Tom Mrakas

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So far Tom Mrakas has created 156 blog entries.

General Committee Update – February 20, 2018

At General Committee this week, as the current contract for canteens and vending machines is coming to an end(April), Council had before it a report on an RFP in regards to the canteens and vending machines in Town facilities. The RFP needs to go out as soon as possible. As per the report, staff were recommending:

• That cold beverage vending machines offer a minimum of 25% of beverage options as low-sugar or sugar-free products;
• That snack food vending machines offer a minimum of 20% healthy options to be selected by the vending operator, subject to Town approval;
• That concession stands offer a minimum of 25% of cold beverage options as low-sugar or sugar-free products;
• That concession stands offer a minimum of five (5) healthy food options to be selected by the concession operator, subject to Town approval; and
• That the RFP be issued for a contract term of three (3) years, with two (2), three-year renewal options.

A group of concerned residents came to Council to speak to the matter of food and beverages that are made available to residents in Town-owned facilities. The delegations were very informative. They discussed how we need to provide a higher percentage of healthy foods and then they provided some concrete examples of what could be done and what has been done in other municipalities, successfully.

It was great to hear from the residents and parents and kids that use the facilities. As I said at the table, there is message was heard loud and clear – and I couldn’t agree more! The Town absolutely needs to provide more healthy options and what was being proposed in the report just won’t cut it. I believe that we can do better and that our residents deserve better.

After a lot of debate, I believe Council ended where we were all wanted – a re-think of the RFP. We asked that staff rewrite the RFP to include a requirement that bidders must include a minimum of 55% healthy food options, that Staff consider and incorporate where possible all the different recommendations that were provided by the Real Food First: Fueling Our Community in Fitness & Fun Delegation,. By doing so, the Town of Aurora can take a leadership role in providing healthy options to our kids and all residents who use our Town facilities. There was some concern raised about subsidizing and costs, but as I said at the table… I don’t believe we can put a price on the health of our children! Clearly, as this is tax-payer money, we need to ensure that any decision we make is fiscally responsible. However, I believe that we can provide healthy food in a cost-effective manner that is reasonably priced for our residents. If other municipalities can do it, why can’t we? I am looking forward to staff bringing the revised RFP back to Council for review at the March 20th meeting.

I want to offer my sincere thanks to the residents who came forward last night to make the presentation. Their hard work has been simply incredible. In no small part to their informed advocacy about the importance of healthy food options and their focus on positive change, we as a Town can take the important steps towards providing healthy food in our facilities!!

Thank you! 

By | February 21st, 2018|

Regional Council – Consolation Prize

Aurora Council members past and present have long advocated for a second seat on Regional Council. In fact, many candidates for mayor ran on a platform of getting that extra seat at Regional Council. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much if any movement towards realizing that goal. Why would that matter? Well, it’s because while the majority of municipalities have at least 2 if not more representatives at Regional Council, the Town of Aurora, East Gwillimbury, King and Whitchurch-stouffville have just one rep, their current respective mayors. Just one lone voice to speak to regional matters that impact our residents. Will two reps ensure Aurora’s voice is heard? Maybe, maybe not. But it will at least be louder.

Given past campaign promises of “working hard” to get that additional seat on regional Council, I have to say I am disappointed with what amounts to the consolation prize our residents have been given instead. Rather than an additional seat, we are being given an “alternate” seat. That is, when our lone representative will be absent from the one meeting of Regional council held per month, someone else can come and sit in their place.

I can see how some might think an alternate could be useful. What if our Regional Rep is ill or otherwise need to be away when there is a vote on a matter that is crucial to Aurorans? A valid point for sure. But let’s look at the reality. Regional council meets once a month. Just once every 4 weeks. And the Regional Council does not meet at all in the summer. So we are talking about 9 or 10 meetings a year. Unless a member is sick or has an emergency of some sort, I can’t see how they would miss a meeting in any event – and certainly not if there was a matter on the agenda that was important to Aurora. Besides, it’s been common practice at the Region that if a member is the lone rep for their municipality and will be away when there is an issue that they would like to speak to and vote on, one of their colleagues would defer the matter until the next meeting…

So I am not sure what this gets Aurora. We don’t get any additional representation, we get substitute representation. An alternate when our current member can’t make the limited number of meetings they have a year. How many times has that even happened in this term? Last term? I doubt it’s been even once let alone sufficient times to warrant an alternate. So it begs the question, is it necessary at all? In my view, this is pretty disappointing. And it may have the effect of killing any talk of or consideration for a second seat in the immediate future. I understand that having an alternate may provide the benefit of convenience for the sitting member, it provides little if any real benefit to the residents they represent.

