Tim Hortons has an important role in the planning process in Newmarket. It is a neutral location where developers can meet individual councillors and talk about their pet projects over a cup of coffee and answer any questions.
The idea is to sound out the views of councillors and, in a subtle way, to influence them. That is the whole point of the exercise. If it is in the developer’s interests the information gleaned from the unsuspecting councillor is passed back to the Mothership (aka 395 Mulock Drive). Tony Van Bynen and Bob Shelton received briefings from the Forrest Group’s Director of Development, Chris Bobyk, after his meetings with councillors.
In a democracy such as ours it is perfectly legitimate for people to lobby elected officials. To be clear, councillors can and do meet with developers. There is nothing sinister about that. But if the lobbyist wants something from the Municipality – such as a planning approval – then warning bells should ring and the red lights should flash. And the details of any meetings should be entered in a public register.
The City of Toronto puts it this way:
“Public office holders and the public should be able to know who is attempting to influence City Government.”
Newmarket has chosen not to have a Lobbyist Register despite being designated as one of the places to grow in Ontario. The Town anticipates a huge increase in development applications over coming years especially in the Davis and Yonge corridors but we don’t know who is approaching whom for what.
All-in-all, that could mean a lot of new business for Tim Hortons.
My Freedom of Information request for sight of emails from the Clock Tower developer, Bob Forrest, and his Director of Development, Chris Bobyk, to Mayor Tony Van Bynen, the Town’s Chief Administrative Officer Bob Shelton and others show how information on what councillors are thinking is routinely shared between the developer, the Mayor and top staff.
The Mayor helps set up meetings for the developer to brief some councillors - those new to the Council.
Others are approached directly by Bobyk who promises to update Van Bynen on his colleagues’ thinking.
Why is the Mayor relying on feedback from the developer? Why doesn't Van Bynen simply ask his Council colleagues direct?
Try as I may to be respectful, I cannot help but think of the Mayor as a diminutive ventriloquist’s dummy, huge chain of office round his neck, sitting on Chris Bobyk’s knee, mouthing the words:
“The Clock Tower is a great example of the intensification we need.”
Clock Tower timeline (to be extended)
(see also the early chronology in my November 2015 blog “Van Bynen set to give approval to condo blighting Newmarket’s historic Main Street”
18 October 2013: Bob Forrest emails Andrew Brouwer, Town Clerk, asking the Council to defer any decision on bringing into force the Heritage Conservation District By-law.
12 August 2014: Bob Forrest emails Tina Bates with the agenda for his meeting with the Mayor and Bob Shelton on Thursday 14 August 2014.
“Tina… as requested.
2) Revitalising Main Street
3) A firm land swap deal
5) A potential Newmarket partner
6) This will only happen if you help
7) Yes, it is an election year
Slessor. An update. Renessa. An update.
19 May 2015: Chris Bobyk emails Tony Van Bynen.
“Mayor Van Bynen, thank you again for setting up the meetings with Councillor Broome-Plumley and Noehammer attended last week.
“As an update I am meeting Councillor Taylor, Twinney, Vegh and Hempen this week independently regarding the Clock Tower redevelopment. Following I will circle back with you as an update.
3 June 2015: Chris Bobyk emails Mayor Van Bynen and Tina Bates about the “Clock Tower municipal parking option discussion”.
“Tina – can you set up a meeting for me with the Mayor next week – based on discussions with Councillor Sponga and the Mayor. It is suggested a meeting with the Mayor is needed relative to a discussion on the Town reconsidering the construction of additional municipal parking in parallel with the proposed redevelopment of the Clock Tower. I understand from Joe that while this opportunity was turned down by past Council the current Council has different views.
“It may make sense to have Bob Shelton attend. Will leave that in the Mayor’s court.
On 16 June 2015 Chris Bobyk emails the Mayor and Bob Shelton about the “Market Square below grade parking expansion option”. The email is heavily redacted. Bobyk closes by saying;
“I look forward to your thoughts/agreed directions regarding this item soon and would be happy to meet again should you wish. We want to get the land exchange proposal to the Committee of the Whole at the earliest opportunity.
“I am setting up individual councillor meetings for next week in follow up to the first meetings and expect there will be some follow up discussion on this same matter.
On 22 June 2015 Chris Bobyk emails Bob Shelton with copies to Forrest and Van Bynen:
“Bob, hope you are well.
