Back Story: On 30 May 2016, at a public meeting held in the Council Chamber, bewildered residents from a relatively new subdivision challenged councillors to explain to them how a developer (724903 Ontario Inc) could be allowed to build ten townhouses, four storeys high, on land zoned for commercial at 16333 Leslie Street. Instead of the promised low rise commercial plaza they have been patiently waiting for, residents would get townhouses significantly higher than the surrounding detached homes. Residents fear a loss of privacy. They believe their neighbourhood would be adversely affected in ways never envisaged when they bought their properties only a few short years ago. See agenda item 21 here.

Blistering Attack

Veteran councillor, Dave Kerwin, has launched a blistering attack on Newmarket’s Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, accusing him of “never showing leadership” and chairing a meeting that was “poorly conducted”.

At Monday night’s Committee of the Whole, Kerwin dramatically rose to his feet and taunted Van Bynen to throw him out of the meeting. Kerwin, getting wild applause from the audience, accused Van Bynen of failing to properly inform the residents and help them understand the process.

Kerwin startled many in the Council Chamber when he asked the audience to raise their hands if they were born in Canada. Van Bynen told Kerwin his question was inappropriate. Kerwin hit back:

“These people do not understand the process and we should have informed them before they came here.”

It seems to me that what is happening at 16333 Leslie Street is further evidence of a planning system that is broken beyond repair. Zoning by-laws - on which people rely when making major investments such as buying a house – can be changed at the drop of a hat, sometimes for capricious reasons, often to satisfy the development community.

Planning system no longer works in the public interest

We all know Van Bynen is a man of process and procedure, ticking boxes in his bank manager’s way. He is content to follow the corroded rules of a planning system that is no longer fit for purpose. When people rely on the planning system to deliver a measure of certainty they get instead quick-silver. Developers call the shots.

The planning system, such as it is, no longer works in the public interest. There are any number of local examples. Van Bynen would never dream of using the influence of the Municipality to seek to overhaul the system and get the Planning Act changed. His talk of reforming the OMB was all hot air. It was left to Councillor Christina Bisanz to do the heavy lifting.

Van Bynen is, above all, an unimaginative administrator. He wears the chain of office and picks up his pay cheque. Don’t look for much more.

He is a man who, in Councillor Kerwin’s caustic and memorable description, “never shows leadership”.

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The Exchanges on Monday 30 May 2016

Councillor Kerwin: Just some questions. And Rick Nethery answered some of the questions. You are here strictly for a rezoning on this property at this particular point. Is that correct?

Developer's representative: Yes

Councillor Kerwin: The second thing would be addressed in site plan and you - or through Mr Ruggle or Mr Nethery. When you built the house in this subdivision called Copper Hills what was the maximum height you could build that house? Under the building code and under our by law?

Developer: I would have to double check that in the Zoning By-law.

Councillor Kerwin: I can tell you what it is. 35 feet from the corner of your house to the top of your roof. Is that correct?

Developer: Correct.

Councillor Kerwin: What is that in metres?

Developer: Sorry. Quick correction on that. To be clear, the height of a residential home in this neighbourhood. The height is calculated not to the peak of the roof but to the middle line between the eave and the peak of the roof. That’s the 35 feet that you are speaking (about).

Councillor Kerwin: But it is 35 feet?

Developer: Correct.

Councillor Kerwin: Converted to metres how much is that?

Developer: 13 metres roughly (muttering noise from audience)

Councillor Kerwin: 13? No.

Developer: 11 metres.

Councillor Kerwin: OK you are dealing in imperial. No these are questions I need answers to.

Developer: I understand that.

Mayor Tony Van Bynen: I wonder if maybe our planning department might be able to provide that information? (pause)

Am I wrong?

Rick Nethery (?) I think it is 10.75 metres.

Developer: It is 11 metres.

Councillor Kerwin: OK. Let’s say 11 metres.

Mayor Tony Van Bynen: Quiet please! (to audience)

Councillor Kerwin:  And you are proposing that these four storeys would be 14 metres?

Developer: Correct.

Councillor Kerwin: That’s ten feet taller.

Developer: Correct.

Councillor Kerwin: Ten feet. So where would you get the change for that? At site plan?

Developer: I would defer to the Planning Department.

Councillor Kerwin: Where do you get the change for that Mr Nethery? Mr Ruggle?

Rick Nethery, Director of Planning: In the event that Council were of the mind to approve this then they would ultimately be passing a by-law. So there would be a zoning by-law amendment first of all to change to the appropriate zone…

Councillor Kerwin: Residential

Rick Nethery; That by-law would also identify whatever specific requirements were necessary so, for example, if we needed to address height and provide a specific height that may differ from the parent by-law then that’s the mechanism that that could be done.

Councillor Kerwin: Would there be… Would another re-zoning have to be passed for another site specific re-zoning on that site to allow them to be higher than the residential buildings around them?

Rick Nethery: The process we are in now could address that.

Councillor Kerwin: It could but it would be a double whammy. It would be the change from commercial to residential and also the height restriction. I couldn’t build beyond 35 ft when I built my house.

Mayor Tony Van Bynen: I am just wondering at this point… The purpose of this meeting is to receive comments…

Councillor Kerwin: I am making the comments but, you know, through all of this – and I know Mr Mayor you will shut me down and cut me off because I am not orthodox. I am unorthodox. But how many people in the audience were born in Canada? Put their hands up.

Mayor Tony Van Bynen: I don’t think that’s an appropriate comment.

Councillor Kerwin: I do.

Mayor Tony Van Bynen: I don’t think that’s an appropriate comment.

Councillor Kerwin: I do because…

Mayor Tony Van Bynen: Councillor Kerwin this is a planning application…

Councillor Kerwin: these people do not understand the process and we should have informed them of the process before they came here…

Mayor Tony Van Bynen: I understand that…

Councillor Kerwin: so they… And you are not doing that (informing them).

(applause from audience)

You never show leadership. And that’s what’s wrong. Whenever you try to achieve something here…

Mayor Tony Van Bynen: I am trying to help…

Councillor Kerwin: I am trying to help the residents. They should have been better informed before they came here and that’s part of the problem

(applause from audience)

Councillor Kerwin: That’s why you get confrontation.  Now throw me out! (Kerwin now standing) Do you want to throw me out? Throw me out!

Mayor Tony Van Bynen: Councillor…

Councillor Kerwin: It was a poorly conducted meeting so far as I am concerned. These people need to be better informed.

Mayor Tony Van Bynen: Please be seated. Please be seated councillor! The process is to inform people.

Councillor Kerwin: You didn’t inform them. They can hardly speak English.

(Now there are contributions from the floor – away from the microphone – that are, for the most part, inaudible).

You can see the exchanges on video beginning at 6.20. Check the script above against delivery.