Corp Comm Connects



Jan. 14, 2015
Leah Wong

Markham council is looking to transform the Main Street commercial corridor in Unionville, injecting new life into the area to create a vibrant and successful heritage village.

On Tuesday development services committee considered staff recommendations on a plan for mainstreet Unionville based on a two-year study by the city, consulting firm Torti Gallas and Partners and architect Michael Morrisey. Committee approved the plan, in principle, and provided directions on how staff should move forward.

The plan proposes future development for the area over the next 30 years. It looks at how retail could be enhanced, how underutilized space can be transformed and where there are opportunities for residential growth. Though local residents are concerned about increased intensification, the plan has received broad community support.

“The short story, from [Unionville Ratepayers Association and Unionville Villager Association] is that we strongly support this vision for Unionville,” Unionville Ratepayers Association president Peter Miasek told committee. “This report builds on a great deal of success that already exists and is an opportunity to make something that already exists so much better.”

The plan targets eight focus areas for in-depth study, which include proposals for future development. Heritage planning manager Reagan Hutcheson told committee that while the proposals are conceptual, they are implementable.

The proposals for each area differ and include redeveloping the Highway 7 corridor to mimic the character of Main Street, looking at underutilized spaces behind existing buildings in Unionville’s core and redeveloping the area around the Crosby Community Centre. Intensifying the area behind commercial properties on the street’s west side could add around 100 new residential units. Adding residential units would create new customers for local businesses.

One of the big challenges in moving forward with the plan will be getting buy in from the business community.

“The vision is wonderful but there has to be understanding upfront that parts of the vision rely on certain organizations and individuals [for implementation]. The reality is it will take the desire of property owners to create [this],” said Mayor Frank Scarpetti. “We’ve done our part in creating the vision and we’ll do our part in changing policy.”

In order to promote cooperation between property owners, development services commissioner Jim Baird has been instructed to ask Unionville BIA to contact local commercial property owners to gauge interest in hiring a development coordinator to help with implementation. The consultants suggested that a coordinator be hired by the BIA to help with the commercial and residential development process.

There was some disagreement at committee over the coordinator position, as some councillors seemed to assume the city would be hiring the coordinator. Meanwhile, staff is consulting with the BIA on the creation of this position, so the role has yet to be defined.

“The intent [for the coordinator] is not for a city staff position, but for someone out there working directly with the landowners,” said Baird. “If this is to move forward it will take the cooperation of landowners.”

In preparation for the final plan the city and consultants undertook an extensive consultation process comprised of walking tours, open houses, public information meetings and a project website. Hutcheson said landowners participated in the consultation process and the BIA has been an active participant throughout the process.

Residents and stakeholders raised a number of concerns in relation to earlier draft s of the plan. Early versions of the plan proposed relocating the area’s sporting facilities, including the city-owned arena and privately-owned curling club, which residents opposed. While this concern was addressed and the facilities have been incorporated into the final plan, intensifying the area continues to concern residents.

“There are concerns about intensification and what it means for the area,” said Hutcheson. “Also, what impact it would have on the heritage character and [the area’s] charm.”

Once council gives the green-light, staff will start preparing a new secondary plan for the Unionville Heritage Conservation District and a pattern book. Hutcheson said the pattern book will help guide the development of new infill to ensure it is more contextual and relatable to the existing design.

“The pattern book for infill will look at how to infill multiunit, multi-storey buildings that will not be detrimental to the look of surrounding buildings,” said Hutcheson.

Markham council voted on the committee recommendations at its meeting Tuesday night. The meeting started after NRU went to print.