“In follow up to below, would you be able to meet tomorrow afternoon or Thursday between 11.30am and 4pm to discuss further. I have councillor meetings both days with time in between. Failing that, happy to discuss on phone.
“We need to get the land exchange item to Committee of the Whole in the scheduled August 31st meeting and the decision on below being incorporated or not (this refers to the option of expanding the below grade parking under Market Square) is needed for the terms and conditions drafting of the land exchange for Committee of the Whole approval.”
“I will raise (this) as a subject of discussion as well in my Councillor meetings relative to individual opinions/comments on the matter and interest levels of its inclusion or not. I will report back to you and the Mayor on that outcome.”
26 June 2015: Bob Shelton tells Bobyk that the Town’s senior staff have looked at the option of expanding the below grade parking under Market Square and they are interested in exploring it further.
26 June 2015: Bobyk replies to Shelton:
“I have had dialogue with all the Council members but two on the below grade parking opportunity at Market Square, FYI, as part of my follow up meetings suggested by the Mayor.”
“I can review with you their comments and we can conclude as to whether it’s worth bringing it back to Committee of the Whole for a second time in conjunction with our stand alone development land exchange requirements. We need to get the land exchange initiative to the next Committee of the Whole meeting which I understand is August 31st.”
6 July 2015: Bobyk emails Shelton:
“I need to start organizing approach/presentation on the land exchange – (I need to) know whether or not the municipal option (of expanding the below grade parking under Market Square) is to be conveyed (and if it) is needed at this time.”
“It appears you want to review it – but whether it is to be presented to the Committee of the Whole for a second time is the question.”
“Joe Sponga called me this morning and is saying it is desired and needed. He is also saying the BIA is of the view that it is needed to accommodate new uses that have come downtown (now) and (in the) future. Nonetheless we need to get the land exchange before (the) Committee of the Whole without delay and carry forward with the Zoning By-law Amendment application. The boundaries for the land exchange vary dependent on whether the municipal parking option is included or not. Need your direction soon.”
24 November 2015: Forrest emails the Mayor:
“We have spent several months studying the prospect of doing the Clock Tower as a new rental building. While we are not ready to make a decision on that, we propose to visit with you and all of the councillors to discuss how this might be made to happen.”
“Some time ago, Bob Shelton asked us to meet with Rick Nethery to discuss how we can firm up the land swap issue in the face of policy matters. We deferred that meeting as we wondered how a switch to rental might impact on us. However, it is scheduled for today.”
“After this meeting we are anxious to meet with you as soon as possible to kick off a renewed effort. I wonder if we could be provided with some times that will work for your side. In the past these meetings have included Bob (Shelton) Rick (Nethery) and Joe (Sponga?) but, of course, it is not our position to determine that part.”
“Currently we are revising our drawings as to renew the public process.
“Our goal will be……
To show you the current plan which has changed little
To discuss how rental might be accomplished
Talk about the land swap, post meeting with Rick, and
Because it has again been raised, determine if there is a strong appetite for funding and building an underground parking garage for the Town beneath Market Square.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
27 November and 1 December 2015: There is a series of email exchanges from Chris Bobyk to the Mayor’s assistant, Pat Noble, asking for a meeting with the Mayor before the end of the year to discuss the Clock Tower.
16 February 2016: Chris Bobyk emails Tina Bates about setting up meetings with councillors to discuss the Clock Tower application.
“Tina, hope you are well. I have forgotten who to approach in your group as to setting up Councillor meetings with the following councillors in red below. I would meet each individually. Last time I met with them at the Tim Horton’s on Yonge Street, north of the Regional Offices, west side of Yonge. If possible, individual meetings next week, the week of February 22nd would be great if possible. Let me know what days and times work for the three of them.
1) Kelly Broome-Plumley
2) Christina Bisanz
3) Jane Twinney
4) Tom Vegh – I will contact him directly
5) Tom Hempen – I will contact him directly
6) Dave Kerwin - I will contact him directly
7) Joe Sponga - I will contact him directly
8) John Taylor - I will contact him directly
6 April 2016: Pat Noble emails Bob Forrest about setting up a meeting with the Mayor and Bob Shelton to get an update on the Clock Tower.
You can see the original emails here. Scroll to FoI records May 2016.
more will follow