Tom Mrakas

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So far Tom Mrakas has created 139 blog entries.

General Committee – November 21, 2017

This week Council met in General Committee (GC). One item before us was an application for a development at the Southeast corner of St. John’s sideroad and Yonge Street (the former Oakland Hall) As I explained previously, when these applications come before Council – where a resolution is required to accept, or not accept the subject application – as per Bill 73, Council now has greater control over the planning process as it has the opportunity to consider the merits of the application and then decide whether to accept the application and move it through the planning process, or not. In the application that was before Council, the developer is looking to build a 10 story building on the site and move the heritage home. The problem with accepting this application as is, is that this property is in an area that, under the Town’s Official Plan (OP) and zoning, has a height restriction of 3 stories. In looking at the application as submitted, I don’t believe that 10 stories is appropriate for this area as it is more than three times the height allowed as per our OP and zoning; thus, I was not in favour of accepting the application.

As with Council’s discussion of the previous applications at last General Committee , there was once again discussion among some members as to whether council should factor in a consideration of the merits of the application when deciding on whether to receive the application for amendment of the zoning. Once again, the Mayor indicated that he feels that if an application is “…in the cue” then it should be accepted. And once again, I disagree. Accepting an application for consideration (ie “receiving” the application) solely on when it was submitted instead of considering the actual merits of the application makes no sense to me. By accepting the application, Council would then be tied to the old land use planning legislation – where decisions of Council can be challenged at the OMB. By not receiving the application as is, that is by leveraging the land use planning tools afforded us through Bill 73, Council is in a better position to work with developers to move forward with developments that better suit the needs of our community. I believe that to ensure effective land use planning and appropriate development in our municipality, we need to leverage – and use – the tools that are afforded to us by the Province. As I said previously, we’ve got the tools, why not use them?

The application was not accepted on a 5-2 vote …… Both Mayor Dawe and Councillor Abel voted in favour of receiving the application.


By | November 23rd, 2017|

Council Update – November 14, 2017

Last night at Council we ratified the recommendation from General Committee in regards to the Christmas Market. This is wonderful news! While I would have liked to see a full market happen at Library sq this year, I agree with staff that it was going to be difficult to create a full event within the limited amount of time available. Staff mentioned that with just a few weeks to go before the event, in addition to several logistical challenges, it would be difficult to get vendors in such a short time as most are already booked for other events. So, the compromise for this year is to have staff create a “sneak peak preview” of the Christmas market at this year’s Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at Town Hall on December 6th. This will give residents a look at what we could have next year at Library Square while at the same time providing an enhanced Christmas Tree lighting event. Council also approved that the Christmas Market be added to the 2018 budget for consideration for next year.

Both the motion for the “sneak peak preview” as well as adding the Christmas Market to the 2018 budget considerations were passed unanimously. I am looking forward to the preview! And I am also looking forward to a wonderful event next year – in the heart of downtown Aurora – Library Square!!

I hope to see everyone at the Town Hall on December 6th for the Christmas Market preview and the annual Christmas Tree lighting!!

By | November 15th, 2017|

General Committee Update – Nov 07, 2017

At General Committee this week Council had before it 3 applications looking for zoning amendments. Council could decide to receive the applications, as per the staff recommendation and proceed to a public planning meeting where the application would be heard or council could deny receiving the application outright as per the provisions of Bill 73.

As noted in the staff report, “the provisions of Bill 73, works so that once a Comprehensive Zoning By-law is approved by Council – no new site-specific zoning by-law amendments can be submitted to the Town for a period of two (2) years, unless Council passes a resolution permitting a specific application.”

While the Mayor feels that once an application is “in the cue”, then Council should allow it to proceed to public planning, I believe we need to look at the merits of the application and then decide if we should allow the application to be heard at public planning or tell them to go away and come back with something that is in keeping with the vision of Our Town as defined in our Official Plan…Bill 73 provides Council with this land-use planning tool, why wouldn’t we use it? Making a decision to hear an application solely on when talks began and not looking at the merits of the application itself is in my mind making an uninformed decision. Here is what I said..

By | November 10th, 2017|

Interm Control By-Law (Stable Neighbourhoods)

Motion aimed at limiting new development or alterations for a one year period within “Stable neighbourhoods” as identified and defined in the Official Plan

By | November 8th, 2017|

Ask Tom – October 2017

Humberto asks about the possibility of the Town providing windrow clearing service…..

By | October 31st, 2017|

Council Reduced from 8 to 6 for 2018

In support of a motion put forward by Councillor Humfryes, Council has moved forward with reducing the size of Council from 8 Councillors to 6 Councillors. When the idea of reducing council was floated at the beginning of this term, I wasn’t sold on the idea. As a new councillor I didn’t think I had enough information or experience to vote in favour of changing how many Councillors we have in Aurora. However, after 3 years of being on Council, I have had the opportunity to meet with and speak to elected officials from across the province and learn how other municipalities govern. I now have a better perspective on what could and would be a more effective and efficient way for Council to provide a better quality of municipal government for the residents of Aurora.

