Burlington is no longer building out - it is building up - just not in the right places

By Ryan O’Dowd: Local Initiative Journalism Reporter

November 22, 2021



About 50 people gathered in downtown Burlington to join Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns, on a walkabout through new development sites on a chilly Saturday afternoon.  The story she had to tell was dismal.

Early in the event Kearns outlined what the tour was and wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t: an optimistic growth story but rather that of a city trying to keep its vision of a downtown intact.

“I want to be clear” said Kearns, “about what this is and what this isn’t. I want you to be able to visualize and have a contextual sense of what these developments mean for you, the way that you will live here, and what you would rather see or like to see. What I cannot do is completely stop them.”

Much of Saturday’s walking tour consisted of Kearns contextualizing city decisions. She discussed the Urban Growth Center (UGC) designation in the downtown core, saying it did its job to direct investments and infrastructure to downtown, but is no longer needed.

The city worked for some time to move the UGC north to the Burlington GO station area and have the Major Transit Station Area (MTSA) designation removed from the bus terminal on John Street.

The Hon. Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing agreed and on November 10th issued a statement saying the UGC boundary would be moved . Kearns stated the city couldn’t request the change in UGC boundaries until they had an approved Official Plan. The altered boundary came disastrously late for many of city council’s ambitions to limit high rise development.

Kearns suggested council would have only been able to get the altered UGC designation moved at their first opportunity by approving the official plan tabled in 2018, one the newly elected council could not align themselves with. (Editor: we’re not at all sure that statement is correct.)

The authority to approve a boundary change rested with the Minister; when he agreed to the change he also grandfathered seven developments; five of which were in the downtown core.

The walk around was a tour of what many saw as the damage to a dream and a close to total evisceration of an Official Plan.

Kearns stressed she was there to explain the framework in which the city has to operate with the Ontario Land Tribunal(OLT), which continuously make decisions the city doesn’t want, making it difficult for the municipal administration to usher in their planning vision.

Kearns at the site of the ADI development. It was the first to break through above the 25 storey level.

“The MTSA designation given to the bus terminal on John Street was the same as that given at Union Station and Pearson Airport. I don’t know about you guys but the John Street terminal is not Union Station. It’s warm and it has a toilet but it is not Union Station.

“What that did was allow a 26-storey tower using the argument that with the John Street bus terminal being an MTSA a 26 storey tower was appropriate. So of course 26-storeys made sense. Well, what happens is when you have 26-storeys there, every single application that follows will say, ‘well look this is absolutely applicable’,” said Kearns.

Kearns made it clear the city is not averse to growth, they know it needs to happen, but they are looking for something more compact and sensible than what the OLT has been permitting.

Ground zero – Lakeshore and Brant – entrance to Spencer Smith Park and the location of a development that will have two towers: one at 30 and the other at 35 storeys

Stopping at 2069-2079 Lakeshore Rd. and 383-385 Pearl St., Kearns said a recent OLT decision is emblematic of the direction development is taking.

“We lost big time at the tribunal,” said Kearns.

The city wanted to develop a 17-storey building on the land but begrudgingly settled for a cutoff of 22-storeys only for the OLT to decide on a 29-storey building. The OLT refused to recognize the city’s plans and threw out years of work and background information.

“That’s it. So everything people said, if anybody from here remembers a very cold blustery December day at the art gallery where everyone put up their hands to say they were against the development, all of that is forgotten. And the only thing that’s heard is the lawyers and the technical experts on the day with the rules in place on the day.”

It was the kind of sobering refrain heard during the chilly walkaround of a changing city. At one point some in the crowd asked: how someone got appointed to the OLT, Kearns joked “I’m sure they won’t be asking me anytime soon.” The citizen mumbled, “there’s a lot of us here.” And there were lots of them, some fifty all told. But Kearns’ walkabout felt less like a rallying call than an autopsy of Burlington’s existing downtown core.

There were few calls to action, no signs of optimism, just an exacerbated, if passionate, Kearns telling Burlington she and the rest of City Council did everything they could.

