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Ward 5 candidate, Peter Geibel, says disruption “inevitable” if Clock Tower gets go-ahead

The latest estate agent to enter the race to succeed Joe Sponga in Ward 5, Peter Geibel, is pro Clock Tower and says redeveloping the area will mean disruption “but we can’t avoid the inevitable”.

Geibel’s office on Main Street South is a stone’s throw from the proposed development but he was not there when I dropped by on Saturday to say hello and introduce myself.

Geibel signed Jill Kellie’s pro Clock Tower petition four months ago. He commented:

“I believe it is time to share the jewel of Newmarket with more people and I think any development will come with some disruption but we can’t avoid the inevitable.”

Kellie’s pro Clock Tower petition attracted 222 signatures. Margaret Davis’ rival petition backing the Town’s Heritage Conservation District policy secured the support of 1,212 people.

Fellow estate agent, Wasim Jarrah, who is also running for Ward 5, backs the proposed Clock Tower development while realtor Ian Johnston - the self-styled “community driven leader” - feels it is “too large” and “will add more chaos for a highly intensification area”.

The by-election is on 17 October 2016. Nominations close on 2 September 2016.

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Tony Van Bynen and elections

Newmarket’s retired banker Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, is pleased with himself.

He used his column in yesterday’s Era newspaper (25 August) to proclaim:

“I am pleased to announce I was elected as a representative on the 2016-2018 AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) Board of Directors Regional and Single Tier Caucus.”

We are told this is a prestigious elevation.

Explaining his success, he told the Era’s Chris Simon in his weird management-speak:

“I scoped it out in advance.”

Van Bynen will be joining a 43 strong Board of Directors and will be unpaid though he will be able to claim reasonable expenses.

So let us celebrate our Mayor’s success in being one of the six successful candidates in a field of nine in a caucus election to represent the Province's regions and larger cities.

But while doing so, let us not forget that Van Bynen is in favour of elections only when they suit his purpose.

Snubbed

When the issue of electing York Regional Chair came up for discussion at the Regional Council on 18 February 2016 Van Bynen was one of 14 voting for the status quo, openly snubbing the views of his colleagues on Newmarket Council who voted 7-1 for direct election.

The current Chair of York Region, Wayne Emmerson, was not even a councillor when he was indirectly elected in 2014 by 20 members of the Regional Council on a 16-4 vote.

Clearly, Van Bynen does not see it as part of his job to reflect the views of Newmarket Council at the regional level when he disagrees with its position.

This, despite the fact that Van Bynen only serves on York Regional Council by virtue of his position as Mayor of Newmarket, getting over $50,000 a year for merely being present, more often than not contributing absolutely nothing to the debates. His interventions are few and very far between.

Reform of the OMB

Elsewhere… I see the Province will be bringing forward in the Fall its long awaited review of the OMB. At the last municipal election in 2014, after the Glenway debacle, Van Bynen, promised Newmarket voters:

“Bringing reform to the Ontario Municipal Board and the Planning Act to ensure our residents have a say in shaping their community will be a priority in the next term. Our Council’s decision to fight for Glenway and defend our Town’s official plan was the right thing to do. I will be working with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and a number of mayors to meet with the Province to bring about real change to the municipal planning process.”

I am left wondering what Van Bynen has done to advance OMB reform since he made that statement almost two years ago.

Our next door neighbour, Tom Mrakas from Aurora, seems to have been making all the running on OMB reform with a little help from Newmarket’s Christina Bisanz.

Can it possibly be the case that Van Bynen has been shunning the limelight, labouring in the background, lobbying Ministers and working with the AMO on reforming the OMB just like he said he would?

(more to follow)

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Wasim Jarrah and his sensible solutions

Like most people I find Wasim Jarrah very personable.

With his easy manner and flashing smile and obvious interest in what is happening in our town, he should be a serious contender for the Ward 5 vacancy. He lives outside the ward but this should not be a disqualification.

Unfortunately, he believes in “sensible solutions” (unlike, I suppose, the whacky ones his opponents are drawn to) and this slogan is now plastered all over his new website, crafted for the campaign.

As it happens, the Triscuits in my pantry (seasoned with black pepper and olive oil) come in a box that tells me they are the “sensible solution” because they are a source of fibre, have zero trans fat and are low in saturated fat. What you get is on the box.

