Markham MZO adds to ‘circus’ surrounding Flato development on Stouffville border
Decision creates 'domino effect' that allows erosion of farmland, democratic process, critics charge
Feb. 18, 2021
Controversial minister’s zoning orders (MZOs) continue to pile up for a proposed massive housing development on the border between Markham and Stouffville, much to the dismay and outrage of concerned residents.
Since 2018, the province has issued more than 35 orders, which give the minister of municipal affairs and housing, Steve Clark, extraordinary powers to designate land use, overriding local planning processes without the possibility of appeal, in order to fast-track developments that promote economic recovery and affordable housing.
Many residents, however, view them as undemocratic, bypassing the rigours of land use planning, public engagement and environmental assessments.
Flato Developments Inc. already has three MZOs in its pocket for properties straddling Markham and Stouffville north of 19th Avenue bordered by McCowan Road and Hwy. 48 for a massive 2,000-plus home development on agricultural lands outside current urban boundaries.
This month, Markham council endorsed a fourth MZO request from Flato, despite over 70 letters and 30 deputations of opposition from the public.
If granted by the province, 661 residential units will be built on roughly 70 acres of a 110-acre property fronting 19th Avenue just east of McCowan.
Lifelong Markham resident, Dave Burkholder, who moved to Stouffville two years ago, said council’s decision goes against every good planning aspect the city has done to date and “flies in the face of reasonable thinking.”
“I have been watching the circus surrounding the Flato property and this company is jumping the queue after only two years of ownership,” he said, adding the proposal for a mix of detached homes, townhomes and two six- to eight-storey apartment units does not conform to any current plans for land use in the north end of Markham.
It also goes against a staff recommendation against the application, calling it premature in light of the results of the region’s municipal comprehensive review of land use and the city’s land assessment only months away.
“What’s the hurry?” asked Peter Miasek, on behalf of the Unionville Residents Association.
A decision before the two plans are in place represents “spot rezoning of the worst kind,” Miasek said, adding the lands in question may not be needed for growth until 2051.
Alexis Edghill Whalen, who spoke to the issue in May 2020, fears this latest MZO is the “thin edge of the wedge.”
“This will set precedent and initiate a domino effect of developers lining up to sidestep the normal planning process to urbanize Markham’s remaining farmland in the northeast,” she said. "Just because a developer buys land doesn't mean it should automatically get rezoned."
Matt Rock, who is among a number of area farmers who lodged their objections, agreed, saying the pursuit of short-term gain will permanently destroy scarce farmland and diminish fresh water sources for the future.
He added MZOs circumvent public engagement and send the message that input from citizens, scientists and planners is neither considered nor important.
Eight of Markham’s 13 councillors disagreed, however, supporting the MZO along with recommendations in the city’s comments to the province for the developer to pick up the costs for servicing, expand park space and allow for additional affordable housing options.
They agreed with Flato founder, Shakir Rhematullah, that the MZO supports a "contiguous development" in the area that will bring affordable housing options to the table and respond to the crisis in seniors housing.
Mayor Frank Scarpitti said the the entire Hwy. 48/19th Avenue corridor has been the subject of a joint visioning exercise between the City of Markham and the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville examining future growth options, and the land in question was sold and will be developed.
Deputy Mayor Don Hamilton, Reg. Coun. Jack Heath and councillors Reid McAlpine, Keith Irish and Karen Rea, however, voted against endorsing the MZO.They didn't agree there was the need to bypass the normal planning process, especially at the cost of public input. They also weren't convinced the main-floor bedroom, potential secondary suites outlined in the proposal, constituted a significant contribution to affordable housing stock.