By | February 21st, 2018|

Family Day??

It is family day this Monday and I hope our residents are having a great long weekend. Don’t forget to come on out to Arctic Adventure tomorrow in Town Park. It’s unfortunate that not all our residents will have the opportunity to enjoy the festivities. As of January 1st, those who work in the retail sector in York Region, lost their holidays – including Family Day.

With little fanfare or any meaningful input from affected retail workers or residents, York Region Council voted to exempt the region from the Retail Holiday Act thus in effect taking away every retail workers right to a holiday (aside from Christmas Day). Stores now can be open, 24/7, 364 days a year. All stores if they choose.

Wait, let me correct that. Not all stores. Government operated retail businesses are NOT open. So liquor stores and beer stores are still closed. But everything else can be open.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree that there were legitimate concerns from some in the retail sector that the previous system wasn’t fair. Some businesses got to be open because they were in a “tourist area” and others right beside were not. But the answer wasn’t to decide carte Blanche to just make everything open. What other options were considered? Were there any?

I have to agree with Mayor Scarpitti of Markham, York Region Council should reconsider this decision and hear from our residents, retail workers and retail business owners so that a fairer, more family friendly option can be considered.

 

By | February 18th, 2018|

Petch House

“something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” a motion to have the Petch house used for marriage ceremonies…. 

By | February 17th, 2018|

Council Update – February 13, 2018

This week at Council, the approval for staff to remove snow (snow banks) along Yonge St to occur overnight was on the agenda for Council consideration. Current practice is to remove the snow during business hours; however, this has caused some challenges such as traffic issues along Yonge St, blocking some pedestrian paths and as well as access issues for the businesses along Yonge St. Moving to a practice of overnight clearing would alleviate many of these concerns and allow staff to provide a more efficient service for the removal of snow. Residents that live along Yonge St will be notified before the overnight service is to begin.

In looking at the impacts of the proposed change in snow clearing practices, there are a number of benefits of the overnight removal. There would be significant reduction in traffic volumes resulting in reduced potential for incidents, no conflict with parked cars, no conflict with pedestrians, no impact on business owners or their patrons, increase in trucking efficiencies without daytime traffic, reduction of staff required to close curb lane and monitor pedestrians, Business owner satisfaction arriving in morning to clear conditions, and Increased staff productivity. In short, it would be a positive impact on our community.

Staff should be commended for their efforts. This is another great example of staff developing a better service level with costs being the same or a possible savings … This passed unanimously and staff will report back to Council after this winter season on whether and how well the overnight snow removal worked.

By | February 15th, 2018|

Dr. G.W. Williams Relocating to Bayview Ave.

With the decision by the Board to relocate Williams from Dunning to Bayview, many have commented as to why this decision has been made and what will happen with the current location once the new location opens. I will state today what I have stated from day 1. I truly believe that Aurora needs a 3rd public High School. And I have expressed that belief in my discussions with the Minister as well.. Aurora needs a high school on the Bayview side. In fact, one should have been built years ago. However it is short sighted to choose one part of town over another, to simply shuffle students around rather than build extra – and arguably needed – capacity. The Province is pushing for more intensification – expecting Aurora to absorb up to 90000 residents (by 2041). With that in mind, the capacity issues we have on the east side of town today will simply be transferred in 5 to 10 years to the south west area of Aurora. This isn’t a north east/south west Aurora issue (or it shouldn’t be) it’s a community issue, and one that can be addressed by forward thinking. A proactive approach to planning for growth is needed.

As for the many residents questioning what will happen to the lands, speaking for myself, I know I will do whatever it takes to make sure that these lands do not become yet another housing development!!! As our residents have made it clear, they aren’t interested in “building Aurora”, they want to build our community, and that takes much more than simply building more houses.

I think that now that the board has made this decision and that the school on Dunning will be closing..(and Council has no role in the decision to close Williams for those that are asking why Council did not stop it) I believe Council can step up and take a role in what will become of The land and Building on Dunning. I think that this location would be the perfect location for the new recreation facility ( a centre of excellence) . The Town could work with the board and create a facility that could be world class!! It would be in the heart of the Town and would keep the area thriving and busy not only during lunch hours but all day, everyday – even weekends. This facility, if built in collaboration with the Board, would allow for the Schools to utilize the facility. There’s more than enough space to create the multi-use facility identified in the master rec plan and in doing so could accommodate the many identified sports and rec needs – there could be an indoor track, a 50m pool, gymnasiums, fitness centre… and onsite medical and massage therapists etc… The building could be repurposed and renovated saving the historic features of the building. A true multi purpose facility that would be able to draw tournaments, and events from across the province. The last thing this area needs is more housing jammed in… So while I believe that it is short sighted to not build a third high school, I am glad to see that we will – at least – be getting a much needed high school on Bayview.