There are many municipalities that are much larger than Aurora, that have a council of a 6 Councillors and a Mayor – Pickering, Ajax, and Burlington to name just a few. In reducing the number from 8 to 6, I believe this will also take the first step towards moving to a ward system – which the Governance Review Committee has recommended that the next Council (2018-2022) consider moving towards. And as I said at the table, regardless of what the next Council decides to do.. Wards or not, this will lead to a more efficient, effective and accountable Council. The motion to reduce Council from 8 Councillors to 6 Councillors passed on a vote of 6-2 vote (Councillor Thom and Gaertner opposed – Mayor Dawe was absent)…

By | October 26th, 2017|

Council Update – October 24, 2017

This week, Council met to deliberate a number of items, one of which was the matter of winter parking restrictions. Last year, Council in the majority approved a pilot study that would allow for parking at all times (day or night) on the street during the winter, unless a snow event was issued. When a “snow event” was called that meant that no vehicle could be on the road – at any time, day or night. Unfortunately, the pilot was not a success. Hundreds of tickets were issued – day and evening – due to the cars being on the road when snow events were called. As a consequence, the staff recommendation before Council was that the Town return to its previous bylaw restricting overnight parking during the hours of 2 am and 6 am during the winter. Staff has indicated that they feel with the new and improved service that they will be implementing this year, the best way to keep the roads clear and safe is to return to the previous winter parking restrictions. While this means that the town will revert back to restricting overnight parking from 2am to 6am (4hrs), this will also mean that no tickets will be issued during the day, should there be a snow event.

Last year, there were 21 “snow events” called under the pilot program. Each snow event lasted a minimum of 24 hrs… This meant that during a snow event that no one could park on any street in the Town for a minimum of 24 hrs – which was actually more restrictive than the previous bylaw, which did allow residents to park on the road at all times except for the period of 2 – 6 am.

That being said, reverting back to winter restrictions does present an issue for some residents who do not have anywhere to park their cars. However, I believe there are other more effective and efficient ways to address this issue without affecting snow removal service levels.

Back at the beginning of the term Councillor Kim and myself asked staff to develop a town-wide plan for permitted parking and “just in time” parking permits. Under this plan, those who need to be able to park overnight during the winter, would get a permit – and not get ticketed. Similarly, “just in time” parking permits would work for those having holiday gatherings or just having people over and need a place for their vehicles. They would get a permit and they would be able to park… The Town has the technology and equipment to do this. Unfortunately, moving forward with the permitting plan was put on hold as we tried the pilot program.

To me, issuing permits for those that need to park on the road or who need temporary parking on the road for guests or events makes more sense to solve the parking issue than requiring residents to sign up to be informed about snow events. Under the pilot program, only 2% of residents with vehicles were signed up to be informed when there was a snow event, this meant that  98% of the Town were unaware of when a snow event was called and that they needed to have their vehicle off the road or receive a ticket… This might be the reason that fines for 2016/2017 were up 100% during the day!! (The Town had never issued tickets during the day previously).

In discussing reverting back to winter restrictions, staff mentioned that Bylaw will not be ticketing unless the plows are out and will be educating residents re the winter restrictions bylaw when the plows are not out.

For snow removal, the most effective and efficient way is to clear snow during the overnight hours (weather cooperating). I believe that ensuring we have the ability to provide the best snow removal service for our residents while also resolving parking overnight parking issues through a permitting system for those residents that need to park on the road, is in the best interest of all our residents.

The recommendation from staff to reinstate overnight parking restrictions was passed unanimously….

By | October 25th, 2017|

General Committee Update – October 17, 2017

Council met this week in General committee. One item of interest concerned animal control. There have been many questions over the years from residents concerned about the service that the OSPCA has provided to the Town and if the Town has been served well by the contract with OSPCA. The report before Council included a staff recommendation that we move the Town’s shelter service to the Georgina Shelter and for the Town to hire a new position of By-law Animal control so that we deal with matters of animal control in-house. The OSPCA (which deals with both shelter and animal control and enforcement) has been contracted by the Town for services since 2008. In 2015 the contract was extended by one year to allow staff to participate in a Northern 6 (N6) Animal Control Shared Services initiative and then a second, one year extension was approved in 2016 as the work of the Working Group continued. The Northern 4 have worked out an agreement with the Georgina Animal shelter that would begin January 1st 2018; however, this would still require the Town to find a way to provide the animal control and enforcement portion of animal services. As per the staff recommendation, by moving the shelter services to Georgina and by hiring a new position to provide animal control and enforcement in-house, this will allow the Town to provide:

• Increased accountability, control and performance
• Enhanced community outreach and engagement
• More flexibility to respond to community needs through cross training
• Opportunities for innovative approaches to create a dog-friendly community
• Greater compliance with animal control and pet licensing bylaws

While this will allow the Town to provide a more effective and efficient service level to our residents, this will also provide a cost savings as it would reduce our operating costs. The savings by switching from the OSPCA to the Georgina Animal Shelter and bringing the animal control and enforcement in-house is $60,000. As I always say – it is Councils job, with assistance and input of staff, to look at providing better service at the same price or better, and that is what staff has done with the proposed service model. They have done their homework, over a number of years, and have brought this new service model to Council for approval!! By approving this ahead of the budget, it will allow for a seamless transition from one service model to the other….

