Time to move beyond “aspirational” goals for downtown revitalization: Mayor of Aurora

THE AURORAN

It is time to move beyond aspirational goals to concrete action when it comes to revitalizing Aurora’s downtown core, according to Mayor Tom Mrakas.

This was one of the key messages delivered virtually to the business community in an online “State of the Town” address hosted by the Aurora Chamber of Commerce last Wednesday morning.

The Mayor’s Town Hall, which was streamed over YouTube and Facebook, took the place of the annual Aurora Chamber Mayor’s Luncheon which, of course, was unable to take place in its traditional format due to restrictions surrounding COVID-19.

“2020 has been like no other,” said Mayor Mrakas. “Aurora, like every town and city across the world, has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. That impact has been profound and, in some respects, devastating. For the business community, the ways of doing business have forever changed; hours have changed, physical environments changed, delivery channels changed, consumers and their habits changed.

“Some businesses have been able to adapt, others have been less fortunate and some have closed. The enormity and toll of the pandemic has and continues to be in our community and it is difficult to put into words because while we may all be in it together, we are not all affected in the same way. Each of us deals with our own challenges. The very real suffering of our residents, our business owners, and our community will require years of recovery. But our business community has stood resilient and banded together to support one another and continues to find ways to support each other and move towards a positive future.”

While the Mayor began his address looking back at the challenges Aurorans have banded together to overcome thus far, as well as the hurdles that still need to be cleared, the speech was very much looking towards the future.

The Town of Aurora is currently developing a revised Official Plan, one which will provide a blueprint on how the Town develops through 2051. When complete, Mayor Mrakas said the Official Plan (OP) will “promote and enhance complete, vibrant communities and will promote, protect and enhance our heritage and green space.”

In addition to guiding growth, the OP will look at encouraging businesses to thrive, identify where natural environment should take precedence over the built environment, and where natural and built heritage “converge to showcase the beauty of our Town.”

“Part of managing for sustainability and for the future is looking at new lands and additions and how they benefit and detract from our Town,” said Mayor Mrakas. “We heard from our community that this was important to them, so in November of 2020, Council approved Urban Design Guidelines 1/8for 3/8 the Stable Neighbourhoods in an effort to provide further guidance for managing new builds and additions in the Regency Acres, Temperance Street, Town Park and Aurora Heights neighbourhoods. We expect these guidelines will help us grow strategically while respecting the unique character of our stable neighbourhoods.

“Not only are we respecting our past, but we are embracing our future. In doing so, I believe that a vibrant, growing downtown core is essential to an engaged, thriving community. The successful revitalization of our downtown is dependent on a clear vision for the area and one that is developed in concert with the OP review.”

Essential in this vision, he said, is a review of the Aurora Promenade Plan, a document which has acted as a guide for development along the Yonge Street corridor from Orchard Heights in the north to Henderson Drive in the south, encompassing portions of Wellington Street on either side of Yonge.

“The Promenade Secondary Plan was developed over 10 years ago to guide and manage growth in the Yonge and Wellington corridors,” said Mayor Mrakas. “While this plan was a good start, our residents expect us to move beyond the aspirational ideas of the original Promenade Plan and move towards concrete action. That is why we need an update of the Promenade Plan. It has been long talked about, but this year we will move forward with an update and begin to move from concept to reality.”

One example of development along the promenade cited by Mayor Mrakas was the recently announced plan to transform the long-languishing Howard Johnson’s Hotel building into a completely renovated and re-faced seniors’ residential building of 104 units, which will also provide assisted living options.

To help bolster Aurora’s ability to guide development as it sees fit, Mayor Mrakas said he is recommending bringing forward a “community planning permit” plan which will be a “one-stop shop” for building and development approvals in the historic downtown core. Going down this road, he said, will “ensure clarity as we support local properties, such as community- building developments that support public transit, green space protection, and create certainty and transparency for the community, landowners and developers.”

“With the community planning permits in place, it helps cut red tape, speeding up the approvals process for key developments in our downtown core, ensuring that they meet our vision for Aurora as defined in our Official Plan and soon-to-be-updated Promenade Plan,” he added, referencing the recent decision made by Ontario’s Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (LPAT) to uphold the Town’s decision in blocking development on portions of the Henderson Forest, a fight he said ultimately cost taxpayers $142,000 to uphold the local decision. “While this permit plan would allow for efficient approval processes 1/8that are 3/8 in line with our OP, it is all for naught if we can’t uphold our Provincially-approved official plans.”

A cornerstone in this future vision for Aurora’s downtown core remains, of course, the ongoing redevelopment of Library Square.

“This new facility will become a centrepiece of our downtown and the downtown will revitalize and grow around it,” he said. “This is, to date, the largest project in Aurora’s history and I am proud that we will all be here watching it happen and supporting its success. While these decisions were not unanimous at the Council table, what is unanimous is Council’s commitment to the betterment of our Town.”

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