More than one of my real estate colleagues has pointed to Newmarket as a potential hot spot for residential development and investment. In my mind, it tends to fly low on the radar. I know people who lived there for a while, but until recently, I knew little about the area except that it’s north of here and there’s an Upper Canada Mall (which, as it turns out, is on the brink of a $60 million expansion).
So, I took a closer look. According to Zolo, the average sold price for a two-bedroom, detached home from June 3 to July 1, 2017 was $690,000. Compare that to $1.1 million in Mississauga, $1.3 million in Richmond Hill and $1 million in Whitby’s Brooklin neighbourhood.
“People here still know their neighbours,” said Mayor Tony Van Bynen in a recent phone chat. “In spite of our growth and diversity, we find opportunities to connect.”
He points to the award-winning Riverwalk Commons as one of the town’s best places to do so. The downtown gathering space has been recognized as a “thriving space” for its successful urban park design by the charity Park People. The space, which in the summer features a farmers’ market, plays host to numerous events including a garlic festival, Winter Wonderland and the Newmarket Ice Lounge, Moonlight Movies and Music in the Park.
There is also a large water feature that turns into a skating rink in the winter. “We spend a lot of time getting to the know the neighbours,” he says. “We love our sports, and people get together and get talking at hockey or baseball practice. We’re still small enough that you don’t lose track of courtesy and those nice things.”
It’s a little over 50 km from downtown Toronto, which puts it about the same distance as, say, Whitby, making it viable for commuting, but many who choose to put down roots there work there too.
“We have a high live/work ratio,” he says. “People tend to move here and become part of the community. It creates a stable employee base. We just celebrated the 40th anniversary of one of our own employees.” Their Davis Drive Viva rapidway makes it easy to get around town, ferrying passengers from Yonge Street past the Southlake Regional Health Centre.
The town of 80,000 last summer became the first in Ontario to offer residents a Soofa bench, a solar-powered spot to charge mobile devices while, hopefully, chilling with a friend or getting to know a neighbour.
The mayor says connectivity and a desire to stay current are also among the town’s advantages. He points to the CreatIT Now business incubator, begun in 2015, as a partnership among the town, ventureLAB, Seneca College, York University and York Region at Southlake, which fosters innovation in the healthcare sector; it aims to serve as a catalyst for a health technology business cluster in Newmarket.
Creativity isn’t ignored, either, with the HollisWealth Story Pod, a community-supported lending library/interactive art piece adjacent to Riverwalk Commons. Last year, the town’s historic Main Street was named by the Canadian Institute of Planners as a winner in their annual Great Places in Canada contest, taking People’s Choice honours in the Great Street category. It also consistently makes MoneySense Magazine’s annual list of Great Places to Live in Canada.
With all the elements of success in place, and displaced Torontonians always on the hunt for affordable houses to buy, I wonder if there’s a threat of growing too fast.
“Our growth is going to be well managed,” the mayor said. “We’re focusing along corridors, Davis Drive and Yonge Street. Our ground-related subdivisions are pretty much developed or under subdivision agreement. We are projecting between 1% and 1.5% growth until 2041, and I think that’s a good, stable rate. We don’t have a thousand units popping up on a 100-acre farm somewhere. We have some constraints.”
He says that when the town undertook the building of their Magna Centre recreation complex, they considered what the town would need in 2021. “Everything we’ve done was with the view that in the next few years, our population will be close to 100,000. We invested in the future early enough, thanks to a forward-thinking council and strong, forward-thinking staff.”
The town was the first municipality to submit its secondary plan that complies with Places to Grow legislation, and the mayor says they’ll continue on the same lines as long as they have the infrastructure investments. “And those investments are here now,” he said. “All are in place in advance of construction. We are a community focused on place-making.”
I may have to a short drive north in the near future and check out Newmarket for myself.