little benefit owing to the setback of the proposed dwellings. The staff report also notes that
“if required, this safety berm would encroach into the proposed storm water management facility necessitating a redesign”.
The location of the storm water management facility, adjacent to the railway corridor, appears to sit uneasily with recent guidance (May 2013) prepared for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Railway Association of Canada (at page 50).
These “Guidelines for New Development in Proximity to Railway Operations” would seem to have a bearing on the proposed development.
It seems to me that correspondence from Metrolinx and the other agencies that, together, have persuaded staff to recommend approval of the proposed meadowland development at Silken Laumann Drive should be posted on-line.