Development in Markham
The growth of residential development in Ward 3 is remarkable:
- Highway 7, both sides
- Downtown Markham
- Unionville GO Station – Mobility Hub
- Markham Town Square (No Frills and the former Future Shop), and
- Main Street Unionville.
As the local Councillor, I meet regularly with developers to better understand their plans and to ensure that we are building complete walkable communities with all the amenities that residents need.
The GTA is among the fastest growing regions in the western world. Unless we are to sprawl into the protected Greenbelt, most of this growth must be accommodated within our current communities, ideally near good public transit facilities. Markham is taking on its share of that growth.
Of course, the transition from a low-density suburban development model to one that emphasises high density, and often high buildings, presents significant challenges, particularly for long-time residents. The change can be uncomfortable.
This is the area between Warden Avenue and Kennedy Road, south of Highway 7 and North of Highway 407. It also includes the west end of South Unionville, around the Volkswagen, BMW and Nissan dealerships, and Markham Town Square (the No Frills plaza). In Wards 2 and 8 it also extends west of Warden Avenue and north of Highway 7 to about Rodick Road, including the Civic Centre. Much of the land, particularly in Ward 3, is still empty.
Planning ahead for growth in this area is critical to building successful communities. A “Secondary Plan” (Official Plan Amendment 21) was approved for Markham Centre in the 1997 based on approximately 20,000 new residents and 20,000 jobs. However, as a result of Provincial policies beginning in 2006, greater-than-anticipated residential and employment growth has since been assigned to Markham Centre. The Secondary Plan should have been revised over ten years ago to account for that change. In the meantime, much of the development in Ward 3 has been haphazard. Current indications are that the final residential population could shoot well past 40,000 at some point after 2030. Over 10,000 people already live in Markham Centre.
In 2020 the City has finally begun a new Secondary Plan revision process. As Councillor I will ensure that the residents of Markham Centre and surrounding communities are closely involved in the planning process. Issues to be resolved include public transportation and the role of Unionville GO Station, the road grid, the capacity of roads in and around Markham Centre, walkability, a new civic square, parks, the Rouge Valley Trail, community centres, a new fire station, new schools and much more.
Markham Centre includes the south side of Highway 7 east of Warden Avenue. The City is negotiating with Times Group at the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (LPAT) relative to the final plan for their final phases at the western limit of the property, on the corner of Warden Ave and Highway 7. This is probably the most high-profile site in Markham and deserves careful attention, along with proposals to redevelop the Hilton Hotel site, while leaving the hotel in place, and the No Frills Plaza.
In late July 2020, the City, York Region District School Board and Times arrived at an agreement that will provide for and elementary school, 60 units of affordable housing, a small community space, and 20,000 square feet of office space (i.e. employment) among the final units to accommodate a total of 6100 units across the complete development from Whole Foods to Warden Avenue. While height and density will be high, substantial community enhancements have been achieved.
Kingdom Developments – Sheridan
The City is also dealing with proposals further east. Phase 1 of the redevelopment of the Sheridan Nurseries site is proposed to be of a similar scale along Highway 7 as the Times buildings further west. Proposed buildings for later phases, on the southern portion of the property include buildings at 25, 43 and 47 stories! The Secondary Plan needs to address what density is appropriate in this area, particularly relative to the capacity of the roads and public transit (YRT/Viva) and convenient access to the Unionville GO station.
Unionville GO Station — “The Mobility Hub”
The centre of growth in Markham Centre is Unionville Station. It is because of the station that the province has identified Markham Centre for intensification. It has also been identified by the province and York Region as a Major Transit Station Area (MTSA), where intensification is to be encouraged within 500 to 800 m of the station.
While there are some renovations currently underway to accommodate much more frequent GO train service, the new Secondary Plan is based on a much more thorough reconstruction of the station and the building of a high-density community where residents can typically walk to the station, shops, parks, restaurants and entertainment. The hub itself will bring together GO, VIVA, YRT, and 407 Transitway services so that transferring from one service to another is seamless. While this seems to be the right place for high-density development, without the guidance of the secondary plan, the right level of density is not yet clear. Getting the road network serving the area right is critical.
