Bob Forrest’s planning application for a monstrous and out-of-place 7 storey apartment building in the heart of Newmarket’s heritage conservation district has now been lodged with the Town. It is expected to be considered by the Town’s Committee of the Whole in April or May.

But, before then, it goes to the influential Heritage Newmarket Advisory Committee which meets on Tuesday 8 March 2016 at the Town’s HQ at 395 Mulock Drive.

The agenda at item 8(b) under “Designated property Maintenance and Concerns” refers to Main Street Clock Tower – 178-180 Main Street. These heritage properties have been boarded up for ages.

A covering note from Dave Ruggle, the senior planner responsible for the file, draws attention to supporting documents which include a complete package of drawings relating to the proposed development and the full Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA). (You can read these documents by clicking on agenda item 8(b).)

He says the drawings include a “revised” site plan and an “updated” HIA. In what way, I wonder, has the site plan been revised and the HIA updated?

Mr Ruggle goes on to say:

“Please be advised that the Heritage Impact Assessment will be peer reviewed.”

This rather begs the question: who exactly will be peer reviewing the HIA of this very controversial planning application? This is hugely important. If the Town’s own planners come down in favour of Forrest’s proposal and this view is buttressed by an "independent expert third party" HIA review then Forrest wins. The Town’s heritage district is changed forever.

OMB boycott

If councillors were to vote against a recommendation of their own planners in these circumstances Forrest would appeal to the OMB with a 95% chance of success. (He already has an appeal at the OMB which is sleeping.) The Town’s own planners, following the Glenway precedent, would boycott the OMB Hearing saying they cannot be forced to argue the Town’s case if councillors have chosen to ignore their advice.

So. What is to be done?

If I were a member of the Heritage Newmarket Advisory Committee I would ask:

  1. When will the HIA peer reviewer be chosen?
  2. What criteria will be used to select the peer reviewer?
  3. What is the process used in selecting the peer reviewer?
  4. Has the peer reviewer substantial experience in assessing the merits or otherwise of developments in Heritage Conservation Districts?
  5. Where can I access and read previous assessments and recommendations of the peer reviewer which relate to developments in Heritage Conservation Districts?

There are any number of highly qualified planners and architects out there working in the heritage field. Many of them swap notes on the National Trust for Canada website looking at ways in which the integrity of heritage conservation districts can be preserved given the challenges of today when developers, like Bob Forrest, are constantly knocking at the door.

Now is the time to raise the issue of the peer review - not later when the views of the Town’s Planning Department are settled (if they are not already).

Tuesday’s agenda also flags up a report (at item 12c) from the Lower Main Street South Heritage Conservation District Advisory Group.

Now that all the papers relating to the Forrest development are in the public domain I think we can expect a lively debate on Tuesday.

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Update on 7 March 2016: I learn today that ERA Architects is the firm used by the Town of Newmarket to carry out peer reviews on Heritage Impact Assessments. I am told the peer reviewer is selected through an RPF process where firms submit their proposals which are then evaluated against a set of criteria.

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