The city is continuing to spend tax dollars looking through its options with external lawyers for reconsideration or a judicial review

“It matters to the community that we’re getting at least close to  what the council can stomach, and closer to the Official Plan which is the vision for downtown, then what the Tribunal is handing us. We think it is very disheartening. I will say I will put it more than anybody else. I think it is very very disheartening that the adjudicators did not recognize the work that we have done on the Official Plan. So while the bus station was a major deciding factor to the 26-storey building next to it, they suddenly didn’t look at that anymore. But then they were like, ‘oh, let’s just use no plan.’ So it’s really difficult to try to play cat and mouse and keep catching up to whatever reasons are being used to undermine our local planning,“ said Kearns.

Congestion concerns and Lakeshore Road access were raised by some in attendance, there were scarce murmurs of the developments potentially buoying downtown retailers but overall the crowd shared Kearns concern. Kearns didn’t field many questions, she said she couldn’t due to time constraints. However, one wonders if after the described dealings with the tribunal if the councilor and the city writ large aren’t left with more questions than answers themselves.

Kearns walkabout stopped at ten development locations in the downtown core, they are as follows:

2020 Lakeshore Rd. Which is in the pre-application phase. It will use a proposed two tall buildings(35-storeys and 30-storeys, as well as a 5-storey podium). It will be used for retail, commercial, and residential space.

Core Development-2093, 2097, 2102 Old Lakeshore td., 2096, 2100 Lakeshore Rd. The application is under appeal. The application is for a 27-storey building consisting of commercial and residential space.

2107 Old Lakeshore Rd. & 2119 Lakeshore Rd. Old Lakeshore Rd. and 2119 Lakeshore Rd. The application is under appeal. The space will be used for a 27-storey building including retail, commercial, and residential space.

2069-2079 Lakeshore Rd. and 383-385 Pearl St. reached an OLT decision. The 29-storey building will host commercial, retail, and residential space.

374 Martha St. The building is under construction. It will be a 26-storey condominium with residential and commercial space.

2085 Pine St. The application is under appeal. It will be an 11-storey building consisting of commercial space, office units, and residential space.

407 Martha St. The application is under appeal. It will be used for an 11-storey residential building.

2082, 2086 and 2090 James St. The location is subject to Site Plan Approval. It will host a 13-storey residential apartment.

409 Brant St. A formal Site Plan Application is being awaited. It will be an 18-storey residential building.

421 Brant St. The unit is under construction. It will be a 23-storey residential, office, and retail building.






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2 comments to Burlington is no longer building out – it is building up – just not in the right places

  • Diane knox

    Good Luck on this issue-
    May we Just vote wisely AT All Levels- City, Provincial, 2022-where are they on this issue, Fed. and ask the Key questions of those who want our vote

    Spin is all we can Expect now–This Council is on the tail end of the Battle for Burlington Downtown that began in 1970’s
    For Decades we have allowed the Province, and City Councils to approve to PAVE the FLOOD PLANE with parking lots for Factories ,strip malls, Shopping centers-(Burlington & Maple View on farmland)- and to Build Bigger, Higher, Condos- soon a Hotel on the shore.

    Now 2021, our taxes- TBD/ A ? will go to mitigating the flooding of those many natural streams for their inability to manage climate floods!- like 2014. Next we will be paying for the upgrading of sewers to empty all those Infill, Intensification flushing showers, dishwashers, toilets, etc.
    This is Not Just a Ward 2 issue. We all live on this Flood Plane. Those older Wards closer to the lake from Aldershot to Burloak are the most vulnerable–So all intensification has a consequence in these global warming days
    .. 2014 was not a fluke! Lake Ontario is rising and all the Experts say–DE-PAVE, plant trees not more Condos, more concrete, more density.
    Many, have fought this issue For Lakeshore preservation-Mary Monroe & others .. who tried to keep the Heritage of ‘downtown’ with a vision for All to .enjoy this Lake. Won some, lost manyd and now ‘downtown’ is the place for the the Rich who live there and a place for the rest of us to find a parking spot .
    I feel like ‘ Chicken Little ” but those rains will come and are we prepared ?

  • Kearns has learnt well from the Mayor in terms of spin on the Council delay in addressing moving the UGC in favour of the ICBL..