- Written by Gordon Prentice
The agreement on the Clock Tower, struck between the Town of Newmarket and the developer Bob Forrest and announced at the close of play on Friday afternoon, should be welcomed.
It ends the long debilitating uncertainty over this key block of buildings in the old downtown and it tentatively sets out a mechanism and a timetable to bring the heritage properties back into use. There will be no new building on the Forrest lands (other than, possibly, some above ground garage structures immediately behind 184-194 Main Street South) although the Town implicitly acknowledges that in the future there may be redevelopment of the 1956 extension to the Clock Tower, the old telephone exchange.
Importantly, as soon as the deal is signed off, the Forrest lands immediately fold back into the Heritage Conservation District with all the protection that designation affords.
This wouldn’t have happened without a strong and vocal coalition of interests coming together and sticking with the issue over the years.
The resolute position taken by the Town’s Heritage Advisory Committee was pivotal. The Business Improvement Area Committee steadfastly opposed the Forrest proposals from the word go. The Heart of Newmarket Citizens’ Group provided invaluable expertise and strategic thinking. The local branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario spread the message that old buildings with a story to tell are worth saving. And countless individuals made it clear they were not prepared to accept what the Mayor said was good for them.
Astonishingly, Van Trappist now brazenly describes the settlement as a win-win despite it being the polar opposite of what he and his enablers in the senior ranks of the Town’s staff have been working on for years.
Van Trappist, now the mouthpiece for others, says:
“We are excited that we have reached a solution that is a win-win for the Town, the developer, the downtown area and Newmarket as a whole.”
What’s in it for the Town?
First and foremost, the return of a vibrant and healthy Main Street. For years Forrest’s boarded-up and crumbling properties have blighted the heart of the old downtown.
The Town wants an early end to the dereliction. The restoration work and any construction is to begin as soon as possible but no later than 15 December 2019. If Forrest converts the upper levels of the Main Street buildings to office use the Town will allow him “to demolish the single storey additions at the rear of the Main Street buildings” to create parking spaces.
The settlement immediately placates a very large number of people who have been outraged by the way in which the Town handled the Clock Tower application. The willingness of senior staff to present false information to councillors and the public about the Floor Space Index was unconscionable. The report on 28 November 2016 was going up to Committee for decision.
At some point the endless stonewalling by senior Town staff of legitimate requests for information must stop. We still don’t have details of the so-called “agreement in principle” between the Town and Forrest in June 2013. There is absolutely no reason why that cannot now be released into the public domain.
The latest agreement avoids expensive litigation at the Superior Court on the Market Square land ownership issue which would expose the full extent of the Town’s incompetence in not closing the deal it had with Michael Bryan back in 2003.
It saves the embarrassment of an OMB Hearing in the immediate run-up to the Municipal elections where all manner of hidden skeletons might have been uncovered.
It allows the fraught relationship with the downtown business community to be re-set. Mayoral hopeful John Taylor still envisages some kind of relaxation to the development rules within the Heritage Conservation District but this is for the future and, importantly, he says there will be public consultation. No more development by fiat.
What’s in it for Bob Forrest?
Forrest is still spitting feathers. He believes he was led up the garden path by the Town and that he had an agreement in principle for his proposed development dating from June 2013 that the Town welched on. The eight-page letter he left with councillors when they turned down his proposal on 28 November 2016 was dripping with venom and resentment.
The Town, ever forgiving, will make up to $100,000 available to Forrest for the restoration of the old heritage properties “to the extent that the “New Development Concept” qualifies and meets program criteria.”
If the Clock Tower is developed for residential uses the Town will sell him land-locked land in Market Square (currently housing electrical gear) for $10, the option to be exercised within 5 years.
Forrest’s wife, Coleen, told the press on Friday that getting a sewage link-up to the proposed Clock Tower development before 2026/7 prompted a rethink:
“Despite the expectation of success at the scheduled OMB hearing, the planned Clock Tower condominium building would be unlikely to receive servicing allocation until 2026-27… In the face of unparalleled enthusiasm on the part of over 200 prospective condo buyers, Main Street Clock Inc. has been forced to revisit its business plan for the Clock Tower and Main Street properties.”
“We look forward to sharing in the near future an exciting new concept for this beautiful heritage space — a concept which will bring economic stimulus to downtown Newmarket.”
