Mayor Iain Lovatt

2024 State of the Town Address

State of the Town Address: Chamber of Commerce Dinner May 9 2024

Good evening, everyone, and once again, welcome to the 2024 Stouffville Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner. It’s great to see you all.  

Last year, I stood before you as the Leafs played a round 2 Stanley Cup finals game against the Florida Panthers, and I know everyone last year would have preferred to be at home or with friends, watching the hockey game rather than hearing me giving a speech. Well, sadly, no such conflict exists this year as our Leafs took yet another early exit from the playoffs. Too soon? Sheldon Keefe may think so! 

I would like to start by thanking the Stouffville Chamber of Commerce for hosting tonight’s event. This sold-out room is fantastic and it’s great to be at Clublink’s beautiful Station Creek this evening. And of course, thank you to all the sponsors, including our presenting partner, telMax. Mike, thank you for the warm introduction. 

As you all know, the Chamber welcomed a new Executive Director this year. Christian – it has been wonderful getting to know you. In the short time you have been Executive Director, you have already made an incredible impact on our business community.  

The first two events under your helm, the Economic Outlook breakfast with BMO Deputy Chief Economist Michael Gregory, and the Building a Better Ontario breakfast with Finance Minister Bethlenfalvy, were both great successes. I look forward to all the amazing things you, the board and your team will accomplish in the years ahead. 

I am happy to be joined this evening by my Council colleagues, Councillors Kroon, Smith, Acton, Upton and Bartley. Councillor Sherban couldn’t be here but sends her best regards. We are now well into the second year of our four-year mandate, and we remain focused on making the best decisions possible to move our town forward. I’ve said it before, it is truly an honour to work with all of you in leading our great town together. 

We are also joined this evening by members of Stouffville’s Senior Leadership Team. Since last year, we have welcomed two new commissioners, Becky Jamieson, Commissioner of Corporate Services and Town Clerk and Jack Graziosi, Commissioner of Engineering and Public Works. Becky and Jack have been great additions to what was already a stellar team under the leadership of our Chief Administrative Officer, Sunny Bains, who has just completed his first year in the role. 

So, let’s get to it. If there’s a statement to summarize the state of the town, it would be, “the town is growing.”   

2023 was truly a season of growth and 2024 is shaping up to follow in the same direction.  

But before I dive into the future, I thought I would share some of my personal highlights from the past year. 

Representing the town externally with travel and conferences was back in full swing. Last year, I had the pleasure of attending the Association of Municipalities of Ontario annual conference, where I joined our CAO Sunny and Commissioner of Development Services, Dwayne, where we had the opportunity to meet with Ontario Cabinet ministers and their representatives to advocate for the needs of Whitchurch-Stouffville.  

While I am grateful to have regular access to the Premier and many ministers, AMO is a focused time where MPPs and their staff are there to listen to the unique needs of each municipality. In our case, Natural Resources, Children and Family Services, Labour & Immigration, and Infrastructure were all topics of conversation.

Earlier this year I was invited to attend Seneca College’s 5th annual hackathon, where college students from across Ontario gathered to brainstorm solutions to the biggest problems facing our province. 

This year’s theme was addressing the housing crisis, a topic I am extremely passionate about.  

I also had the opportunity to represent Stouffville at an international conference hosted by the Urban Economy Forum. The conference focused on climate-responsive planning for equitable places & communities. One of the topics I covered was the impact that our growing tree canopy creates, as forests play a vital role in enhancing urban environments while contributing to the well-being of our communities. We are making great strides to adapt and mitigate the harsh effects of climate change here in Stouffville and across York Region. Along with efforts to preserve and protect the York Regional Forest, this past June,  Stouffville Council unanimously voted in support of a new bylaw to protect private trees, mature trees, and heritage trees.  Together, we are creating a resilient town for future generations to enjoy, and this is something to be celebrated. 

