The second of three so-called “public planning meetings” on the Highland Gate development in the neighbouring town of Aurora is a dispiriting affair. The developer, the Geranium Corporation, wants to build 184 houses and a ten storey condo on land identified as open space in the Town’s Official Plan.
Residents of the high-end neighbourhood stream into the cavernous cafeteria of the Maximilian Kolbe Catholic School on Wednesday (30 September) like lambs to the slaughter. They are to hear more about the fate that shortly awaits them. The former golf course which threads its way through this prosperous enclave is, like Glenway, going to be developed.
The Town’s planning committee is up on stage sitting impassively, Bhudda like. The Mayor Geoffrey Dawe, is presiding. He says they won’t be making any decisions tonight. They are there to listen and silently cogitate. The Mayor tells people they must first register to speak from the microphone as if everyone has come along with a prepared script. And he says the meeting is being video recorded. Just to make sure everything is done by the book. What I am witnessing is the ultimate box ticking exercise. I am chatting to the man beside me who tells me the Town is just going through the motions. I nod.
Greasing the wheels
The developer and his satraps are out in force. The lawyers (Ira Kagan of Glenway fame is here, inevitably) and the planners and sundry consultants who grease the developer’s wheels stand at the back of the hall in case they are called upon to give expert advice.
The Town – whose collective mind is obviously already made up – loads its website with huge amounts of information explaining what is being proposed and the process that will be followed.
One of the Town’s planning staff kicks off with a presentation, explaining what the developer has in mind. Now he reports on what other agencies think. It is a long list and most have no objections. I see York Region up on the screen and it too has no objections. This does not surprise as the chief planner, Val Shuttlesworth, has talked publicly about former golf courses being suitable candidates for infill development.
The residents have no allies. They are on their own.
Don Given, for the developer, wants the audience to believe he is all sweet reason. 50% of the land is to be left as open space and conveyed to the municipality. All the lots will be at least 50 feet and the new houses will be of comparable quality to those there now. 44 agreements have already been struck between residents and the developer, safeguarding their properties with additional planting and new grading where necessary.
Now a long line of residents waits to be called to the rostrum. They are, in turn, impassioned, agitated, frustrated but their words are absorbed into the giant on-stage sponge that is the Planning Committee. No response. No reaction. We are told that all comments and observations will be considered and analysed with answers given in due course. I could be listening to Tony Van Bynen.
Highland Gate residents scream quietly
I hear Chris McGowan, a scientist and full Professor at the University of Toronto, call for green spaces to be preserved. We get a mini-lecture on the importance of ponds to the eco-system and how the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority doesn’t understand basic science. All very entertaining in a whacko kind of way.
Now Linda O’Connell is reeling off a list of concerns from light pollution to the increased risk of child abduction. My eyes roll heavenwards.
Gary Grierson follows, speaking on behalf of many elderly residents who are worried about traffic and people queuing up at Tim Horton’s and much else besides. He is breathing heavily, full of pent up rage, and I am relieved he gets through his presentation without keeling over. Now William Hayes wants to know the cost of hooking up the development to the Town’s existing water, wastewater and other services. He too has a long list of questions that disappear into the sponge.
Glenway is held up as a model
Now it is the turn of Klaus Wehrenberg. I learn he has been a resident of Aurora for 45 years. With his heavily German accented English and a bushy grey beard extending down to his navel, he is, I suspect, an Aurora institution. If not, he deserves to be.
He tells us they have an opportunity to develop an amazing linear park! If people reject the developer’s proposals they will be playing into his hands. A straight rejection of what is on offer will favour the developer at the OMB. As if to illustrate his point he waves his arm to get a promo of Glenway up on the screen.
We can begin every day with WOW! Just like Glenway.
It is only 75 minutes into what will probably be a long meeting. The residents are no longer furious; they are resigned. They come over as supplicants pleading with the developer to consider modifying this and that.
I hear no-one demand the Town stand alongside them to defend their neighbourhood and the Official Plan. But that probably happened at the first public meeting – the one where people were no doubt encouraged to vent.
At this point I decide to slip out into the night.
Update on 16 October 2015: The third and final public planning meeting will be held at 6.30pm on Wednesday 28 October 2015 at St Maximilian Kolbe Catholic High School, Aurora.