By | October 19th, 2017|

Written Submission to the Standing Committee – Bill 139

I want to thank the Committee for providing me the opportunity to speak to Bill 139 and the important legislative change this Bill presents for Municipal decision-making in land-use planning. While I appreciate the invitation to speak to the Committee, as I was unable to attend the hearing in person, I am providing my comments in writing.
My comments will be brief.
The current planning decision-making framework – which the OMB is at the centre – is broken. It doesn’t work for any party involved – builders, residents and municipal councils alike. It’s been known for quite some time that change is desperately needed. The status quo is simply untenable.
The Town of Aurora and the OMB Reform Working Group has led the way towards advocating for changes to how planning decisions are made in this Province. With the input of over a hundred municipal representatives, the key recommendation to emerge from our May 2016 Summit on OMB Reform, was a recommendation that the Province, as part of the Provincial review of planning legislation, consider limiting the scope of powers of the OMB to matters of law or process.
In short, we asked for bold, meaningful change, and the Province listened.
Bill 139 addresses, in a comprehensive fashion, literally decades of concerns raised with respect to how the OMB makes decisions – or whether it should exist at all. For far too long, municipalities and the residents they serve have been unable to grow or to develop their communities with a shared vision because that vision – as defined in their Official Plan – could not be realized. So, it is not too strong a word to say that the changes to the planning decision-making framework proposed in Bill 139 are game-changers that will have a profound and positive impact on how our communities develop.
There is no question that this Bill gives more authority to local municipal councils for how they plan their communities. And this is a welcome change. Councils will now have a greater say in how their communities grow, develop and evolve.
But while the Bill does give greater decision-making authority to municipal leaders, these same provisions will also have the effect of holding all officials accountable for their decisions. No longer will Councils be able to use the threat of OMB appeals as an excuse in our decision-making processes. We will have to stand by our decisions.
So I take issue with the critics of this Bill that say that the proposed changes will spell the end of development in Ontario; that we’re going to see a rise in aggressive NIMBYism; that Councils will be “pressured” by residents to make decisions that aren’t “good planning”.
I don’t agree at all. In fact, I think we will see less NIMBYism; much less. This Act levels the playing field. It clarifies the rules and ensures that all parties have to play by them. The current situation of everyone having their own version of the rules and expecting an unelected unaccountable third party – the OMB – to decide whose rules win, well, that will stop. As will the necessity to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars defending an Official Plan against duelling interpretations of provincial policies.
I think we will see a rise in smarter growth, smarter development. Communities planned with communities – of today and the future – in mind. The provisions outlined in Bill 139, ensure that municipalities are accountable for the plans they develop and the decisions they make in support of them.
Is this new legislation perfect? No. Nothing is ever perfect. There are a number of issues that need to be clarified before the final draft is enacted- in particular what constitutes a Major Transit Station Area and what are the implications for smaller communities like Aurora when considering MTSAs in Official Plans; what sun-setting provisions will be built into the Act so that we avoid a run on appeals before this Act comes into effect or confusion about what provisions apply to appeals that are currently under way. I think transition will be the key issue going forward as we move from the previous legislation to the new legislation and all that entails.
As I have stated in reviewing previous versions of the Bill, I believe that the proposed Bill as currently written will afford municipalities a greater say in land use planning decisions. It will allow municipalities to have a say – finally – in how we grow while at the same time keeping our communities unique. And that, to me, is good planning.

Thank you,
Tom Mrakas,
Councillor, Town of Aurora

Chair, Working Group on OMB Reform

By | October 18th, 2017|

Council Update – October 10, 2017

We had a very light agenda at this week’s Council meeting as we did not have much before us that was not already discussed at last week’s General Committee meeting (items such a the JOC Audit see – for more info if you missed the last week’s update.). One new matter before us was a motion from the Mayor to have staff investigate an “opt out” clause for marijuana stores. I found the motion to be a bit puzzling given that, while the Province has said they will be looking to open stores this summer, they have yet to create the legislation or confirm details with regards to provisions within the proposed legislation including an “opt out” clause. It seems to me that it would make more sense for us to wait for the Province to pass the legislation, for staff to review it and consider the implications of it for our municipality and then report to Council on options. Many members of Council had the same issue with the motion and asked the Mayor why this was being brought forward now; what would it achieve? It seems to be a bit of a cart before the horse kind of motion. Staff generally review and provide a report on any legislation that would have an impact on the municipality so it’s unclear why we would need a motion to ask staff to do what they would do anyway – especially in advance of any legislation being actually passed. Seems a bit pointless. In any event, Council will have an opportunity to have a fulsome discussion on licensed marijuana stores once the Province does decide how the legislation will be rolled out… more to come on this!!.

By | October 13th, 2017|