Another highlight for me this past year was the opening of not 1, not 2, but 3 new schools. The Stouffville campus of Unionville College opened its doors last October. And this past March, I was thrilled to be in attendance as the York Region Catholic District School Board welcomed students into their brand-new building.  The students of Blessed Chiara Badana elementary school and St. Katharine Drexel high school finally have their forever home, and the excitement amongst students and staff alike was truly electric. This milestone is representative of our need for new schools as we grow as a municipality.  And I’m also excited to say another YRDSB French immersion school has broken ground on Baker Hill and is expected to open in September 2025. 

Another highlight was the groundbreaking ceremony for the Dawoodi Bohras new masjid on Sandiford Drive. For those who may not be familiar, a masjid is much more than just a place of worship. It is a community hub. A place to gather, to celebrate, to learn, and to play. Their presence in Stouffville will be life changing for members of the Dawoodi Bohra community, and I, for one, can’t wait to welcome them here. 

New business openings are always at the top of my highlights list, and this past year was no exception. I had the honour of attending grand openings and ribbon cuttings for so many new businesses which are a welcome indicator of the town’s strengthening economy.  

And just this week, Councillors Upton, Kroon and I cut the orange ribbon at the Muddy York Brewing Company, now open on Ringwood Drive. Muddy York is not just any brewery – it’s a national award winning one!  Owners Jeff and Sue have become a fixture at town events and the Stouffville Market over the past few years, and I know our residents will be very happy that they now have a permanent home. If you haven’t stopped by their store yet, I strongly encourage you to do so. The bottle shop is open, and soon their tasting room will be as well.  

So, as you can see, education, economic & spiritual growth are all vital signs of a healthy, growing, and vibrant community. 

Moving onto the financial health of the town. 

I am pleased to report that the Town continues to be in sound financial health despite the need for continued efforts to balance our tax base.  

As you can imagine, strong development activity is one of the big contributors to this. The town’s stable financial health allows us to make strategic investments in existing assets, while planning for new assets and services as we continue to grow as a municipality.  Our 2023 financials are in the final stages of being audited and will be presented to Council and the public this June. This year’s budget was different as it was the first budget under the new Strong Mayor Powers that were given to me by the province. Under this new legislation, I was responsible for tabling the budget.  But I will give all the credit to where it’s due – and that is to our Treasurer, Jeremy Harness, and his finance staff for bringing in a total budget of $118.3 million dollars for 2024, our largest in the town’s history. 

In the operating budget, there was a focus on people. We want to make sure we are competitive in attracting and retaining the very best staff. For a number of years, we were falling behind in wages with our comparators, so we invested in our existing staff this year. We also added two new positions, one in Community Services, as well as a new Fire Prevention Inspector. I want to give a shout out here to Fire & Emergency Services Chief, Bill Snowball, even though he couldn’t be here this evening.  I don’t think people realize how much time and effort goes into preventing fires, not just battling them. Next time you see the Chief, ask him to tell you the story of how our carbon monoxide door to door campaign saved the lives of two Ballantrae residents this year. We recently posted a job opening in our Finance department for a financial analyst and EA. We had over 160 applicants. Clearly, the town is seen as an attractive employer. (I could mention that that was not always the case, but I won’t go there.)  Look for a major announcement from the town next month recognizing some of the positive changes we have seen in our staff culture. 

This year’s capital budget included much needed funding for the reconstruction of several streets in town. These investments are necessary to advance our future Main Street reconstruction project. Some of these capital projects were supported by funding received from the federal government. In 2023 we received $4.7 million dollars from our friends in Ottawa. Those funds also supported infrastructure projects, tourism initiatives, and community revitalization.  I would thank Helena Jaczek as our federal representative but unfortunately, she could not be here this evening. Hopefully she is off somewhere figuring out how to get us even more money before the next federal election! The province is also a supportive partner to the town, providing $3.9 million dollars, including $1.4 million from the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund, that was put towards much needed road rehabilitation projects. Thank you to my friend, Paul Calandra, for the provincial support. We are so lucky to have an advocate like you as our MPP at Queen’s Park. 