Going forward, I think we, as a Council need to consider what we can achieve in collaboration with the School Board. Think of it….. a centre of excellence in the heart of Aurora, that’s #GettingThingsDone.

By | February 10th, 2018|

Gymnasium at the SARC ??

As chair of PRAC, I put forward the following motion at our recent committee meeting :
“That staff investigate the feasibility and costs for a gymnasium at the Stronach Aurora Recreation Complex (SARC) within the 2018 budget.”

As an advisory committee can only make recommendations, this motion needed to be passed by Council – and I am pleased to say that it did!! I believe that our Town is in much need of Gymnasiums… In fact our Parks and Rec master plan has identified that the Town is in a deficit of 3 gyms… so I believe that we need to be proactive and build gymnasiums now!! There is that word… proactive – many use it, but I am not convinced they know what it really means.. Too many times there has been an old way of thinking, of putting things off because there is a belief – real or imagined – that there is no immediate need..Which is unfortunate as elected officials should plan for both current and future needs of our residents. This lack of planning is why we have infrastructure issues or traffic issues… because too many decisions are made for the here and now to “save” a small amount of money instead of making the right decision to move forward proactively….

With a population of 60,000 we are in an identified deficit for gymnasia… If we wait longer and then build … will 3 even be enough when this Town has 90,000 residents?? What’s interesting is that when the SARC was being developed and voted on back in 2004 the original plans had included a gymnasium on the south west corner of the building.. The costs were under 2 million to add the gym. It is unfortunate then that the need was taken out of the plans for the SARC… most likely as a cost savings. They might have saved costs at the time but those costs are now double – 4 million dollars to build the same gym that was planned 14 years ago.

Gymnasia are in high demand as we need space for volleyball, basketball, badminton and lots of other court sports – and we need space to be able to hold tournaments… and for somewhere that many can use it for dry land training… As of now, the hallways in the SARC are used for dry land training!!
I believe this is an easy addition to the SARC and is something we could get done in the short term… while we continue to look at a facility for the long term.. With a proper gymnasium this Town would be able to not only provide our residents with the necessary space, but the Town would be able to host sporting events that otherwise have been going to other communities..

As Council passed the motion, I am looking forward to staff bringing back a report that will identify how Council can move forward with the development of 1 or 2 gymnasiums at the SARC within the 2018 capital budget and possibly get this done this year!! #gettingthingsdone

By | February 7th, 2018|

Council Update – January 30, 2018

The Council meeting this week was a long one, with a considerable amount of conversation on a couple of items. The good news is that Council approved the budget for the detailed drawings for Library Square to include the design of the new community building that will be attached to the Church Street School. It is great to see that Council is continuing to follow the process to move this important and significant project forward. The vote was 7-2 (Councillor Abel and Gaertner opposed)

Council also discussed my motion to look at creating a Local Appeals Body – this would be a local decision body that would hear appeals of Committee of Adjustment decisions. I believe that as Aurora has been at the forefront of change when it comes to land use planning and the OMB, that we should continue to take that leadership role.

There was a comment at the table by a member that the municipality has had the ability to create this body since 2007. Not sure why that would be a reason to not proceed (and in fact, if true, would lead to a question as to why we haven’t created one previously) but in any event, that’s not entirely true. The ability for Municipalities to create a local appeals body was afforded to the City of Toronto under the City of Toronto Act and to single tier or upper tier governments. Aurora is not the City of Toronto, or a Single Tier municipality, so nope, Aurora has NOT had the ability to create a local appeals body – until now, under the recently changed legislation. Just thought I’d clear up that misinformation.

