Burlington gets press - whenever it is controversial - Toronto notices.

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By Staff

May 14th, 2018



Burlington has made the big time press. The Toronto Star did a long piece on Sunday about the city’s growing pains. The last time Burlington got this kind of press from the Star was when we were building that $14.4 million dollar “mistake by the lake” – The Pier – for the second time.

Here is what the Toronto Star had to say.

How Burlington’s growing pains became an election issue

Downtown Burlington has become a battleground over plans for more highrise development, with some worried that rapid intensification will destroy the charm that drew them to the city in the first place.

By Tess KalinowskiReal Estate Reporter
Sun., May 13, 2018

Kelly Childs moved to Burlington in 2008 looking to escape “the hustle” of Toronto.
It broke her heart when she learned that the block where she and her daughter operate Kelly’s Bake Shoppe had been sold to a condo developer.

The cupcake emporium on Burlington’s main drag draws thousands of customers in a busy week with the promise of luscious treats, part of a charming strip of stores and restaurants leading to the lake.

On a recent weekday morning, Kelly’s was crowded with a group of moms and babies. But directly north, the Blossom Lily restaurant, Thomasville furnishings, Elizabeth Interiors and Celli’s restaurant are already closed or have moved.

421 Brant

421 Brant

The nearby 23-storey Carriage Gate Homes development and its “twin tower” — a developer has already filed a proposal for a 24-storey sister building — are displacing those stores. The notices on the empty shop windows and impending construction across from city hall have become a rallying point for a polarized community in advance of the fall civic election.

Residents and businesses are divided among those who believe tall buildings will feed the vitality and sustainability of the city and those who worry development will drive up prices, pushing out Burlington’s character and dwarfing its civic buildings.

“I’ve never seen this kind of tension — I’m going to call it the pitchfork. There are so many residents that are waking up to it,” Childs said. “It’s like the ether has just worn off and they’re going, ‘What the heck have we been silent to?’”

Burlington is the latest battleground in the Toronto region where municipalities are struggling to welcome more residents without planting them on farmers’ fields and environmentally sensitive areas. Guided by the province’s anti-sprawl growth plan, intensification zones with denser housing are rising around newly expanded transit lines.

Early estimates in the new official plan call for an additional 14,000 people and 1,200 jobs to be added to the downtown, beyond 2041. Up to 72,000 residents and 60,000 jobs are expected in the areas surrounding the Aldershot, Burlington and Appleby GO stations beyond 2041.

Burlington’s downtown should never have been considered one of those zones, say local critics.
Childs says she’s not blaming anyone. “It’s no slight to the developers. We’re all in business and do what we do. The developers love to build, I love to make cupcakes,” she said.

But, in the absence of a compromise, Childs says, “To me (highrise) creates more a generic downtown. It takes away the uniqueness of some storefronts.”

The last time Burlington was so rattled by a civic issue was probably the “Mistake by the Lake,” say the locals, citing an epic, seven-year municipal ordeal to install the scenic pier at the foot of Brant St. By the time it opened five years ago, it cost $14.4 million.

The recent onslaught of development applications has spurred residents to show up in force for public meetings and even post “Height Is No Solution” lawn signs.

Meed Ward H&S

Marianne Meed Ward – candidate for Mayor

Downtown Councillor Marianne Meed Ward says “hyper-intensification” will push small businesses off Brant St. with higher rents, replacing them with generic chains, traffic jams and inadequate parking. It won’t enhance the city’s housing needs and it will be wildly out of scale with the heritage surroundings, she said.

“We’re seeing store vacancies because nobody can get long leases because these sites are being assembled for redevelopment,” said Meed Ward.

There are 35 active development applications at the city, including official plan and zoning bylaw amendments. Construction is already underway downtown on a midrise condo west of Brant St. across from the Performing Arts Centre, and there’s another residential building east of Brant and a massive hotel-condo going up on the lakefront.