Last week’s Council Meeting was a very special one, as Council unanimously endorsed our new Official Plan. For those who may not be familiar, our Official Plan updates the Town’s vision for the future and is used as a long-range planning tool that contains goals, objectives and planning policies.  This was the culmination of 4 years of hard work by our staff, and I could not be happier with how it turned out. Have a look for yourself at cometogetherws.ca/opr  It is important to note that this new OP is the first for WS in 20 years. Outdated policies were guiding our growth and now with the public’s continual input throughout the 4-year process, we have a plan to guide us forward.  I know staff are grateful for council’s support for our plan that will see us grow to our provincial target of 100,000 people. 

The next segment of my presentation focuses on housing. It should be no surprise that housing growth is always a hot-button & sometimes polarizing issue. As I mentioned earlier, housing is a top priority for council, especially with the passing of our OP last week.  I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone in this room that the housing crisis is very real in Whitchurch-Stouffville. We need to provide more housing and housing of all types as quickly as we can and I believe it is councils responsibility to eliminate whatever barriers there may be to achieving these goals. I have learned that I have been labeled by my critics as one of the most pro-development mayors in the province. I’ve heard “Lovatt is ruining our town with all these condos along Main Street.” 

So, let’s clear the air for a moment. Despite having been given strong mayor powers by the province, I have yet to use them on any development decisions. A majority decision of Council has approved every single development in our town’s history. We are a team, and a damn good one at that, who make decisions after weighing all the facts, as a council and I stand by what I’ve stated before, I do not foresee a time when I’ll need to flex my strong mayor powers in the foreseeable future.  

But to be clear, I am unapologetically focused on creating affordable and attainable housing. Housing for our seniors, for our kids, our grandkids and for all the people who want to live in the most desirable town in York Region.  

Much of our future growth will be in Wards 4 and 5. I am grateful for my colleagues like Ward 5 Councillor Richard Bartley who showed great leadership in the planning of our Phase 3 lands up 10th Line. The vision for this new community area will not only be home for people but will include an entire commercial node that is envisioned with a grocery store, another LCBO and restaurants forming a complete community in and of itself. 

Ward 4 Councillor Rick Upton also took extraordinary leadership last term, before a housing crisis was even declared, in seeing our first draft plan approved high-rise condo on Main Street beside RBC, as well as the 2 Livgreen Condos on Main Street towards 9th Line get approval.  These developments will provide beautiful, affordable homes for existing and future residents all within walking distance of the amenities everyone needs.  

Last August, the town was assigned a housing target by the province of 6,500 new homes to be constructed in our community by 2031. We signed a Housing Pledge committing to doing so. In 2023, we exceeded our annual target by 239%.   This accomplishment enabled us to be awarded funding from the province’s Building Faster Fund. The $2.6 million dollars we received will go towards housing-enabling infrastructure such as servicing, roads, public utilities, and other shovel-ready projects that support home and community building. In a recent report, the Sun-Tribune online reported that Stouffville added 6,236 residents between 2021 and 2023. We are almost a town of 60,000 and well on our way to reaching the provincial goal. 

