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The Glenway West Lands and "giving back to the community"

What are we to make of the decision of the Glenway developer, Marianneville Developments Ltd, to donate 16 acres of their land to the Town? (shown in outline below)


Are the developers public spirited philanthropists giving something back to Canada on her 150th birthday (as suggested by the Town's Chief Administrator, Bob Shelton) or are they simply offloading to the Town land they otherwise cannot use or develop?

The Town's media release tells us 16 acres will bring

"the total of public land ownership for parks, trails, open space and environmental protection to 27% of Marianneville's land holdings." 

Marianneville bought the Glenway lands for $9,900,000 on 21 January 2010. This was later described by the longest serving councillor in Canada, Dave Kerwin, as a "fantastic deal" - an uncharacteristic understatement from the master of hyperbole.

In November 2013, in an attempt to avert an OMB Hearing on the proposed Glenway development, Marianneville's lawyer, the ubiquitous Ira Kagan, offered the Town a 10 year option to purchase 57 acres of land west of the Glenway development - the Glenway west lands - for $5,500,000, the price fixed for 10 years.

If the Town bought these lands they would remain open space. But if the Town subsequently decided the land should be developed, the lands would either be returned to Marianneville for $5,500,000 or any profits from the sale or development would be made over to Marianneville. That’s capitalism folks!

At that stage, Kagan told the Town that approximately 26 out of the 57 acres were capable of being developed.  (Photo: chewing up the old fairway off Eagle)

An offer you can’t refuse

This was supposed to be an offer the Town couldn't refuse. But it did.

With no prospect of a deal, Marianneville went to the OMB which found in the developer's favour on 27 March 2014.

In her written decision, the OMD adjudicator Susan de Avellar Schiller observed:

"There is no evidence before the Board that the Town took any steps to acquire these lands for public open space and public park purposes."

In fact the Town had considered the possibility of buying the Glenway lands in 2008 but decided not to proceed on the advice of Bob Shelton, the CAO, on the grounds the Town wasn't in the business of running a golf club. However, it is in the business of protecting and preserving and, hopefully, extending public open space. The OMB wasn't told about any of this. 

Entertain an offer

In June 2014, having lost at the OMB, chastened councillors asked Bob Shelton to contact Marianneville, cap in hand:

"to see if the owner might consider selling some or all of the west lands... Council did not direct staff to make an Offer to Purchase, but rather Council wanted to explore whether this was simply an option that could be considered in future."

On 5 September 2014, Bob Shelton told councillors he had approached Marianneville to see if they would "entertain an offer" for the Glenway West Lands:

"I contacted Joanne Barnett regarding this and was advised that the (west) lands were not for sale. After further discussion, I was advised that the developable 22 acre piece of property is proposed for development and thus not for sale, however they may entertain offers by the Town to purchase portion(s) of the remaining approximately 30 acres of land. This 30 acre piece is also intended for development, subject to certain successful studies being carried out."

We know that a good chunk of the Glenway West lands are developable (whether it is Barnett's 22 acres or Kagan's 26 acres) but what did Barnett mean when she told Shelton the 30 acre piece was intended to be developed "subject to certain successful studies being carried out"? Sounds fanciful to me.

Shelton goes on:

"From my conversations it would appear the owner will not be acting on any of the west lands until late 2014 or more likely 2015.”

So, here we are in 2017 and still no sign of anything happening. Does it surprise me? Not one bit. For Marianneville having a land bank is better than keeping their money in a real bank.

According to the Ward councillor Christina Bisanz

"Marianneville continues to own the balance of the west lands not included in this donation of property. These lands include a woodlot, stormwater management ponds and former golf course fairways. At this point, no application to develop this other land has been filed by Marianneville."

Seems to me Marianneville has donated land to the Town that it cannot, for one reason or another, develop. So it surprises me to hear they are hanging on to stormwater management ponds and a woodlot - if it is protected.  (Photo below taken from Bathurst: the gifted land)

But for Marianneville this giveaway has an added bonus. The value of the donation can be offset against tax.

Bob Shelton’s Information Report tells us:

“There is no capital cost to the Town as the lands shown on Appendix “A” are to be donated with the owner being provided with tax receipts reflecting the value of the donation.”

I am left wondering how much the land is worth.

No. No. No.

It’s the thought that counts.

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The March of the Monster Homes: Beechwood Crescent and Elgin Street

181 Beechwood Crescent was the centre of attention back in February when the owner, Norm Stapley, a builder by trade, took his chainsaw and clear cut the lot in 24 hours, denuding it of long established trees including a 125 year old Heritage Sugar Maple

This was a public relations disaster but, for Norm, a necessary prelude to a lucrative redevelopment of the site.