Council discussion on the motion focused on whether we should create our own or should we look at requesting the Region to consider creating a body that would represent the whole Region. When I originally considered this motion, I looked at this option but I ultimately thought that we as a municipality should look at creating our own and then speak to the other York Region municipalities and see if any would like to join us. After some debate, Councillor Thompson put forward an amendment to my motion to formally request the Region to look at creating a local appeal body, and for this motion to be circulated to all York Region municipalities for their comments and thoughts. While we wait for the Region to decide, staff will be ready to go with the creation of a terms of reference for a Town of Aurora local appeals body if the Region is not in favour of creating a Regional body.  This is what municipalities have asked for – more authority in making decisions on how we grow and how we plan our communities.. A local appeals body to hear appeals of committee of adjustment decisions, comprised of professionals that are from Aurora, and understand Aurora will better provide for decisions that are in the best interest of our community. #GettingThingsDone

By | February 1st, 2018|

Extension to River Ridge Blvd

This week at our Public Planning meeting, Council had before it an application for infill housing in the 2b area that would extend River Ridge Blvd. It should be noted that there has been a plan in place for some time now for additional housing in that sub-division. However, the applicants were asking for multiple amendments to the current zoning – to allow for higher lot coverage, added height, and changes in the setbacks (both rear and side), which would result in 24 units being jammed into the area.
The area already has a residential zoning that conforms with the surrounding neighbourhood. It is therefore simply unacceptable for an applicant to come forward with an application with multiple amendment requests that are not in line with the current zoning and/or existing neighbourhood. As I said at the table “Building a community is more then just simply building houses” and jamming as many houses as possible into every scrap of open space isn’t conducive to effective community building.

Communities grow and evolve through appropriate development – development that is in line with the community’s vision as defined in our Official Plan.

Council voted to have the applicant review and reconfigure the plans to adhere to our current zoning and remove 4 units that would be abutting the wildlife park.. Let’s hope the applicant has heard the concerns of Council and comes back with a plan that meets our standard.

By | January 26th, 2018|

General Committee Update – January 23, 2018

Council had a very interesting and very long conversation at General Committee in regards to the implementation of an Interim Control By-Law (ICBL). I put forward this motion to create an ICBL as I felt this was a very straightforward proposal to utilize a tool the Province gives to Municipalities. The province allows municipalities to implement ICBLs for the purpose of putting pauses in place while a study is undertaken in respect of land use policies in the municipality (or a defined part of the municipality). As per Council’s direction, Town staff are currently conducting a study of the Zoning in Stable Neighbourhoods. Thus, I felt that it made sense, in the interim, while that study is being undertaken, that we should institute an ICBL to not allow Minor Variances within stable neighbourhoods. An ICBL would put a temporary hold on requests for changes to our zoning bylaws, and thus prevent the situation where an individual or corporation comes in to ask for more than what is currently allowed within the Town’s zoning. The conversation around the table was very supportive of implementing this common sense approach to managing planning issues in stable neighbourhoods. Council was also supportive of asking that staff speed up the completion of the study, bring it back to Council as soon as possible, so that we could have a fulsome discussion about and make decisions with regards to zoning in our stable neighbourhoods. While Council in the majority was very supportive, Mayor Dawe stated that the issue of development in stable neighbourhoods was “Much ado about nothing” and was not supportive of the motion. I think residents affected by inappropriate development in their neighbourhoods would take issue with Mayor Dawe’s position. Continuing to allow requests for developments that aren’t currently allowed under our existing bylaw is most definitely an issue for our community.

Personally, I am not a fan of the “do nothing” approach. Asking for a temporary pause on such amendment requests while our staff review the issue and make recommendations regarding our zoning by-law only makes sense. Doing nothing while we wait for that report does not make sense, well, to me at least. As I said at the table I expect some developers and builders will be opposed to the Town going down this path, but I am elected to represent the best interests of our residents not the development community. The bylaw won’t stop developments that meet the existing bylaw. But it will put a pause on council considering requests for developments that are not allowed under the current ByLaw.

Will the ICBL prevent a “monster home” that meets our zoning?? No it will not, because it meets the zoning… BUT the ICBL will temporarily stop those development requests that are looking to increase their lot size or height or setbacks beyond what is currently allowed. The ICBL would remain in place until the Staff study comes back to Council for review and approval, sometime in late March/Early April. At the end of the day this is a real problem in our stable neighbourhoods and one that Council needs to address. I believe that the “anything goes” approach to development is hardly in the community’s best interest.

The motion to implement an ICBL was approved 8-1 with Mayor Dawe opposed. I am looking forward to getting that study back so that Council can look at the recommendations from staff regarding our zoning, and move forward with a ByLaw that will better define appropriate development in Aurora and better protect our stable neighbourhoods from inappropriate development. Now that’s Smart Growth!! #GettingThingsDone

 

By | January 25th, 2018|