I came across this article last week in the National Post and it was quite an eye opener. It would seem all is not as calm and well run in our town as we are led to believe.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Red Tape Week: Small business being strangled
Let's look at what's happening to businesses in Downtown Newmarket:
For many months consultants have been working hard at a plan to turn lower Main Street, the historic commercial area of Newmarket, into a Heritage Conservation District (HCD). There are pro's and con's to this, but lets face it, preserving and enhancing our architectural heritage is wonderful, and something we should all embrace and be proud of. Businesses will suck up the financial implications that go along with being designated, and will wade through another layer of red tape to change a window, or put up a sign.
In the last few months the Town of Newmarket applied for, and received funding for, the restoration and expansion of The Old Town Hall in the core of the proposed HCD, The design: the addition of a seemingly ultra modern glass atrium that completely ignores the recommendation of the HCD plan for the reestablishment of the historic Market Square in the same location.
The proposed HCD plan, when implemented, won't allow changes/additions to the façade of buildings in the area, almost all small businesses, without consent of the HCD oversight committee, which will ensure the changes fall within heritage guidelines, and those appear pretty stringent. No more stucco, you'll need to restore the original brick instead. Don't even ask how much that costs. Does an ultra modern glass atrium meet the heritage requirements for the area? Good question, and probably one that will never get answered. The HCD is still in the proposal stage, so the Town doesn't have to meet its requirements.
Also in the last few months, the Town of Newmarket applied for, and received funding for the Community Urban Space Project (CUSP). This project is to turn a parking lot, the one most accessible to the downtown area, and an old arena slated for demolition, into a green space, and is directly adjacent to the HCD. One side of a line drawn on the map is the proposed HCD and the other is the CUSP. The design for the CUSP appears to be approximately 60 % concrete, also ultra modern, and incorporates parking in the lands furthest from the Main Street. It should also be noted that the CUSP also borders a 50+ acre park in the heart of Newmarket known as Fairy Lake. No shortage of green space
In this community.
Business owners (aka tax payers) on Main Street are being portrayed as selfish and evil because they voiced concerns that visitors to the area will have to walk greater distances (think of that last spot in the outer reaches of a big mall at Christmas) through the CUSP to reach the Main Street, yet the Town's own Parking By-law requirements don't even seem to come close to being met in the CUSP plan or in the lower Main Street area.
The Town claims this new green space will attract people from all over the region. One wonders if those people are all walking to Newmarket since bicycle parking has not been accommodated for in the plan either.
Business owners have been told on numerous occasions by members of Council that times are changing: everyone walks, rides a bike, or hops on a Vespa to get around. They were told that again in a Special Committee of the Whole Meeting, specifically called for CUSP on January 11th, that drew more than 100 concerned citizens. A show of hands was called for by a business owner during his dissertation to Council, to see how many people got to the meeting on foot or bicycle, and not surprisingly, only one lone hand was raised, none from the members of Town staff, or Council.
The Main Street District BIA, another layer of bureaucracy in the form of a tax levy, passed a motion (in effect, a recommendation to Council) to not reduce parking in the CUSP lands. They were ignored. This, in part, may be because the Chair of the BIA has been very supportive of the CUSP, to the extent of sponsoring an online petition in favour of no parking in the CUSP , has suggested that the BIA board was strong-armed into voting for no reduced parking, and that it was a close, 5 to 4 decision. Perhaps the Chair is unaware of the democratic process. Coincidentally, the Chair is the Mayor's campaign manager for this year's election.
Sensing any hypocrisy yet?
The Town has not informed business owners where anyone, including those same business owners and their employees, can park during all the construction that's about to begin, and one Councilor even suggested merchants should arrange a shuttle bus from a parking lot outside the area. Local residents are up in arms with business owners because they believe the additional green space at their doorstep is threatened, and are not remotely concerned that storefronts may be left empty. They are convinced that better, nicer businesses will move in. The Town, who authored this disaster, is washing its hands of any responsibility in its inability to come up with a sound plan and is pushing its agenda forward no matter the cost to businesses in the area.