That is elegant face-saving. In reality, the Forrests – who stood to make $10m clear profit from the earlier development proposal – are furious.
Forrest told his business tenants on 5 January 2016 before he evicted them:
“I don’t want to sound at all arbitrary but it is very real for me. My business isn’t renting stores. My business is building buildings and I want to get to the point that I can build my building at the earliest possible moment.”
What’s in it for the downtown area and for Newmarket as a whole?
Old Main Streets across Ontario are under assault by developers as never before. Municipalities, frightened of their own shadows, routinely capitulate, fearing the costs of going to the OMB. Those Main Streets that survive largely intact – such as Newmarket’s – will increasingly have a rarity value which the Town, its businesses and the wider community can cash-in on.
Maybe the former business tenants, unfairly evicted by Bob Forrest, will have the opportunity to return to the heritage buildings they once occupied. I hope so.
Parking remains an issue. As I see it, there is probably no long-term “solution” for parking in the heritage downtown, just a series of short-term fixes. John Taylor says the terms of the settlement leave the Town with a possible parking shortfall of up to 31 spaces but:
“the Town will have at least two years to find options to address the parking challenge in the meantime the Clock Tower has been saved.”
In one form or another, the Clock Tower saga has been running since 2011. That’s way too long for members of the public to stay engaged. People have their lives to lead.
But, that said, unless we stick with it over the long term – and that is quite the challenge - the developers win. They have the time and the money.
Forrest says quite candidly they make things happen and get results:
“by leveraging our strong reputation and existing relationships with municipal staff and politicians.”
And to get his development going Forrest was, of course, prepared to allow demolition by neglect. In May 2016, Forrest said of the historic commercial properties he owns:
“The roofs leak. The roofs and the floors sag.”
Now he will have to fix them.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The Town of Newmarket has now released the terms of its settlement with the developer Bob Forrest. The details are here.
I'll post a commentary once I've figured out what's happening.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Last night I wander along to Chris Emanuel’s campaign launch in the Veterans Hall at Millard.
He is running for Regional Councillor, hoping to step into John Taylor’s shoes if – as widely assumed - Taylor effortlessly ascends to the Mayoralty.
There are balloons and razzamatazz. And a pay bar.
It’s lively and there are lots of people.
No sign of John Taylor but I see Tom Taylor so the dynasty is represented.
And I see the smiling Ward 4 councillor, Tom Hempen, and Dave Kerwin from Ward 2.
After a hagiographic introduction from his former school teacher, Chris sets out his stall which he says is full of big, bold and positive ideas.
He has dipped his toe into the private sector and now returns to public service refreshed and reinvigorated and brimming with new ideas.
That’s the gist of it.
He said he wanted momentum to launch his campaign and, on the evidence of last night, I think he has the edge on his rival, the veteran councillor Tom Vegh.
After 15 years on the Council in one form or another, Tom Vegh has abandoned his Ward 1 berth. It's time do or die.
This is shaping up to be quite the contest.
But here’s my advice to Tom. In politics, never do good by stealth.
If you want to be taken seriously then get your website up and running in the next 24 hours.
It’s been way, way too long undergoing maintenance.
If you’ve got something to say we want to hear it.
Loud and clear.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The Town of Newmarket has now agreed Terms of Settlement with the Clock Tower developer, Bob Forrest, which means the OMB Hearing scheduled for August 2018 will no longer go ahead.
It is likely that the application coming before the Superior Court later this month on who owns the contested land in Market Square will also be pulled.
Earlier today (3 May 2018) Forrest’s lawyer Ira Kagan told the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (the successor body to the OMB) that Forrest and the Town of Newmarket had agreed the terms of a settlement which resolved the appeals currently before the OMB. Kagan says the Town and Forrest want the OMB Appeal due to start on Tuesday 7 August 2018 to be adjourned indefinitely.
“I can further advise that subject to the Town fulfilling certain obligations as per the Minutes of Settlement, that my client will ultimately (but not presently) be withdrawing its appeals. I would be grateful if you would advise the Parties (Forrest’s Main Street Clock Inc, the Town of Newmarket and the Heart of Newmarket Citizens’ Group) of the Tribunal’s decision on this adjournment request.”
Settlement terms still a mystery
The Town has settled with Bob Forrest but we do not yet know on what terms. What are the obligations the Town must fulfill? We shall find out tomorrow afternoon according to Bob Kwapeese.
Should we be celebrating?
