Can the development proposals planned for the 'football' be stopped?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

September 30th, 2019



In from the east

The view of the as yet unnamed tower as you drive into Burlington from the east.

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward left the meeting before it ended. A presentation was being made by Old Lakeshore Burlington Inc. who were explaining what their development proposal idea was for the property at the east end of where Old Lakeshore Road and Lakeshore Road was going to look like; she had heard all she needed.

A part of the city that she used as the rallying cry for her election to city council in 2010 was about to be turned into something similar to what Toronto did to the land south of the Gardner Expressway and Lake Ontario. It was not what she had in mind for her city.

SOW images for fottball

This was the limit Marianne Meed Ward was calling for in the 2010 election.

The provincial government approach to development changed when Doug Ford came into office, the massive change in what LPAT (Local Planning Authority Tribunal) was going to do for the municipal sector wasn’t helping.

Was there a way out of or around what was heading our way?

There might be.

At this risk of using a phrase that didn’t actually resonate in Burlington – it is time to be bold. Let’s try – “Daring to be a Daniel” instead.

There is in the municipal world a number of tools that can be put to very good use – but it does require some creativity.

Russian nesting dolls

A doll within a doll – a planning tool within a planning tool.

I spoke to a number of people about what the city is up against and got some solid feedback. One resident, long in the tooth and the holder of much wisdom and experience in matters related to planning, suggested the approach the city could take is a little like those Russian nesting dolls.

All these planning and land management tools can be made to fit into each.  It takes very tight strategic thinking and you’re going to need a lot of that high priced legal talent to make it all happen – but they experts we spoke to told us it could perhaps be done.

Is it worth the risk to take a shot at it?

Site overview - aerial

The developer sees the 26 storey tower as the eastern gateway to the city – it’s impressive. Is it the best thing for the city?

There is currently an Interim Control Bylaw in place for the Urban Growth Centre. It has about eight months left in the first year it is going to be in place. The city could extend that bylaw for a second year.

The Chief Planner Heather MacDonald has a team of consultants working with her on what the city might do in terms of the kinds of development that will be permissible.

What is permitted

The A and B properties are in what is called the “football”

The “football” is within that Urban Growth boundary – so nothing is going very far until that interim bylaw is lifted.

What I learned in my talks with a number of people is this:

The review of the adopted – but not yet passed by city council Official Plan, could designate certain lands as having a special interest for the city in terms of the long range development.

They could put what is known as an H designation – a HOLD on what gets done with a piece of property.

With that hold in place the city has time to re-think where it wants to go.

Burlington has had relatively large community protest groups in the past. The Save our Waterfront group had more than 1000 members - did it achieve anything other than getting its founder elected to city hall? Here one of the masters of public involvement, former Toronto Mayor David Crombie talks with current SOW presisdent.

Former Toronto Mayor David Crombie talking to Mike xxx, who at the time was President of the Save our Waterfront group that had 1000 members,

With that time available Burlington can then form a group that studies the potential for the “football”; former Mayor David Crombie suggested to the Waterfront Advisory Committee that was in place at the time that they do just that. He added that putting a couple of “oddballs” on such a committee is always a good idea.

I learned that there is also a Community Improvement section in the Municipal Act – it is sometimes referred to as a Community Development Plan.

That part of the Act could be used to put together a plan that had wide wide stakeholder involvement.  These plans, I was told, give a municipality a tremendous amount of power and scope – they are in effect putting the needs and interests of the citizens first.

Right now the Planning department is dealing with a development application, which they have to accept and issue a report on.  They don’t have anything to compare it to – something that might be better for the city.

If the buy in from the public was high enough the city could move to expropriate all the land within the “football” and float a bond to pay for it.

If the Mayor wanted to get really creative she could look for a way to create a bond that the average citizen could units of.

Meed ward looking askance

Does the Mayor think there is a way out of what the developers have told us they want to do with the football? Will the Mayor manage to toss it back to them and expropriate the land.

Meed Ward is staring at a couple of developments that will put 26 storey condominiums on land she believes should not be any higher than 12 storeys.

LPAT will not let that happen – the developers know they will win at that level.

There just might be a way to do something truly stunning for the city.