28 Main Street
In July 2020 Council rejected the One Piece phase 1 development proposal for land just north of the Pan Am Centre, including a 47-story residential tower, with 9 stories of above-ground parking . Other alternatives to the design of the building were discussed and council urged the developer to come back to the table to negotiate. It is not yet clear whether they will do that or whether they will appeal the decision to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT). What is clear is that the approved density for the two phases (673 units) is unlikely to change, so that any solution to squeezing that many people on a small site will involve compromise on all sides.
Markham Town Square
The mall at the northeast corner of Highway 7 and Warden Avenue, owned by Smart Centres, is slated for redevelopment. Unfortunately, after consulting the Integrity Commissioner, I have been forced to declare a “conflict of interest” and will be unable to represent the community as this project moves forward. One of my brothers works for a consultant to Smart Centres and I also have a good friend who works for the company, though neither is assigned to this project. Of course, Deputy Mayor Don Hamilton, the previous Ward 3 Councillor, will take a close interest. And Ward 5 Councillor Andrew Keyes has also agreed to take a lead role in ensuring that the interests of the residents of Ward 3 are well-represented.
Highway 7 North Side
While this area is not officially part of Markham Centre, east of Markham Town Square to Sciberras Road, it is just across the road and is really part of the same development area.
A number of different developments are complete, under construction or planned for the north side of Highway 7 between Warden Avenue and Sciberras Road. The one least far along will be on the former Hildebrand property. A seniors’ residence, including affordable units, is being contemplated. There are many steps to be completed by the developer, including public consultation, before it can be approved.
A small 8-story condominium, was recently approved for the site between the Ellington condo and St Justin Martyr Church, currently a Montessori school.
The Scardred development on the Canada Computers site will soon be coming forward for final approval, including townhouses and some single-family homes. The key question, still to be answered, is whether to connect the new roads to Ferrah Street to the east. The current proposal does connect the development to Buchanan Drive to the west.
Main Street Unionville
In 2014, after an extensive public engagement process, Markham Council approved a new Vision Plan for Main Street Unionville. Among other things, it anticipated development of 3-story condominium buildings on the west side, behind the heritage buildings. As a result, one new 4-story building is under construction and a second, even larger development is anticipated there.
I am committed to ensuring that the new development is sympathetic to the unique collection of 19th century buildings that line Main Street. I have also been working with City staff to rebuild the streetscape (road, sidewalks, lamp posts, benches etc.) to the highest level possible, minimizing the use of concrete and asphalt to make it more attractive and pedestrian-friendly.
My next goal is work with all stakeholders to create a retail development strategy for the village, to identify opportunities and gaps, and then to proactively find the right retailers for the street. Working with the many property owners on the street is a bit like “herding cats”. But as Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” We need a new approach.
Cadillac Fairview is contemplating development in their parking areas around CF Markville mall. Nothing specific has yet been proposed, though a Porsche dealership is under construction at the corner of McCowan Road and Bullock Drive. Before my election and representing the Unionville Residents Association, I opposed the Porsche site when it was first proposed – a poor use of land across the street from Centennial Community Centre and a GO station. I will be pushing for much higher order development on the remaining land.
However, first the City needs to complete a new Secondary Plan for the area — around all four corners of Highway 7 and McCowan Road, north to the GO tracks. I will work with Ward 4 Councillor Karen Rea to ensure that the interests of local residents are properly represented.
South Unionville is a very successful and relatively new community. However, the southwest corner of the community, at Kennedy Road and Highway 407 is still to be completed. Some of the land is owned by developers and of course there are three car dealerships there. The Government of Ontario (Infrastructure Ontario) even owns a piece of the land. I have managed to have this area included in the new Secondary Plan for Markham Centre. Community engagement will be key to ensure this area it developed properly.
Building 8-story condominium buildings right next to single-family homes is not acceptable. And Infrastructure Ontario needs to be encouraged to hand over its holdings, to be leveraged for affordable housing, and to allow for a complete plan for the precinct.