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'If not here, then where?': Newmarket forges ahead on Shining Hill development

Council backs rezoning protected lands at southwest corner of town after securing concessions in development deal
2022-01-31-Shining Hill development-JQ
A map of the Shining Hill lands, which Newmarket council has agreed to rezone to allow for development.

Newmarket is forging ahead on rezoning the Shining Hill development lands on its border with Aurora, but also agreed to investigate ways to protect an 80-acre donation in perpetuity.

Council committee of the whole voted to approve rezoning the environmentally protected lands in the southwest corner of town Jan. 31, allowing future development there. But it also approved a capital facilities agreement meant to keep the development environmentally friendly, one week after announcing it to the community.

In addition, the council directed staff to research ways to protect the 80-acres of land the town gets as part of the deal. 

Mayor John Taylor said he believes in the planning justification by staff and that the region needs to find places to grow into to help avoid it in more rural areas or the Greenbelt. He said the location is close enough to amenities to justify development there, adding York Region is one of the fastest growing areas of the country. 

“The world we live in is one where we have to make tough choices about ‘if not here, then where?'" Taylor said. "If we want to see the Greenbelt stay intact and resist the pressure constantly there at its doorstep, we have to accept and embrace development in the right place.” 

Newmarket has been negotiating with Shining Hill Estates since November to get concessions for future development on the lands. As part of the approved agreement, the developer will have to use low-impact development principles, build 30 homes to meete high environmental standards, and offer land for an affordable housing development for Housing York Inc., among other initiatives. 

Drawdown Newmarket-Aurora member Peggy Stevens presented to council and said the environmental advocacy group is pleased with the arrangement. They presented in November requesting the town make any development on those lands environmentally friendly and affordable.

“It is a ground-breaking agreement on many fronts, and we appreciate the time, energy, and expertise that went into the negotiations,” Stevens said. 

But the group asked that the 80-acres the town will get have a mechanism to be protected forever, as the town council initially set out to do for the whole of the lands in 2004. Council agreed to pursue it. 

Councillor Bob Kwapis said Drawdown made a difference in the process.

“This really is an exciting time for this area,” he said. “I have no doubt, without your ideas and your input, we might have not got to the point where we are right now.”

However, resident Kathryn Morton questioned the development and the land use breakdown . She noted land donations are a Planning Act requirement that can result in tax savings for the developer. But Taylor said there would be no tax credit issued in this case. 

She also said the land’s value will spike because of the decision.

“I just want to make sure you’re getting everything that you’re entitled to,” she said.

Taylor replied that the protected lands would become more defined through future planning processes. The developer has suggested it could take six to 10 years to fully develop.

Councillor Kelly Broome said she has never seen anything like the agreement in her eight years on council.

“I am very proud of council and everyone that has worked to get us to this place,” she said. “Housing affordability, addressing climate change, community focus … The whole premise of this amendment is just something that I have never seen and really hope it’s a great start of what we will see in developments to come.”

Council will still need to give final ratification of the deal and rezoning in a future meeting.