All of this was close to given away to the owners of properties that abutted the waterfront.

That terrible loss the city suffered when lake front land between Market and St. Paul was sold for a pittance can’t be reversed – but amends could be made for that loss.

Emma’s Back Porch and the Water Street Cookery could be part of something truly unique.

All it takes is takes innovation, creativity and courage.

We are far from experts in this field. But we do believe that citizens will stand up for themselves when the leadership they want leads.

The 2006, 2010 and the 2014 city council’s didn’t lead.  Mayor Meed Ward has made it clear things will be done differently – how much differently.

Let’s see where the Gazette’s active comment people have to say.

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette, an online newspaper that was formed in 2010 and is a member of the National Newsmedia Council.

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11 comments to Can the development proposals planned for the ‘football’ be stopped?

  • david barker

    So Roland, what about EoB getting together with similar groupings in other municipalities and organizing protests down at Queen’s Park ??

  • david barker

    James, I agree there is no meaningful practical difference between 12 and 26 storeys. However, in my view this is a matter of principle. The principle being who decides what our city is to look like; we the residents via our Council or some provincial government created body which is neither elected by, nor representative of the local community. If we do not fight this we have no chance of success. If we fight and make noise there is a slim possibility of changing the outcome.

    EoB and other such groups, I believe, should be organizing protests that residents can attend down at Queen’s Park so the Provincial Government can see and hear our anger as they did with the autism debacle. Roland et al. it’s time for you to really step up and lead a voiciferous and articulate protest movement against Queens Park in association with similar groups in other municipalities.

  • david barker

    James, you may ultimately be right, but that is pretty defeatist. Yes, the genie is half out of the lamp, but it can still be put back in and the cap placed on it.

    Certainly 12 storeys are coming, but the fight is over the additional 10 which are, and I believe continue to be, in conflict with the OP. The fight is to ensure integrity of the OP is maintained and not ridden rough shod over by developers and the LPAT.

    The expropriation idea financed via a bond issuance is worth investigating as would be any other radical idea that ensures control of development of the downtown and waterfront is vested with the City and in turn the residents

    It sounds like you too do not like the idea of a Burlington version of Toronto or Manhattan. So I ask you instead of being defeatist to be positive and put forward any suggestions you might have.

    • James

      Point taken, but I prefer to think of myself as a realist, not a defeatist. Even if all these developments are 12 storeys instead of 20, if I fast-forward 10 years from now and walk around downtown, I don’t recognize the place. 12 storeys is no different than 20 storeys in my opinion, so is capping development at 12 storeys really even a victory? Either way, downtown will soon be a very different place.

  • Penny Hersh


    The Province left it up to the Municipalities to decide where the growth centres should be. These decisions were made by past Councils who had no vision as to where these growth areas should be.

    In 2017 Metrolinx gave the Municipalities, who were working on a new Official Plan the opportunity to change the Transportation Hubs. The Council of the day decided to do nothing.

  • James

    I don’t have to like it, neither do you, but it’s time we face some harsh realities. We’re talking about the Downtown Urban GROWTH Centre. As far as most of the city is concerned, if there has to be growth whether we like it or not, and with no greenfields remaining, then this is exactly where this type of development should go: downtown. Not surprisingly those in the shadows of these future buildings are against it, but rightly or wrongly they are in the unfortunate minority. Expropriation is not a viable option given the high land values within Urban Growth Centres. Burlington cannot afford it, and expropriating every developable property in an effort to freeze time is not a sustainable or realistic model. Any holding provision placed on these lands would just be appealed to the growth friendly LPAT, so while that could delay things slightly, it’s not a long-term solution. Community Improvement Plans take too long, and with all these developments already in the que, some may argue it’s too late. The global population is exploding and the Federal Government is welcoming immigrants at record levels, around 360,000 per year if I read correctly, of which 160,000 stay in the GTA and Greater Golden Horseshoe. It’s safe to say they want growth. The Provincial Government, and well before Doug Ford ever got elected, decided where this growth should happen: the Urban Growth Centres. So as far as the Province goes (regardless of party), this is exactly where they want this type of development to go. The population of the Region of Halton is expected to double from 500,000 to over 1,000,000 within the next 20 years, and Burlington is expected to take its fair share of that growth. The Downtown Urban Growth Centre is exactly where they feel this type of development should go. The Mobility Hubs at one time had the potential to accommodate significant residential growth, however that seems to have fizzled given the unwillingness to convert the existing employment land designations around those hubs, so that is unlikely to ever happen. That leaves downtown with a giant bullseye on it. Developers are simply playing by the planning rules put in place by these upper tiers of government, which is why they win the majority of the LPAT appeals against Burlington, a city in denial. In spite of her strengths, the Mayor is doing us a disservice by repeatedly relying on 2006 growth projection numbers and claiming that we’ve already achieved our required densities when clearly we have not, weakening our position with LPAT. It’s 2019, things have changed, we can’t rely on 2006 growth data and a 2008 Official Plan anymore. Burlington is already way behind. The backlog of development applications is lining up due to the Interim Control By-law, but that can’t stop development forever. Once lifted, look out. Inevitably, we are several years away from completely obliterating the downtown core as we know it. Can these development proposals be stopped? Just take one look out the window at City Hall. I think we already know the answer.

