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Newmarket weighs 'big moves' in policy to aid affordable housing

Town seeks to boost rental housing through new official plan, seeks public input
Newmarket Councillor Kelly Broome speaks during a Sept. 18 council meeting.

The Town of Newmarket should consider updating intensification policies, incentivizing purpose-built rental and implementing inclusionary zoning to address housing affordability, according to a consultant's report.

These are the “big moves” the town could consider as it updates its housing policies as part of an official plan process, according to a report presented to councillors today by WSP. The consulting firm recommended that the town take measures to add a range of different housing options.

Councillor Kelly Broome said adding rental options through policy is important.

“We’re encouraging rental, but we need to try and support a little bit more on policies around people that are providing rental opportunities,” Broome said. “I’d really like to see more of that.” 

The town is working toward a revamp of its official plan, the guiding document of the municipality. Consultants offered perspectives on housing, spaces and the south of Davis Drive area today, seeking input from the council on the direction. The plan has an expected completion date of 2025.

Ideas for consideration included inclusionary zoning in major transit station areas, which would require development in these areas to have a certain percentage of affordable units. Other concepts included incentives for affordable and purpose-built rental, density targets, reducing parking requirements, particularly in areas close to transit and allowing for “gentle density” through permission of additional units on existing residential properties.

WSP also recommended consideration of a definition of affordable housing, to which Taylor said having a wide range of affordability is important.

“It’s about making sure that we are trying to do the best we can to ensure we got reasonably affordable options (for) people in different positions in their lives, at different stages,” Taylor said. 

Protecting existing housing stock was also brought up, with suggestions for policies to ensure landowners do not convert rental units to non-rental. 

Councillor Grace Simon said that is a strong point of concern from housing advocates and questioned how to bring protections for rental units into policy.

“It’s something where we start from now,” she said. “Looking at these critical policies before expanding and growing too fast.”

Staff said policies in the current official plan speak to conditions where rental buildings can convert, but they will be looking to update those to make it more stringent.

Downtown update

The official plan update also focuses on the "South of Davis Drive area",  just north of the downtown core past Park Avenue. The area has some separation from the downtown core, with its businesses not part of the Main Street BIA.

WSP presented an emerging vision for the area to “be a vibrant destination for culture and entertainment” with a mix of uses, including housing and amenities. The vision said the area would be a “vibrant public realm with rich cultural heritage.”

“I see tremendous opportunity here for some intensification on this area,” Councillor Victor Woodhouse said. “I look forward to seeing what can be done.” 

WSP plans to hold more public engagement, including a public open house to receive input on draft policy directions. After that, it would report to the council seeking endorsement of policy directions.