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Proposed development plan around Newmarket's Upper Canada Mall opens door to community benefits: residents

New library, parks, transit hub are ideas as mall looks to build 5,100 housing units
Aug. 3, 2021
Lisa Queen

Development plans routinely bring an outcry from residents worried about negative effects on their neighbourhood.

But at least two Newmarket residents see an extensive redevelopment proposal around Upper Canada Mall as an opportunity to bring significant benefits to the community.

Matthew Reilly and Sarah Nguyen are full of ideas of what they’d like to see -- a transit hub, parks and open spaces, a public library and entertainment attractions.

On June 21, Oxford Properties Retail Holdings Inc. presented a vision for the mall property at the northwest corner of Newmarket’s busiest intersection at Yonge Street and Davis Drive.

Over 35 or more years, the company wants to build 5,121 residential units, 9,700 square metres (104,400 square feet) of non-residential space, a new road system and 1.8 hectares (4.5 acres) of parks including an ‘iconic park’ at Yonge and Davis.

While there may be some condos, the majority of residential units would be purpose-built long-term rentals.

No decision has been made and town planning staff are now working on a report to bring back to council.

Reilly isn’t surprised by Oxford’s proposal as the future of retail changes -- a report from consulting firm Deloitte says was foot traffic at stores was declining before COVID-19 and retailers are looking for new ways of attracting customers after the pandemic -- and sees it as an opportunity to secure a new public library and entertainment amenities such as a bowling alley and theatre.

“What we would like to see is some sort of a public partnership with the town or the region to see can this redevelopment of the mall be made not just with the ability to pack in as many condos and retail stores as possible but something that creates some value for the community?” Reilly said.

The town’s expensive and failed attempt to block development in the Glenway neighbourhood proved just “digging in your heels” and refusing development isn’t the way to go, Reilly said.

“I think if something’s happening, the best way forward is to compromise and make change where you can so that everybody gets something out of it and nobody is left feeling they weren’t included in the process,” he said.

Nguyen, a recent urban studies graduate from York University, likes the idea of repurposing parking lots to make way for parks, open spaces, housing and better transportation.

“This town by default has become very car-dependent because of the fact that lifestyle and mobility are both linked and central to suburbia and I feel as though this proposal (at the mall) encourages the use of active transportation, for example walking, cycling, and public transport, as a primary mode in how we can move through urban centres,” she said.

“It may take some years to build but I'm sure the outcome with be amazing and definitely worthwhile. I truly can't wait to see how Newmarket will be in years to come, especially with the creation of an 'iconic park' at the corner of Yonge Street and Davis Drive.”

While improvements have been made inside the mall, such as Market and Co. and the food court, Nguyen now wants to focus on making the surrounding property “more animated and lively.”

Meanwhile, she has organized a petition calling for lighting on pathways leading to the mall to promote safety and accessibility.

Her petition is at and her Instagram handle is @newmarketurbanist.

Coun. Christina Bisanz, whose ward takes in the mall, looks forward to hearing from residents and town staff as the proposed development moves forward.

“Upper Canada Mall has been an important fixture in Newmarket, not just as a retail destination, but as part of the community for well over 30 years now. The mall has served as a community space for cultural events, fundraisers, a seniors’ walking club and much more,” she said.

“In particular, it will be important to see how (Oxford’s) master plan supports Newmarket's housing needs within the Yonge/Davis corridor, which is the focus for the town's intensification priorities.”