So, with Triscuits, at least I know what I am buying, but with Wasim I haven’t the faintest idea what his sensible solutions may mean in practice. He tells us he is going to fill in the blanks as the campaign progresses.

Wasim tantalizes:

“I will have more to say about the sensible solutions I want to discuss with you in the coming weeks.”

However, we already know he is in favour of Bob Forrest’s controversial Clock Tower development because he told us.

But with all the vocal opposition, would a sensible solution try to modify Bob’s project in some way. Perhaps Bob should reinstate the condo and forget rental? Perhaps 7 storeys is too intrusive and Bob should go for 3, 4, 5 or even 6 storeys (according to the most sensible preference).

But, hey, not so fast!

The Council has in front of it now, a planning application for a seven storey rental apartment block.

Bob’s heritage wrecking project can only be tweaked so far. It is not infinitely elastic. If Bob tries to satisfy every Tom, Dick and Harriett, there will come a point when the new amended proposal is so distant from the original that it is deemed to be a new application.

Think of the delays! The extra costs! All the additional one-to-one meetings with councillors and other important opinion formers. All those coffees at Tim Hortons! That would destroy completely Bob’s chances of redeveloping the Clock Tower and walking away with millions.

Which brings me back to where I started…

So, Wasim, what is your sensible solution for the Clock Tower?

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Scaffolding goes up outside Bob's properties on Main Street

As I tap this out, scaffolding is now going up outside Bob Forrest’s properties in Main Street South (188, 190 and 194 Main Street South).

We know that Bob wants to demolish the historic commercial buildings and retain the facades to make space for his apartment building.

He needs to know what is behind the siding that conceals the original brickwork. It would suit his purpose if the old bricks were crumbling. But if there is anything worth saving he says he will take the façade down brick by brick, repair, renew as appropriate and re-instate.

This inspection of the facades was not done before Bob submitted his planning application to the Town in August 2013 when it was deemed “complete”.

Bob commissioned and paid for a Heritage Impact Assessment from Goldsmith Borgal and Company Ltd, Architects which tells us

“The original façade of 194 Main Street South has been altered many times – most notably the ground floor which has been reconfigured. Another common renovation, undertaken in attempts to modernize the facades, was the application of new materials, often installed over the original building fabric. In the case of 194 Main Street South, a cementitious board siding was applied in 1970s… covering the windows.”

“Currently the facades of both 194 and 190 are covered in a pre-finished corrugated metal siding with two of the original four windows on 194 facing on to Main Street.”  

So far as 188 Main Street South is concerned:

“Again, numerous alterations have removed the original shop front configuration and a pre-finished corrugated metal siding conceals the brick facing of the building. Archival documentation shows that the brick facing had been painted over the years.”

My spies tell me Bob wants to remove the siding to allow an investigation of what lies behind. I have asked the Town if this investigation is to be purely visual or if it will be intrusive. I want to know if the work will be supervised by a heritage architect and whether Town staff will be present. The photo above, taken in the 1940s, shows the properties on the right that Bob now owns.

Those who have followed Bob's devious manouevrings to get approval for his out-of-place apartment building in the heart of the old Town’s Heritage Conservation District appreciate that eternal vigilance is required. Bob knows what he wants. He plays a very long game and doesn't take prisoners. The old downtown is now thriving but is blighted by Bob's boarded up properties, empty for years. When I see them dead and shuttered I think of the business tenants he evicted.

We need to know how long this work on the facades will take. And what commitments the Town has been given concerning reinstatement of the siding or other ways of protecting the facades from weather damage. 

I see Bob is now thinking aloud about whether his seven storey rental apartment building should be a condo. The truth is, Bob is all over the place.

We've had six storeys, nine storeys and now seven storeys.

On tenure we've had condo then rental and now, possibly, condo again.

He is desperate to get any kind of approval from the Town which allows him to walk away, laden down with cash, from a project that is giving him so much grief.

These days, even the overt support of Tony Van Bynen counts for little.

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Update at 17.00 on 19 August 2016: The Town informs me that permission was granted to Forrest for the removal of the steel coverings only. No masonry is to be removed. I am told this will allow for a digital scan and visual inspection to assess the condition of the original facade and allow the heritage consultant to prepare a heritage conservation plan. I am told Forrest's heritage consultant will be inspecting the site as the work progresses and Town staff will be there as much as possible. The removal of the siding should not take more than a couple of days. Any holes or cracks in the masonry will have to be plugged/filled to prevent damage from the elements.