  • Gary Scobie

    I’ll take any suggestion at this point and this one sounds interesting. We’re in an unfair fight in Burlington, with the Conservative government of the Province backing unreasonable development through Urban Growth Centre, Major Transit Station Area and Anchor Mobility Hub designations all put in place downtown to stack the deck along with the OMB/LPAT in favour of developers building higher and higher on small parcels of assembled land in inappropriate places. That’s Goliath.

    On the other side stand only our Council and the citizens of downtown who have to live with this madness. That’s David. I’m thinking we need a solution of Biblical proportion.

    I know it was the former Liberal government that put much of this in place, but this current government is as anti-democratic and anti local governance as could ever be imagined.

  • Don Fletcher

    The critical Waterfront Hotel redevelopment is surely soon to follow. I truly hope we can figure out an effective defense strategy before that one re-emerges and has to be dealt with.

  • Penny Hersh

    Very interesting suggestion. I hope that our Council seriously looks into doing this.

    If Council decides to put an H on the “football area” why not at the same time designate other areas in the City to encourage development ( near the Appleby Go Station). If necessary change the zoning to mixed/residential instead of commercial.

    Hamilton designated an area that they wanted development. To encourage development in that area Hamilton deferred the development charges until the units were sold within a set time frame. This was a win/win.

    Certainly we can have a two pronged approach. Something to think about!!

  • Stephen White

    This is about the most inventive, creative and original proposal I’ve heard in quite a long while. Well done Pepper!

    As large swaths of available land get used up developers cast an avarice eye towards smaller properties in odd locales for their developments. The cookie cutter approach they employ for their designs, which is essentially “bigger and higher”, does not fit with the character of surrounding neighbourhoods. Put a 20 or 26 storey development on some of these lots and they dwarf everything in the surrounding area and contribute nothing aesthetically to the neigbhourhood.

    There are four elements to every business paradigm: people, money, technology and process. We changed the people last municipal election, and the bad actors are slowly disappearing from the municipal government, albeit not fast enough. The developers still hold the money. Technology and process is what the politicians and citizens need to wrest control of. This could be the mechanism to re-gain control.

  • david barker

    On the whole a good article. Though did you mean to infer criticism of the Mayor when you said “she had heard all she needed”. Maybe she had another commitment to attend. Though I think the world of her, I know she cannot be in two places at the same time. And afterall the meeting was directed towards the residents, not the council.

    You are certainly right in saying the lakefront land between St Paul and Market Streets was sold for a pittance. No matter the price it should never ever have been sold. That is something for which members of the prior council, except MMW, will never be forgiven.

    If expropriation of “the football” is a viable avenue, yes, let’s do it and look at including adjacent lakefront lands.

    It was so perfectly clear and obvious from the body language of the presenters representing the developers that the meeting was simply a process for which the goal was for the developer to look like it was listening to residents and taking their concerns seriously; whilst actually having no actual intent to act to assuage those voiced concerns.

    I am all in favour of a radical approach to protect this beautiful city from the ravages of thoughtless developers.