If Forrest's Clock Tower project is now stone cold dead, never to be resurrected, we should all give thanks.
But the question in my mind is this: what is Forrest getting from the Town in return for pulling out of the OMB Hearing? And what is he getting for dropping his opposition to the Town's application to the Superior Court on the land ownership issue (if that is, indeed, what is happening.)
Personally, I thought the Town was in a pretty strong position even if it lost in the Superior Court on the Market Square land ownership issue. (The Town’s deal, some 15 years ago, with Michael Bryant - who sold his Main Street properties to Forrest - was never formally closed by the Town. It was and remains a stellar example of Newmarket Council’s ineptitude.)
Kagan was poised to argue at the Superior Court that if the Town hadn’t gotten round to closing the deal after so many years it was no longer operational. Anyway… all this stuff is for the lawyers.
What's the deal?
I suspect the Town has thrown Forrest some kind of lifeline, allowing him to walk away with something.
But this is speculation on my part. Unlike the leaky Councillor Kwapeese I am not privy to the details.
It is enough to say that today we learn the OMB Hearing is off.
Tomorrow we shall find out what the real deal is.
Tonight I emailed the Town to ask when and where the "big announcement" will happen. I wanna be there.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Ward 5 councillor, Bob Kwapeese, tells us we can expect a big announcement concerning the ward on Friday afternoon. But he is not prepared to tell us what this big announcement is all about.
Bob knows something the rest of us don’t know!
What a tease!
Yesterday, diners in the Maid’s Cottage overheard Bob boasting about the big announcement. He can hardly contain his excitement. But, shsssssh, he can’t tell us more because that would mean breaking a secret!
So, what is the nature of this big secret that he is telling – or not telling - the world about?
I think it could be something about the Clock Tower – but, then again, who knows?
Apart from Bob.
On Monday (30 April) the Committee of the Whole had a closed session on the Clock Tower. Our councillors could have been getting their steer from senior staff on the Market Square land ownership issue which is coming up before the Superior Court in less than a fortnight. Or it could be about the OMB meeting in early August which will decide on the planning merits of Bob Forrest’s palsied Clock Tower project. Or it could be about Bob Forrest himself.
Rumours have been flying around for ages that Forrest is in financial difficulties. That sounds fanciful. After a quick Google search I did come across a glancing reference to one of Forrest’s companies in the Panama Papers – Jungle Fever Team Inc – but that happened a long time ago and I won’t dwell on it.
Clock Tower’s 2.9 FSI is false and misleading
Since the Clock Tower is in his patch, I recently asked Bob Kwapeese if he could put a simple question to the Town’s Director of Planning, Rick Nethery. I wanted to know when Rick Nethery first realised the 2.9 Floor Space Index of the Clock Tower was false.
Three weeks ago Kwapis told me:
“I appreciate your diligence and your interest in all levels of politics and for sharing your point of view on various topics of interest for many residents. The Clock Tower development is currently in the process of getting ready for the OMB Hearing. The OMB will be reviewing all the evidence and make their decision based on facts. I will not be commenting or acting on matters concerning the Clock Tower until the OMB final decision is made, therefore I need to decline your request in this matter. Thank you for your understanding.”
How useless is that from our gossip-in-chief?
It is a fact that the Director of Planning knew the 2.9 FSI was false when the Clock Tower report went up to councillors for decision on 28 November 2016.
Employees must not wilfully mislead
It is a fact that the Town’s Employee Code of Conduct says this:
“Employees must be professional, courteous and objective in all dealings with clients and the general public. It is every employee’s responsibility to ensure that all information they communicate is as accurate as possible. No employee shall withhold information or wilfully mislead Members of Council, other employees, clients or the public about any issue of corporate concern.”
In Newmarket, these are just meaningless words.
Bob Kwapis is happy gossiping about big announcements in the Maid’s Cottage but doesn’t have the gumption or self-respect to ask the Director of Planning when he first realised the FSI of the Clock Tower was false.
It is not a difficult question to answer. But, astonishingly, almost one year since I lodged my formal complaint against the Director of Planning with the Town’s Chief Administrative Officer, Bob Shelton, we still do not have the answer. Once we have it - and we shall - all the other pieces will fall into place.
It is because of elected officials like Bob Kwapis - who cannot or will not hold senior staff to account – that I am taking the Clock Tower issue to the Ombudsman.
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