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Newmarket council backs expedited planning process for shelter

'It's very important to try to move forward as quickly as possible so that people don't end up on the streets,' charity says in requiring MZO to finish new building before current lease expires

The Town of Newmarket is backing a ministerial zoning order to expedite the planning process for a new building for Inn From the Cold.

Council voted in favour of the request from the charity today, which is planning a new shelter and transitional housing on a property on Yonge Street. The request comes with Inn From the Cold as it prepares for the end of its lease at its current Penrose Avenue location in October 2024. It seeks a faster planning process to be able to move within that timeframe.

SHS consulting partner Ed Staar, speaking on behalf of Inn From the Cold, said that without the provincial order, the planning timeline could leave the charity without space for an extended time.

“It’s very important to try to move forward as quickly as possible so that people don’t end up on the streets,” he said.

The charity plans to build a three-storey building at 17046 Yonge, which would help it expand its shelter services year-round. A ministerial order would allow it to get through the planning process faster, without necessarily complying with policies or requiring public notice and consultation. The orders also cannot be appealed at the land tribunal.

The current planning process would take too much time, according to Inn From the Cold and SCHS consulting. In consultation with staff, Staar said not using an MZO would make the planning process take about a year longer, with occupancy expected in October 2025, a year after their lease expires. The charity estimates it could have occupancy by September 2024 using an MZO.

Mayor John Taylor said this is what MZOs should be used for.

“I’m of the camp that MZOs should be used cautiously,” he said, adding that they should be used "when this kind of need arises in the community and the legislative process requires timelines beyond what’s realistic or achievable.”

Councillor Kelly Broome raised questions about the necessity of using the MZO and whether internal options were exhausted, such as setting it as a minor variance.

Development and infrastructure commissioner Peter Noehammer said that given the land requires a rezoning, staff felt a variance was not acceptable.

Residents have also raised concerns about the news, Broome said. She suggested that neighbours be consulted earlier on when something like this arises, and there be a working group involving community input, plus public meetings for the project.

Although Inn From the Cold hopes to finish the building before a lease expiry, Councillor Bob Kwapis raised a question on the possibility of delays. 

Inn From the Cold executive director Ann Watson responded the organization is planning for that.

“We recognize so many things can go wrong timeline-wise,” she said. “The only option that is not on the table is for us to do nothing. We wouldn’t have a lapse in our service.”

One option could include a couple of months of extension on the lease if the landlord is willing, she said. But a longer-term extension is not on the table based on discussions with the landlord.

Municipalities are getting asked what they are doing to address homelessness and housing affordability, Taylor said. He noted that the shelter is being built partially on land donated by the municipality, and backing projects like this is vital.

“That’s the kind of thing we need to see everywhere to start to meet this challenge.” 

The decision will still require final approval at a council meeting next week.