The Nautique – to go up at the corner of Martha and Lakeshore Road.

Burlington has asked for a review of an Ontario Municipal Board decision that would allow Adi Developments to build a 26-storey condo north of Lakeshore Rd., just east of Brant St.

“We have over 90 buildings both residential and commercial within the downtown boundaries that are heritage properties. Only a quarter are designated under that act, which protects them from demolition,” said Meed Ward. “The rest are not protected, so you can imagine a two-storey heritage building — if you are allowing 17-, 20-, 23-storey buildings — the air rights above that property are far more valuable than keeping and retaining the heritage.”

The lone No vote on Burlington council’s recently adopted new official plan, Meed Ward says she is running for mayor.

Residents like retiree Penny Hersh agree with Meed Ward that the plan, the blueprint for how Burlington will grow, was passed in haste and with too few specifics. Hersh is among the organizers of the group behind the lawn signs, Engaged Citizens of Burlington (ECOB). It organized a workshop in February to encourage more civic election participation. Nearly 100 people turned up.

McMahon + Hersh

Penny Hersh on the right.

Hersh lives in a 15th-floor condo near the Bridgewater residential-hotel project under construction on Lakeshore Rd., comprising a 22-storey condo, another seven-storey condo and an eight-storey hotel. She says she knew about the development when she moved there and isn’t complaining. She didn’t move to downtown Burlington to look at the water.

“I moved downtown because I wanted to be able to walk … Burlington wants to be a walkable community but in the downtown there are a lot of seniors. No one’s getting on their bicycle to cycle up to the No Frills (grocery store) in January,” she said.

Hersh says she’s fine with development around the city’s three GO stations. But designating downtown Burlington as an intensification zone and mobility hub, based on its tiny bus depot, makes no sense.

“We aren’t fighting the highrises. We’re just asking for a sensible, smart plan,” she said.

With a population of about 183,000, Burlington was dubbed Canada’s best mid-sized city five years in a row by MoneySense magazine based on its relative wealth, safety and high employment. It shelters commuters for both Toronto and Hamilton and has maintained a sense of identity through its downtown even as malls and big box stores — including an Ikea — flourish all around.


Mayor Rick Goldring

Mayor Rick Goldring says he’s aware of the angst around intensification. Highrise “is a symbol of something in other communities that people don’t want to be like,” he said. But he argues Burlington has no choice.

“We’re at a different place than we’ve been in our history. We don’t have any more greenfield remaining. The days of building single-family-home developments are behind us,” he said.

Going forward, the city’s focus is on creating more mixed-use, walkable, transit-friendly neighbourhoods around mobility hubs.

He likens it to building the Performing Arts Centre. Back then some residents thought the city didn’t need and couldn’t afford the 718-seat venue. They worried that it would be “elitist,” that tickets would be too expensive. Nearly seven years after the curtain went up, Goldring says it’s difficult to imagine Burlington without the theatre.

The mayor concedes that Burlington’s older highrises haven’t always been thoughtfully designed. But new tall building guidelines adopted last year and an urban design panel will ensure newer towers connect to the city’s other features, he said.

The new “Grow Bold” official plan, prescribing where growth will be concentrated, still has to be approved by Halton Region. It will be followed by a new transit plan recommending frequent service on some key routes, says the mayor. But the first significant changes aren’t likely to happen until fall 2019.

Brian Dean 2 long

Brian Dean, executive director of the 435-member Burlington Downtown Business Association.

“I can’t think of one issue that has kicked the hornet’s nest in the residential mind more than this series of deliberations on the official plan,” said Brian Dean, executive director of the 435-member Burlington Downtown Business Association. “It will be a huge wedge issue for the upcoming election.”

He calls the opposition “the most concentrated, vociferous group of residents I have seen in 20 years.”

In the business community and even among the association’s 12 board members, “there is very little consensus over whether this period of unprecedented development is the best thing since sliced bread or the death knell of the downtown,” he said.