At the recent Public Information meeting on January 13th regarding the HCD, the question "How the ultra modern design of the Old Town Hall and the CUSP remotely relate to the proposed HCD?" was asked of the consultants who prepared the plan. The Mayor, in his infinite wisdom from the back of the room, responded that the meeting was not a CUSP meeting, nor an Old Town Hall meeting, it was an HCD meeting so let us stick to the subject at hand. Could it be the Mayor is unaware of how the three are so closely intertwined? Again, the question was posed to the consultants. Unfortunately they were not able to respond, for the Town had not made them aware of the Old Town Hall or CUSP designs. Just an oversight perhaps?
Seems that the Mayor and the Council of the Town of Newmarket have no problem forcing business owners to comply with strict rules and regulations regarding the properties they own, by turning them into a Heritage Conservation District, but don't enforce the same rules and regulations for municipally owned lands paid for by tax payer dollars.
That seems like a pretty tight rope to be walking in an election year.
Business owners wouldn't be business owners with out facing risk. They're generally good at it. They understand the difference between a risk that's within their control, and one that isn't. So what will Main Street business owners do? Probably what some are already doing – move.
When the construction is complete, feel free to visit Main Street Newmarket – A 21st Century Ghost Town. Oh, and good luck finding parking.
First of all I don't know that much about this issue but I have a few comments
1. Parking in the downtown is more than adequate on weekdays but does get pretty tight when there are events at Fairy Lake and Sat mornings when it’s market season.
2. The rink certainly needs to come down, its a total dump, but the plan should take the attached crappy, not to code, not fully accessible community center down and rebuild it all to proper LEEDs building standards with a living roof. It's time for Governments to take the lead in doing what's right and make municipal builds modern and green.
3. A glass and steel atrium is not appropriate for a historical building. Personally I don’t always agree with keeping old inefficient buildings just because it’s old. As it is the old town hall is not strictly historical as they’ve had plumbing, heating, electrical plus cosmetic changes over the decades and it shows. If it can’t be maintained historical for a reasonable price tear it down and replace it with a better build, up to code, modern equivalent that replicates the original design. The importance of historical buildings is that it’s true to the style and architectural detail of the time not that it has the same leaky windows and porous rotting bricks it did 100 years ago. In our impending peak oil world, maintaining old and inefficient buildings just for the sake of being old is going to be a luxury we can’t afford. I'm not saying the old town hall is that delapidated yet but I stand by this criteria for keeping or bulldozing
4. Likewise expansion of the HCD mandate to dictate building modifications impedes modernization to acceptable standards and increases cost for local businesses. Some of these buildings are probably in too rotten shape to justify protection let alone the extra cost of the red tape. Don’t get me wrong I like old buildings but there are times when groups like HCD get too much control, like a Facebook friend in New England who is force to keep replacing his roof with slate tiles when he should be allowed to consider a long lasting steel imitation, and no matter what he uses for roofing material he will be banned from placing solar or solar water panels on his house.
5. We are not doing anything to promote a foot, bike and Vespa culture so why does council think so many people don’t drive. Any plan needs secure bike storage (not just a crappy rack), likewise few if any malls in Newmarket have bike parking, no dedicated spots for Vespas, e-scooters etc.
Newmarket needs to mandate secure bike lock ups, and dedicated scooter parking for all malls and public facilities. Likewise they must do a better job of making sure Malls supply a safe path from the stores to the street for pedestrians, as I mentioned last year in this post.
6. The article seems a bit like a poison pen letter and that fact its author is not attributed by the Post is disturbing. Is it one of the dissenting council members perhaps?
7. If the town is so sure car culture is on the decline then why do they keep permitting drive through food and banking? After all these operations are already in conflict with the intent behind anti idling laws.
I also have a few questions
If there is such dissent in council and the various committees and boards in Newmarket why is our local paper not covering the issue more?
Is there any merit to the accusations of strong arming for votes?
Is there a conflict of interest with the Mayor’s campaign manager?
Is cronyism overly rampant in Newmarket? Is it time to clean house and replace them all?
I would encourage anyone who has information on these programs, decisions and questions to comment, use an alias if you want.