Norm weathered the storm - even taking a call from the Town's chief administrator, Bob Shelton - and last month was seeking permission to sub-divide the lot.

My spies who know about these things tell me Norm could build a 6,000 sq ft house on the west lot and 5,000+ on the east in this supposedly stable residential neighbourhood.

Ward 5 Councillor Bob Kwapeese, the jewel with the backbone, has been telling people the developments will be 2,000 sq ft but that is, apparently, only the footprint.

Newmarket's jewel is probably just passing on what he has been told by an expert.

Elgin Street

Elsewhere... there is still radio silence on the monster home going up at 1011 Elgin Street. On 27 March 2017, Ward 3 councillor Jane Twinney called for a debate on infill developments but I suspect that's been kicked into the long grass. 

It would be impossible for Jane to speak authoritatively in a debate she initiated on infill development without knowing for certain that the house being built at 1011 Elgin Street complies with the Town's zoning by-laws.

In the Elgin Street area, these stipulate a maximum lot coverage of 35%. The site plan shown to the Town indicates a lot coverage of 31.33%.

The Town's Director of Planning, Rick Nethery, went down to have a look in mid-March this year and says it complies with the Town's zoning standards. Two months ago he asked the owner for sight of the survey which, so far, has not been forthcoming.

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Bob's up to something

Bob Forrest, the developer who wants to demolish historic commercial buildings in the middle of Newmarket's heritage conservation district, is up to something. 

After years in which his boarded up Main Street properties were left gently to decay we now see a flurry of activity. He is sprucing the place up.

Much needed repairs are now being done to the Clock Tower's bricks and mortar. And not a moment too soon.

The landscape people are putting down fresh cedar mulch.

Roofers have been sighted but, for the moment, the notorious blue tarpaulins are still there, as they have been for months.

Most of the back porch has been removed from the back of 186 Main Street South and the fire escape has disappeared from the rear of 192. 

My spies tell me Bob's wife, Colleen, has been marching about Market Square, observing and inspecting, making sure everything is tickety-boo.

up for sale again

Is the property - which is a financial ball and chain around Bob's ankle - going up for sale? Bob put it on the market once before and then subsequently denied ever having done so. 

Bob's original application, turned down by the Town, will never be built as it needs Town-owned land which is not forthcoming.

Bob has, therefore, been working on a fall-back Option B in which his proposed development, including the five level underground garage, would lie entirely within the footprint of the land Bob owns. It was delivered to the OMB pre-hearing last month in a half-baked state.

Does anyone seriously believe Option B is even remotely credible?

I don't think so either.

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York Regional Council forced to appoint Integrity Commissioner and bring in a Code of Conduct for its members

Today (30 May 2017) legislation was passed which will force York Regional Council to appoint an Integrity Commissioner - either its own or one drafted in from another municipality - and bring in a Code of Conduct for its own members. 

The Council has resisted both measures saying it needs "flexibility".

The Modernizing Ontario's Municipal Legislation Act amends the Municipal Act and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. The press briefing says the new legislation will:

"Enhance local government accountability and integrity across the Province by requiring municipalities to have a code of conduct for members of municipal councils and local  boards."


"Ensure the public and municipal councillors have access to integrity commissioners with a broadened role related to conflicts of interest and municipal codes of conduct."

It is truly astonishing that York Regional Council has survived so long without a Code of Conduct for its members or an Integrity Commissioner.

In its clubby self-satisfied atmosphere the under-reported Regional Council floats above scrutiny and controversy. They get away with murder.

Even after the scandalous behaviour of Vaughan's Deputy Mayor, Michael Di Biase, came to light, the Region's members politely declined to discuss the matter.

Di Biase has now resigned - but on an entirely separate issue from the one which led to his loss of pay for 90 days from his home council in Vaughan. Even after his pay had been docked from Vaughan, York Region just kept paying him his "stipend" as before.

Commenting on the then draft legislation back in January this year, a report to the Region's Committee of the Whole explained:

"Greater accountability measures are proposed, including the mandatory appointment of an Integrity Commissioner and a requirement for a code of conduct for Council members.

Currently, the provisions in the Act designed to promote accountability and transparency are generally permissive rather than mandatory."

The Region’s submission to the Province recommended these provisions should

"remain largely permissive to enable flexibility according to individual needs and circumstances."

This allowed Council members to turn a blind eye to the shocking behaviour of Michael Di Biase rather than risk any unpleasantness by confronting the issue head on.

"Flexibility" gave them the option of doing nothing and looking the other way.

And that's exactly what they did.

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Update on 14 June 2017: More on Di Biase who acted improperly in land deal.