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'We can't keep doing things the same way': Newmarket seeks new development model for protected lands

Town delays call on rezoning environmentally protected lands to pursue affordability, natural heritage protection
20211115-Shining Hill Estates-JQ
A map of the Shining Hill Estates lands for which the developer is requesting rezoning to open up development.

Newmarket is delaying a decision to rezone protected lands in the southwest corner of town in a bid to secure environmental and affordability guarantees before development.

Council considered a staff recommendation Nov. 15 to rezone the lands owned by Shining Hill Estates to permit development at 16250, 16356 and 16450 Yonge St. near St. John's Sideroad, on the border with Aurora.

Several concerned citizens spoke about the need to ensure future development there would be environmentally sustainable. 

Mayor John Taylor said it is the right place to build, but he proposed delaying a decision until January to secure things like affordable and environmentally friendly housing from the developer. 

“This is an opportunity to secure environmental lands, to provide housing options where they should be provided, where the existing infrastructure exists,” Taylor said. “Putting affordability and environment at the forefront for once.” 

Shining Hill Estates Collection is requesting to develop a mix of “residential, institutional, commercial office, parks and open spaces” on the land. But the land was zoned as environmentally protected by the town in 2003, meaning rezoning is needed to make it open for development.

The proposal has faced public opposition with concerns on land use and environmental impact.

Staff recommended going ahead with the rezoning, arguing development in the area is needed to meet housing demand. Taylor said the circumstances have changed since 2003, with the creation of a greenbelt that protects lands around Newmarket.

He added the province needs to accommodate growth, and it is environmentally sensible to build near existing amenities versus sprawling outward.

“If we want to say no, this is not the way to develop out in the hinterlands where we know it’s very expensive to build, we have to say where it does make sense," he said. ”This is potentially a place you can make that argument very soundly for.” 

Representatives of the environmental group Drawdown Newmarket-Aurora did not disparage the proposal to develop part of the land, but instead lobbied for development that is low-impact and urged that any remaining natural heritage lands have stronger measures to stay that way in perpetuity, and that there be consideration for net-zero homes. 

“We hope Shining Hill will be a complete and location-efficient community,” Dave Kempton said. “That would honour the original vision of council that set environmental protection for these lands.”

Shining Hill Estates Inc. representative Don Given of Malone Given Parsons said they are committed to working with the municipality. He said they have worked together for six years leading up to this, and the project could take six to 10 years to develop if approved. 

But others remain in complete opposition. Anthony Schreider said on behalf of the Estates on Old Bathurst Street that the land should remain as is. 

“In the face of climate change, now is not the time to develop greenspaces,” he said in a letter. “The land is currently being used for agriculture and should remain as such."

Councillor Christina Bisanz supported the delay and said accessibility and aging in place also need to be considered. 

“We’ve been seeing in developments, these three-story, very narrow townhomes with a lot of stairs, (that are) not conducive to enabling people to stay in the community,” Bisanz said. “We have the potential to make this an outstanding new community in a number of ways.” 

Taylor said there would be an in-camera meeting to discuss the mechanisms for securing agreements with the developer.

“We can’t keep doing things the same way,” Taylor said. “This is an opportunity to do things differently.”