Last night Newmarket councillors waved through the Town’s controversial Secondary Plan that lays the ground for accommodating an additional 33, 000 people along the Yonge Davis corridors. The Plan now goes to the full Council meeting on 23 June for formal approval and then to York Region for ratification.

The Region and other agencies caused a last-minute re-write of the draft Plan when they observed that:

"the proposed height and density (particularly on Davis Drive) may not achieve the planned intensification along the rapid transit corridor.”

When councillors agreed the earlier revised draft Plan they were assured it would meet all the relevant targets set for the Town.

Marion Plaunt, the senior planner in charge of the file, tries to square the circle, explaining there has been no change in the maximum heights of buildings that councillors agreed previously. This is true. But the locations where the highest buildings can go have changed. This will visibly alter the street-scape. We learn that densities in a multitude of sites all along the two corridors have been redistributed in a different way. I see mystified faces and a few furrowed brows.

Schedule 4: the small print

Schedule 4 of the Urban Centres Secondary Plan lists, on page 128, a very large number of changes to height and density. For example, development blocks down at Yonge and Mulock go from Medium High Density to High Density. This means going up from a permitted maximum height of 12 storeys (or 15 with bonusing) to 17 storeys (or 20 with bonusing). Developers can get the bonus of higher heights and density if they promise to give something to the Town – say, a community garden or some other “public good”.

Obviously, developers are interested in height but they positively salivate over the floor space index or “FSI”. This, broadly speaking, is the amount of development that can be squeezed onto the site. At Yonge and Mulock the original medium high density of 2.5 (or 3.0 with bonusing) goes up to 3.5 (or 4.0 with bonusing). This means the sites can be more intensively developed.

Changes needed to achieve the planned intensification

Marion now completes her PowerPoint presentation and we are into questions. Tom Vegh zeros in on the proposed changes to height and density recommended by the Region and York Region Rapid Transit designed “to achieve the planned intensification” yet the population numbers (an extra 33,000 people) in the draft Plan and the revised Plan remain unchanged. Vegh describes this as “counter-intuitive”.

John Taylor seems equally perplexed and calls for a note from staff explaining the reasoning and methodology. The Mayor, too, wants a written explanation.

Just like a Piston

Joe Sponga is now asking about “development blocks”. These “blocks” are agglomerations of individual “development sites”. Marion is explaining things using semaphore. We learn that angular planes can push densities down (to stop tall buildings towering over smaller ones) so the Plan allows densities to be transferred elsewhere within each development block. Just when Joe’s eyes are beginning to mist over, Marion starts pushing down with her right hand while correspondingly raising her left hand. It’s like a piston, she says. She does this a number of times. It is quite effective.

39 Davis Drive: evidence of a planning system that is broken

We learn, following a question from Dave Kerwin, that this principle (of using development blocks) does not apply to 39 Davis Drive – currently a temporary car park - where planning permission was given in 2009 for a 20 storey condo with an FSI of 10.25. Newmarket’s planners changed their recommendation to councillors at the last minute, agreeing that, in this case, the height and density should be “site specific” and not related to the development block.

(39 Davis Drive is owned by Tri-Cap as is 22 George Street. The LCBO/Shoppers site, adjacent to 39 Davis Drive, is probably in the same ownership. I haven’t checked but the three companies that own the three sites have sequential numbers: 1858106 Ontario Inc; 1858107 Ontario Inc and 1858108 Ontario Inc.)

The owners’ planning consultants – who were all geared up to make a presentation to the Committee of the Whole to argue that 39 Davis Drive should be an exception to the development block principle – instead thanked the Town’s planners for their change of mind. Earlier, they told the Town

“The three companies intend to redevelop these sites sometime in the future but the exact nature of the development or developments has not yet been determined.”

39 Davis got approval five years ago and there is still no sign of a condo. If there are no shovels in the ground after a specified period, say 3 years, planning approvals should, in my view, be revoked. Otherwise companies such as Tri-Cap hoard land until they decide the time is right to develop. Manifestly, this can be against the public interest.

Mobility Hubs

Chris Emanuel returns to the issue of mobility hubs, raised on previous occasions. As I am listening to Marion explaining the difference in approach between the Yonge Davis mobility hub and the one at the Tannery, I find myself thinking again about that promised new park and ride GO Train station at Mulock. It is outside the Secondary Plan area but where does it fit in the wider scheme of things? How absurd that something like this should be left hanging in the air.

Jane Twinney also asks about the Tannery and whether Bayview and Prospect would be included in the study area. We learn from Rick Nethery there are road capacity issues that are the subject of a “companion study” – the NSEW Network Study!

I sense we are all beginning to wilt.

Elsewhere… Ward 4’s Tom Hempen wants to know how the Town is going to address the need for parks and open spaces in the light of its burgeoning population growth. Marion tells him parkland dedication will come with development applications. She also tells him the Upper Canada Mall site has effectively been removed from the Secondary Plan area until the special UCM study has been completed.

Taylor points the way

Now John Taylor tries to pull everything together. He sounds like a travel guide. He tells us it would be wrong to suggest we are at the end of the journey. We learn we are moving in a positive direction. But the biggest challenge is where this journey will take us and how fast.

(In fact, the whole expensive process has been rudderless for years. The professional planners stepped in to fill the void when the politicians failed to give a lead.)

Taylor says the infrastructure has to be in place to support growth. Growth should be phased with development being sequenced and aligned with the projected population increase.

Joe Sponga is ecstatic telling us Taylor’s proposal is “refreshing”. Now he thanks Marion in his own inimitable way. “You have been working your proverbial off.”

Secondary Plan must be OMB proof

Chris Emanuel fears piecemeal development and agrees phasing is important. He confesses his frustration with the planning process. Scorched by the OMB decision at Glenway, he says he wants to make the Secondary Plan, insofar as possible, “OMB proof”. Anything within the built boundary of Newmarket seems to be fair game for developers.

Now Maddie Di Muccio, the burr under the saddle, says municipalities have an obligation to provide infrastructure to support growth so why all this stuff from Taylor about phasing and so on.

The Town’s planning chief, Rick Nethery, agrees infrastructure is needed “but it doesn’t all have to be in place at the one time”. I’d have liked a few examples of what can safely be left until later.

Newmarket and Mississagua

Now we are submerged in statistics as Di Muccio suggests Newmarket could become one of the most densely populated places on the planet (I exaggerate for effect). She says we could have more people per square kilometre than… Mississagua. This, she says, is not smart planning. We don’t need all these people.

Now the usually languid Taylor stirs. I have rarely seen him so energised. He is firing statistics at us. The Town has been growing at about 2% a year and this is projected to continue. It is all manageable.

At this point Jane Twinney, back from the campaign trail, sticks her head above the parapet, telling us she will support the Secondary Plan because it is the responsible thing to do.

This infuriates Di Muccio who turns on Jane (whom she loathes), denouncing her for suggesting it would be “irresponsible” not to support the Plan.

I think it is time to go.