One of the many ways to increase housing supply is by looking at Additional Residential Units or ARUs. ARUs are commonly called second suites, or in-law suites. They are self-contained residential dwelling units, that can be located either within a single detached, semi-detached, or townhouse dwelling. But for some reason, ARUs can provoke fear, and perhaps unreasonable expectations of what they will look like…so let me try to put any fears at ease. Looking at this house, would you know that it is actually a triplex, with three separate owners? Probably not. But I can tell you it’s real because I have actually been in this home.  That is my sister’s house in Kitsilano, a neighborhood in Vancouver. 3 x 1,500sf homes on an average sized residential lot, in the built form of a single-family home, all with individual amenity spaces and sufficient parking. Similar developments are popping up everywhere in the greater Vancouver area providing gentle density across the region. This is an example of a fourplex. This gentle intensification is ideal for some infill development lots in town, especially large lots on the east end of town.  In last year’s speech I talked about the challenges of provincial policies protecting 90% of our town and how this will force us to grow up and not out. Well, based on the planning applications coming in, that is happening. We are seeing more applications for condos, and in my opinion, this isn’t a bad thing.  As an example, Phase 2 of LivGreen’s eco-friendly, net-zero condo building at Ninth and Main has recently started construction. Providing more affordable alternatives for those entering the housing market or wanting to downsize. Now for those still looking for ground level development, there are still lands zoned for traditional, residential development in our settlement area. Here is an example of the remaining Phase 3 lands along Bethesda Rd that Treasure Hill, Fieldgate and Fairgate Homes are developing. Also of note, there is growing development interest in the Musselman’s Lake/Ballantrae area. Eco Lake Homes was recently approved to build 11 eco-friendly homes. 

Now, thankfully, not all of our growth is residential. There are exciting things happening in the world of Industrial and Commercial development.  

In the automotive sector, we have Volkswagen coming to the auto mall area. I was at the groundbreaking ceremony and can report that the Zanchins are very excited to be entering the Stouffville market again with Stouffville VW. We are also looking forward to the grand opening of Frank Stronach’s Sarit Micro-mobility global headquarters on Aurora Road this fall. And who remembers the old Ringwood diner that sat vacant at the corner of 48 and Stouffville Road for too many years. I think you will all agree that this commercial plaza will be a vast improvement to the corner. Shovels will be in the ground later this year as the town works with adjacent landowners to reimagine our western gateway into town. This is just a snapshot of how our economic development team are bringing results to the town. There are over 1.7 million square feet of ICI development at various stages in our development pipeline.  

Exciting days are ahead for us and the investment potential in Stouffville is without boundaries. So if you have any interest in investing in Stouffville or expanding your own business, I would like to introduce you all to our Economic Development officer in charge of Large ICI- Mr. Tom Horsley. If you haven’t met Tom already this evening, please be sure to say hello before the end of the night. He would be very happy to chat with you about growth opportunities in town. 

I’m going to shift now to the topic of modernization. Any business professional or business owner knows that modernization is critical to the success of any organization. The town has so many exciting things ahead on the modernization front, as we grow and advance our service levels.  The Administrative Monetary Penalty System, or AMPS as it is commonly called, has just been implemented in town which allows us to streamline the enforcement and dispute process of by-law violations.  Automated Speed Enforcement is another exciting thing coming to Stouffville. Council’s decision to endorse this proven method of traffic calming will improve driver and pedestrian safety in town. And contrary to popular belief on Facebook, no, this is not a “cash grab” by the town. In fact, I hope this program is a complete failure. No revenue would mean no one is speeding. I suspect I am wrong on that one, but time will have to tell. I could go on with examples of how we are modernizing systems to be more efficient, save money and improve customer experience, but I will mention one final one, which is the implementation of CityView. CityView is an all-in-one community development software system that will enable us to provide simplified and expanded customer services to residents, business owners, developers and contractors. 

Now let’s move on to other exciting things ahead. Every year at this event, I like to make an announcement or two of something new to come. Last year, I announced Stouffville’s first post-secondary institution, Seneca College’s “living classroom” that will be coming to the Village of Stouffer Mills The Schlegel Villages home is currently under construction on Hoover Park Drive and I can’t wait to officially open its doors in 2026. Thank you to Ruth and Karen from Schlegel for being here this evening. 

This year, I have a few exciting announcements. Everyone knows that Stouffville has a severe shortage of daycare spaces. Waitlists can be years long and I often get calls from desperate parents looking for space.  I am delighted to announce that the town is investing in a much-needed area of care for our youngest residents. Council recently unanimously approved the receipt of a 6,000-sf modular daycare facility from a development in the city of Mississauga. This 5-year-old daycare facility, which needs to be relocated for a new park to be built, has the potential of creating up to 82 daycare spots!  Town Staff have been directed to release an RFP for a non-profit operator in the coming weeks. You will see construction begin this summer in its new home adjacent to the Clippers Complex. Needless to say, all of council is excited about this opportunity, which not only provides much needed daycare spaces but will also generate revenue for the town over time. 