Downtown Burlington tends to draw empty nesters, many of them snowbirds. Dean says more young professionals and families would improve business in the slower shoulder seasons.

But the size and price of the new condos won’t attract those buyers, says Meed Ward. There is also no commitment to an affordable housing component — “another lost opportunity,” she said.

“People are saying we are not getting what we need in housing … what is being delivered will end up in congestion and sun-shadowing impact, changing character, glass and steel architecture, rising prices for business and pressure on the parking supply, and then the taxpayers will have to help build more,” she said.

MaryLou Tanner Cogeco 2018 direct

Deputy city manager Mary Lou Tanner

Deputy city manager Mary Lou Tanner, Burlington’s former chief planner, says she isn’t surprised by the “concern” because it is the first serious conversation about growth in a couple of generations.

When city officials reviewed pictures of downtown Burlington from 20 years ago, what they found wasn’t exactly Mayberry.

“There were a lot of vacancies, there were boarded-up buildings on Brant St. and in other commercial areas. There were surface parking lots across the street from Spencer Smith Park (on the lakefront),” said Tanner.

So Burlington invested about $150 million in improvements such as the arts centre and adjacent parking garage, the pier and park.

“When the public sector makes that kind of significant investment in a downtown, it’s a good thing because it creates that confidence and that vibrancy,” she said. “What we’re now seeing is that (development) demand is starting to ramp up a bit.”

Meantime, said Tanner, the city is planning to preserve Brant St.’s historic elements by having them replicated in new buildings where possible.

Gary Scobie

Gary Scobie

Retiree Gary Scobie’s ECOB lawn sign declares his status as an engaged resident. He has been to city hall to voice his opposition to the downtown development.

“The downtown residents are getting the first taste of what it means to be an urban growth centre,” he said.

“I think we’re trying to build a skyline just to impress the neighbours, and who are the neighbours?”

You can see the original of the story HERE

The photographs are from the Burlington Gazette photo bank.

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9 comments to Burlington gets press – whenever it is controversial – Toronto notices.

  • It’s called progress folks sorry.
    The attempt to create a marina was brilliant and should be resurrected again.
    Our city is moving in the right direction and I hope it continues.

  • KJ

    Lost in all the downtown intensification talk is the Appleby GO mobility hub. You already can’t move on Appleby and there’s nowhere else for people to go but get dumped onto Appleby from Fairview since it’s a dead end at Burloak. They already made Burloak a nightmare to navigate to get to the QEW and now Appleby will be even worse. What are we supposed to do in Southeast Burlington to get to work (rhetorical question – they want us to move to a mobility hub)?

    Add to that Appleby GO is a stone’s throw from the stinky Fearman’s plant, whom have announced their intentions to double their operation. For the city to knowingly coax thousands of unsuspecting people into sinking their savings into a home (condo) so close to that hideous smelling nightmare is misguided at best.

    • Phillip

      KJ, they want YOU to move to a mobility hub, aka a highrise tenement. But note how the mayor, the councillors, and the head bureaucrats “walk the talk”. NONE of them live in a mobility hub and, as far as I can determine, NONE of them have any plans to do so. But they do want YOU to move there!

  • D.Duck

    He likens it to building the Performing Arts Centre. Back then some residents thought the city didn’t need and couldn’t afford the 718-seat venue.

    Mayor, please tell us how much tax payers have contributed yearly over the last 7yrs to this venue to keep it solvent?? Have we or have we not fortified with tax payers money the Performing Arts Centre??

