Planning for Complete Communities
Complete communities are designed to meet all the basic needs of residents within a short walk of their homes: shopping, parks and recreation facilities, public transit, employment and more. They also include a diverse housing mix for a complete range of incomes.
A Secondary Plan is a detailed amendment to the Official Plan that helps guide development in a designated area, laying out road networks, heights, densities, parks and other community infrastructure.
Building a New Vision for Markham Centre
The last Secondary Plan for Markham Centre was approved in the 1990s. Since then the growth targets have changed dramatically– based on housing-market conditions and on provincially imposed mandates — and development was being approved without the guidance of a relevant plan.
Since before being elected in 2018, Reid has been advocating for a new secondary plan for Markham Centre, to give the City the means of guiding development and the support it needs when facing ambitious developers before the Ontario Land Tribunal (formerly the OMB).
The update process for the Markham Centre Secondary Plan was finally initiated in 2019 and is slowly coming to fruition. There have been many opportunities for community input along the way and there will be more. Reid’s concerns focus primarily on transportation capacity and provision of sufficient parkland, community centres and libraries.
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A Secondary Plan for Markville
Cadillac Fairview (CF) owns and operates Markville Mall. They have already redeveloped part of their parking lot as a car dealership. CF is also working on plans to redevelop much more of the parking lot as housing and offices.
This is a reasonable area for more density, within walking distance to the Centennial GO station and the VIVA bus rapid transit line, adjacent to the Centennial Community Centre, and with plenty of shopping options.
But plans for Markville Mall will also put pressure on land to the east and south for greater densities.
Reid advocated for a new Markville Secondary Plan to help the city pro-actively set in place controls and requirements for densities, heights, parks and any new roads in the area, before further development applications are received.
A contract was recently awarded to a planning consultant to develop the Secondary Plan. They are currently doing background research work. The process will however include significant options for public input.
The No-Frills Plaza
As most residents are becoming aware, the owner of the retail plaza at the northeast corner of Highway 7 and Warden Avenue has applied to redevelop the property, commonly know as the No Frills plaza. It is important to understand the process that they and the city are going through:
- Anyone who owns any property can propose to build just about anything.
- Under provincial law, the city is obliged to process the application. Note the word “process”, not “approve”. That is what is happening with the No Frills plaza now.
- Proposed developments require a review by city staff and other agencies for planning and compliance issues.
- The review process includes public input.
- Proposed developments are seldom approved without revisions and changes
There have been two public meetings on the proposal as part of the “process”. In the most recent one, though there was no vote to approve or reject the proposal, there did not seem to be much support on council for it.
Will there be a supermarket and other retailers in the new development?
There is a natural and legitimate concern in the community about loss of stores and restaurants on the site. The developer is Smart Centres, a retail plaza developer, owner and manager. They have indirectly owned and managed the plaza for many years. The site is designated “mixed use” in the Official Plan. This typically means a mix of retail and residential uses. In two submitted versions of Smart Centres’ proposal, so far , there is significant retail space, including a supermarket.
Some residents think that the city can tell the developer what retailers to lease space to. Unfortunately, the city does not have that power.
But during negotiations, underlined by the city’s Official Plan, the draft Markham Centre Secondary Plan, and current zoning, the city can negotiate to make sure that a certain amount of retail space is included in the final approved development.
What “rights” does the developer have?
Markham’s Official Plan specifies that this site is slated for intensification comprised of mixed use high-rise, up to 15 stories, at the corner of Highway 7 & Warden Avenue, and mixed use mid-rise, up to 8 stories, on the balance of the site. A draft of the next Markham Centre Secondary Plan also identifies it for intensification.
So the owner already has the right to add some density and height, just not nearly as much as they are asking for. Please note that if the owners were to apply only for the level of intensification for the site in the current Official Plan, the city could not legally reject the redevelopment on that basis alone. If it was rejected, it would be appealed to the Ontario Land Tribunal and the city would most likely lose. The city is required to follow its own policies.
What are the next steps?
To date, City staff across several departments including planning, engineering and water, along with a number of outside agencies such as, Alectra, YRDSB, YCDSB, York Region, etc., have reviewed the proposal. All have conducted their own policy reviews, together with reviews of relevant provincial laws and policies that must be followed. These include the Planning Act, the Municipal Act, the Provincial Policy Statement, and The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, as well as provincially imposed growth targets for York Region that are cascaded down to Markham, and more. Comments have been returned to Smart Centres and the city is currently waiting for their revisions.
All the public feedback, policy analysis and technical considerations will eventually be consolidated into a staff recommendation report to council that will be considered in public meetings by the Development Services Committee and Council. That will take months. And along the way there will continue to be negotiations between the developer and city staff to modify the proposal.
Additional special public meetings can be organized, once the staff-recommended plans are available. Local residents are encouraged to attend these meetings which Reid announces in his monthly newsletter and periodic special announcements.
What is the role of the Ontario Land Tribunal?
Under provincial law the city has up to 120 days to do all this work and approve or reject the proposal, which is impossible. So at any time after that point the developer can appeal a “non decision” to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT, formerly the OMB). Typically they do that only to create a place holder in the queue of cases at the OLT, while continuing to negotiate with the city. At any point the developer could abandon the negotiations and ask the OLT to make the final approval decision. Fortunately this developer does not have a reputation of using the OLT to get its way, but never say never.
If the developer does not use its right to appeal to the OLT after 120 days, it still has the right to appeal to the OLT if the final council decision is to reject their proposal.
This means that the city is always viewing the proposal through the lens of what the OLT would likely approve.
What proposal is actually being considered?
Just to complicate things it seems, at the last public meeting the developer showed a modified proposal, different from the one they had officially submitted to city staff. At the time of writing they have not officially submitted the modified proposal. However the city and the associated agencies have sent their initial comments on the first proposal back to the developer and are awaiting a revision which may or may not reflect what was presented at the public meeting. Both proposals included retail space, but more residents and higher buildings than suggested in the Official Plan.
Is Reid actively participating on this file?
Reid was advised by the city’s Integrity Commissioner to declare a conflict of interest on proposals by Smart Centres, including this and three others made in Markham. A very good friend of Reid’s, whom he has known since long before he joined Council, is a senior manager at Smart Centres. As a result, while he can share facts on the file, as above, he can’t take a public position on it. And when it comes to a vote at council, he can’t vote on it.
However, this is a very important site in the development of Markham. The 12 other members of council have taken a keen interest and are certainly listening to the community on it. Reid has also asked Deputy Mayor and former Ward 3 Councillor Don Hamilton to take the lead in liaising with the community, city staff and Smart Centres on the project. Depending on the outcome of the 2022 election, Reid may also ask another councillor to take over this role.
Eventually some sort of redevelopment will be approved on the No Frills site. That is certain. But could the community be certain that Reid’s relationship with his friend at Smart Centres would not influence his final vote, if he were not to declare a conflict? The answer is no. Residents would be correct in questioning Reid’s motivation. Therefore it is better for Reid to stay out of the process by declaring the conflict of interest.
Reid is committed to exercising his role with integrity at all times. He would very much prefer to take a more active role on this file. But it would be wrong to take a principled position only when politically convenient.