The second announcement this evening is the launch of a partnership between my office and your very own chamber of commerce. You may have noticed a growing number of vacancies in our village downtown. This can be a bit shocking at first glance. It may also shock you that despite these vacancies, we still have over 100 existing businesses in the village.  So, tonight I am happy to announce the launch of Stouffville Village Small Business Challenge.  The premise is simple. We want to generate interest for new retailers to come to Main St. And to do this, the Stouffville Village Small Business Challenge will award the winning business plan and its entrepreneur, 1 year of free rent which is to be negotiated with the landlord, $25,000 to help with start-up costs to set up the business and 12 months of business mentoring from a local expert.  A panel of successful business professionals from Stouffville will be formed to vet business plan submissions and choose up to 8 to pitch our very own Stouffville Dragons live. One submission will be chosen to receive approximately $50,000 in value towards their start up. I hope you can all agree we need more AGI’s, Red Bulbs, Redefined Finds, Bike Asylums and the Corner Spa & Gifts of the world. More Meat Merchants, more Pimento Jerks, more Chic Thrills!  So, if you know someone who has a great idea for a new business on Main St, be sure to tell them about the Stouffville Village Small Business Challenge and to look for more details this coming summer. 

The next thing I would like to share with you all isn’t really an announcement as such, but a super exciting initiative that I am revealing here tonight for the first time… 

The town is actively in discussions with several interested parties on bringing a second and possibly third hotel to Stouffville. We recently commissioned HVS to do a market study that showed that a limited-service hotel would be supported by market demand and let me tell you that interest is high. Staff have met with multiple hotel developers, and I hope we will be announcing a groundbreaking in the not so distant future. 

I’d like to finish off my speech this year in a similar way to last year. And that is to talk briefly about our town’s commitment to Oak Valley Health, better known as our hospital – the Markham Stouffville Hospital. 

I am pleased to report that the Campaign for MSH, a campaign that I co-chair with Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, has raised $112 million dollars of its $150 million dollar goal. Congratulations to our friends at the Markham Stouffville Hospital Foundation who are here with us tonight. The next phase of the campaign, which will be the community phase, will launch in 2025 to coincide with the hospital’s 35th anniversary.  Thank you to all the sponsors, runners, and especially our town staff and volunteers who make it all happen. This year’s event takes place on Sunday, June 16. I encourage everyone here to sign up to walk or run. To give you a taste of what a fun event this is, here is a short video from last year. We currently have 715 participants registered, and this year, it would be great to break the 1,000 mark.  We still need a few sponsors to make this event as beneficial to the hospital as possible. We have opportunities for gold sponsors at $10,000, silver sponsors at $5,000, and I think a very easy level to participate in- a $500 community sponsor level. It would be great this evening if we could get every business here tonight, who hasn’t already committed to sponsoring the run, commit to a $500 community sponsorship. For more information, please drop your business card off to my EA Jen (Jen please wave) and our sponsorship team will be in touch. 

In closing, I would like to encourage everyone to check out our most recent issue of On the Road Magazine. This month’s issue has a great article highlighting the incredible career and recently announced retirement of Pat Montgomery.  For 22 years’ operating Candlelight and Memories on Main St. Pat has been a staple for so many. A warm smile, a listening ear and always a low-pressure sales pitch is what sums up Pat’s demeanor. To say she will be sorely missed on Main St is an understament. 

Lastly, thank you everyone for being here this evening, for your investment and interest in our amazing community, for listening to me go on too long, and most importantly for being ForStouffville. 

Have a good night and enjoy the rest of your evening. 

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