  • craig gardner

    Has this reporter ever been to Burlington? To describe the stretch of shops from Kelly’s to the lakeshore as “part of a charming strip of stores and restaurants leading to the lake” blows me a way which stores are charming? The vape shop? Luganos does have the best pizza in town hardly charming. What are thre historical stores along Brant we are worried about losing? How many closed stores on Brant closed because of fear of condos and how many closed or moved as they could not make a go of it downtown(I am told at least two majors did not leave because of condos).
    As for the dig at the Performing Arts Centre does the person want a 15,000 seat venue to attract name entertainers that obviously no one in town could afford according to her. Small cities like Burlington or Oakville have performing arts centres for a reason and a purpose which ours does fullfil rather well. We do not get folks who appear at First ontario or ACC but locals commute to those venues when they want. Burlington overal is a very rich well educated city(see Moneysense magazine information), but we do have people with needs as does every city. To say we should not have an arts centre or it has not been a success because we have people who need a food bank makes no sense to me sorry..

  • George

    I quote from above adjacent to the picture of Mayor Rick Goldring “But he argues Burlington has no choice.”

    Actually Burlington does have a choice and I hope all Burlington citizens exercise that choice in our two upcoming elections:

    1st – The intensification is a Wynne government program your choice is not to re-elect MPP Eleanor McMahon. This should occur on June 7, 2018.

    2nd – Next on October 22nd, 2018 is our choice of Burlington Council Members – Two have chosen to retire which is good and the citizens should vote against all others including: R. Goldring, J. Dennison, B. Lancaster, P. Sharma.

    However Burlington should retain Maryanne Meed-Ward and up grade her to Mayor as she was the only on on the existing council who voted against the 23 & 24 story condos and intensification downtown.

    Then we should vote in some of the smart young people such as Rory Nisan who is running in Ward 3.

    3rd – The citizens of Burlington need to remember which Halton School Board Trustees (HDSB) who voted to close Lester B. Pearson high school namely Trustees: Andrea Grebenc and Leah Reynolds should she decide to run for any office. Plus remember the HDSB Trustees who voted to close Robert Bateman high school namely: Andrea Grebenc (again) and Leah Reynolds (again) plus Richelle Papin.

  • Penny

    The Performing Art Centre in Burlington in my opinion is not the great success that Mr. Goldring alludes to. A venue this small cannot attract big names, the cost of tickets would be exorbitant. To say that this is not ‘elitist”and “the tickets would not be too expensive” makes me question where this information is coming from. For a good percentage of residents to spend money for a performance is not even a remote possibility.

    The Performing Art Centre in the past has received over a million dollars a year and continues to receive tax dollars to keep it going. This venue is not self supporting and never will be. It is a “great to have” venue, but at what expense? Burlington’s transit system is in dire need of more funds. We have been told that Burlington needs more money for infrastructure. I could go on and on.

    I have never seen Mr.Goldring at the Food Bank that I volunteer at. As long as people in Burlington need to depend on organizations to be able to feed their families, I don’t think we should be touting about a Performing Arts Centre. This ongoing albatross takes money away from NECESSARY BASIC NEEDS.

    Mr Goldring, feel free to come to the OPEN DOORS FOOD BANK at St. Christopher’s Church on Guelph Line on Saturdays from 10-12noon. Donations of Food are always welcome…….there are some weeks when there is little to offer the residents who need it most.

  • Alide Camilleri

    Is that really surprising? It took years to get a sign on the QEW to show Burlington exists, there are times when we have much greater outages than any other GTA area, but no one notices, and when here in the north of the city the windstorm caused huge damages, no one cared, not even the Post, our erstwhile local paper. Burlington just doesn’t exist in the greater scheme of things and those of us north of Dundas don’t even exist in our own town. There is a huge lack of ability at city hall etc. to let the powers that be know “we are here”. So, I didn’t even bother to read what the Star wrote, because we could use some good publicity for a change, not whatever may be implied in the story.

  • Sandra Grad

    “Meantime, said Tanner, the city is planning to preserve Brant St.’s historic elements by having them replicated in new buildings where possible.”

    I think the operative phrase is “where possible.”

    Building an inviting streetscape with character would be nice; creating a destination neighbourhood would be nice.
    We have yet to see any sign of this intention.