The Draft Secondary Plan – which will guide development in Newmarket over future decades – looks set to be endorsed by councillors at the turn of the year.
At Monday night’s Statutory Public Meeting (28 October), there were no direct challenges by councillors to the underlying premise – that the Town has to accommodate 21, 000 residents in the Urban Centre (essentially the Yonge Davis corridors) by 2031 and 32, 000 at full “build out”.
Developments in the Urban Centre will have to meet height and density rules but the Plan allows these to be set aside by the Town if developers offer some kind of “public benefit”. Canny developers will do this as a matter of course and factor the costs into their calculations.
With this so-called "bonusing" the 20 storey “maximum” could rise to 30.
15 storeys could go to 25.
10 could end up at 18 and 6 storeys to 8.
I suspect these will become the new de facto maximums.
But who can predict with any degree of confidence what Newmarket is going to look like in the years ahead with this kind of elasticity built into the system?
Unfortunately, it will take a miracle for the Plan to be amended in a material way.
We will be told that too much time, effort and money has already been expended on the Draft Secondary Plan to start unwinding it all.
Councillors probably have no idea how much discretion they have in amending the draft, as presented to them.
Underscoring that very point, the top planner in charge of the file, Marion Plaunt, opens the meeting by reminding everyone that the Secondary Plan has got to be “in conformity” with the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe; Provincial Policy Statements; York Regional Plan and so on and so forth. I can’t immediately recall if the non statutory Metrolinx Plan was mentioned – but it is there in the Draft Plan.
Councillors and the rest of us need to know what is the minimum number of people Newmarket must absorb to be in conformity with this cascade of policy statements.
As yet, we do not have an answer.
It seems to me that in the absence of a compelling alternative vision, articulated by one or more of our councillors, the best we can hope for are some changes at the margins.
Dave Kerwin is concerned there could be 8 storey buildings on Queen Street.
Jane Twinney is unhappy that out-of-scale developments could go up next to single family homes.
Chris Emanuel wants adequate transitioning where big new developments abut residential areas.
These are not easy issues to resolve.
Indeed, we learn from Marion Plaunt, that the boundaries of the new Urban Centre have, in cases, been expanded to create lots big enough to attract developers. Modest family homes sit on adjacent lots.
Tom Vegh gets marks for being candid. He is usually inscrutable, saying little, though in recent weeks he has been finding his voice.
The outside consultant brought in by the Town to help draft the Secondary Plan, Jason Thorne, is asked if the predicted 21,000 population increase will definitely happen.
No, says Jason. It is not a hard policy. It is the result of using our best judgement given the development sites coming up.
Tom says he doesn’t want another 21,000 people in the town centre – and he doesn’t think it will happen anyway. He tells us he is sceptical of the projections on usage of public transport.
John Taylor has some questions on bonusing, a policy with far reaching implications inserted into the Plan only a few weeks ago. He wonders aloud if approval for giant developments may mean they have less chance of getting built. Market conditions may never be quite right to justify the huge outlay if the returns are uncertain.
Now there is a brief exchange on the merits or otherwise of a 15 storey height cap across the Urban Centre as proposed by Taylor last year. Maddie Di Muccio, absurdly imagines this would mean a completely uniform streetscape, likening it to something out of the former Soviet Union.
Ward 4 councillor, Tom Hempen, is on good form. He is more animated than I have seen him in a long time.
He comes across as mildly exasperated, telling us he is wading through the 11th version or “iteration” of the draft plan.
He tells us that the Slessor Square land is shown in the Plan as 15 storeys maximum (without bonusing) yet, earlier this year, the planners had recommended councillors accept a settlement offer from the developers allowing 19 and 21 storeys. Why?
Marion, slightly flustered, says Slessor Square can’t go ahead unless all sorts of requirements are met. She dives deep into planning babble, losing us along the way.
John Taylor reminds everyone there will be a separate vote on the key issues of height and density as part of the Secondary Plan approval process. He proudly proclaims authorship of this. In practice, I don’t think it will change anything.
The time to influence the professional planners was during the drafting stage, not at the tail end of a very long and drawn out process that has ground everyone down.
Ward 7 councillor, Chris Emanuel, who is increasingly cynical about the entire planning process, wonders what kind of Newmarket we want to live in and how big it should be.
22 George Street and 39 Davis Drive
The Statutory Public Meeting’s “Brass Neck Award” goes to the owner of 22 George Street and 39 Davis Drive whose representatives warned councillors that “early developers” could get a head start over others.
They were concerned that densities could be reduced for developments that are brought forward later on.
As we all know, planning approval was given for a 12 storey block with 115 apartments at 22 George in 1993. Approval was given for 280 apartments in 20 storeys at 39 Davis in 2009.
Once planning approval is given it “attaches to the land” indefinitely. In this case, still bare earth and gravel.
This is ludicrous and cries out to be changed.
Transportation Demand Management
As I tap this out, there is still no sign of the Urban Centres Transportation Study September 2013 on the Town’s website.
It is referred to on page 13 of the draft Secondary Plan and
“presents an operational analysis of the fine grain road network, the phasing of the identified improvements to the transportation network, recommended Transportation Demand Measures (TDM) and parking strategies that should be implemented to achieve (the) vision of the Secondary Plan. These recommendations have been incorporated were appropriate within the Secondary Plan policies.”
The draft goes on:
"… aggressive TDM, parking management, transit priority and other measures will be needed to encourage transit use."
I don’t necessarily disagree with any of that. But I’d like to read the study for myself. And it should have been made available before the Statutory Public Meeting.
Many people at the meeting expressed concern about the impact on their neighbourhoods of development in the Urban Centre. For this reason, if for no other, the Study should be published in its entirety on the Town website.