It has been confirmed: an application has been received by the City of Burlington proposing the redevelopment of the Waterfront Hotel, a 30- and 35-storey development to replace the existing hotel.

This application will now be considered following the usual planning process and is just one of the seven developments that remain to be considered using the city’s in-force Official Plan and policies in place prior to the approval of Regional Official Plan Amendment 48 (ROPA 48).

Its days are numbered – what replaces the hotel is the issue. There are a number of options.

The Waterfront Hotel Study began in earnest several years ago, spanned two different mayors and has yet to be completed.

A little background to provide some context: in 2005 and 2006, the city approached the landowner to consider redevelopment of the Waterfront Hotel site (municipally known as 2020 Lakeshore Road). This was in response to a series of reports in 2005 and 2006 that considered the redevelopment of these lands and the important role they play in the downtown and the waterfront. City staff and the landowner at that time explored the advancement of a joint planning study process. A beginning of a planning review framework for the redevelopment of the site was developed and approved by council in fall 2006.

On February 23, 2015, council approved the terms of reference for the Waterfront Hotel Lands Planning Study, which is a comprehensive land-use and urban design study focused on the subject site and surrounding lands, including Spencer Smith Park. The Waterfront Hotel Planning Study was publicly launched, beginning with a pair of visioning workshops, in May 2017.

The boundary for the study and the boundary of the hotel property.

The subject site’s significance was affirmed at the Planning and Development Committee meeting of November 28, 2017, evidenced by several delegations that presented a varied set of interests and development concepts. Since that time, staff, with support from the project consultants from the Planning Partnership that were hired by the City of Burlington, has undertaken additional consultation with stakeholders. This additional consultation was done in response to council’s direction to continue a dialogue with the developer/landowner Vrancor Group and local citizens group Plan B. Additionally, input has been collected from the public at large through a second online survey regarding the emerging redevelopment concepts.

Two committees were set up to administer the Waterfront Hotel Planning Study. A steering committee was formed to oversee the consulting team to ensure steady progress and to discuss any questions that might arise. A stakeholder advisory committee consisting of other key city departments was established, including the mayor, Ward 2 councillor, the landowner, representatives from Halton Region, the Burlington Downtown Business Association, and two citizen representatives.

City staff built upon the consultation work done through the three community workshops that included (a total of six sessions) the Planning and Development Committee meeting held on November 28, 2017, to consider all of the work that had been completed and the significant contributions from the Vrancor and the Plan B citizen group.

Despite extensive engagement opportunities, a clear consensus on direction had not yet been achieved.

The work completed to date through the Waterfront Hotel Planning Study has been funded 100% by the landowner, controlled and administered by the City of Burlington.

All of this occurred prior to the last municipal election and understandably the staff report in June 2018 resulted in staff being directed to continue some background work over the upcoming months and in early 2019, re-start the process during the new term of council.

Following the election and with a new mayor and council in place, the Waterfront Hotel Study ground to a halt.

John Taylor, centre, ward 3 Councillor at the time talks to Linda Davies (right) owner of the leading condo sales operation in the city. Deedee Davies is on the left.

Since the election in October 2018, the redevelopment study faced delay after delay as our new mayor and council implemented an Interim Control By- Law, including the Waterfront Hotel study area, and focused their attention on re-examining the Official Plan, in particular, the downtown policies.

Despite imposing an Interim Control By-Law (ICBL) that temporarily froze any development in the Waterfront Hotel study area, the lands were not included as part of that study. Council was also clear the Waterfront Hotel Study would not be within the scope of work happening as part of the re-examination of the adopted Official Plan.

Why council chose not to consider the Waterfront Hotel as part of either study has never been made clear, nor has council explained why they chose not to restart the Waterfront Hotel Study to further engage residents and build on the work already completed.

The hotel xxx

One possible explanation for excluding the Waterfront Hotel from the re-examination of the adopted Official Plan is found in a staff report from 2019, where they advise the mayor and council, stating: “Given the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in place with the owner of this property in order to complete a study to respond to an existing Official Plan policy, it would not be appropriate to include this site within the scope of work proposed and would impact the ability to deliver the project by March 2020.”

A staff report was due back to the Planning and Development Committee in Q2 2020 with an augmented work plan, including details on timelines, a new public engagement plan, and any additional budget required to support the work. However, that report was further delayed to Q4 2020.

Council’s delay of almost two years after the pause for the 2018 election resulted in a letter, dated Sept. 28, 2020, from the legal representatives of the Waterfront Hotel. The mayor and council were advised that further delays were no longer acceptable, and they intended to complete the study independently and seek approvals of their redevelopment plans.

The following are excerpts from that letter: “However, our client has concerns with the proposed implementation of this intensification potential. In particular, the ongoing delay in planning for the Property is of serious concern and can no longer be accepted by our client. The Property has not been included within the scope of review related to the new official plan, despite our client having invested approximately two hundred and fifty thousand dollars over five years ago to assist the City in determining the appropriate form of redevelopment for the Property. It would appear that this study is now further delayed with a report on a proposed revise action plan suggested for Q4 2020.” ([Lawyer] David Bronskill.) “This is unacceptable to our client. We can no longer wait for the City and our client’s intention is to proceed to finalize the study on its own and submit an application to secure approvals for the Property in an expedited fashion.” (David Bronskill.)

2020 gave way to 2021 and the Waterfront Hotel Study remained in limbo until Sep 8, 2021, when the owners moved the process forward and hosted a pre-application meeting to share their vision of the redevelopment of the existing hotel.

The public was stunned when it learned that there would be two towers: 30 and 35 stories

The city has not specified an exact date, however, applications have been submitted to the city proposing a development of two towers, 30 and 35 storeys. These applications were submitted prior to Nov. 10, 2021, and prior to the approval of Regional Official Plan Amendment 48.

November 10, 2021, is a relevant date as it was the date that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, officially approved Regional Official Plan Amendment 48 (ROPA 48), establishing the cut-off date for applications to be considered using the existing policies and for new applications moving forward. Not an unusual decision, Burlington council established a cut-off date for development applications when they approved the Interim Control By-Law.

The mayor and council have now advised they are expecting a staff report in Q1 of 2022 that should provide the work plan, including details on timelines, a new public engagement plan, and any additional budget required to support the work. Essentially the same report that was expected and delayed since Q2 of 2020, almost two years ago.

After the progress and extensive public engagement in 2017–18, the study was paused during the election in 2018 and never restarted and won’t be until sometime in 2022.

When restarted, the study is now complicated as the focus within the study area (the Waterfront Hotel) has a proposed development working its way through the planning process.

To further complicate the study and consideration of the proposal, 2022 is a municipal election year, when traditionally, decisions of this magnitude or even less contentious decisions are delayed, kicked down the road.

This mayor and council are no different, however, they should be careful not to forfeit the city’s right to make planning decisions by not meeting their regulatory obligations on what is arguably the city’s most important and significant waterfront property. That has happened far too often — count the appeals at the Ontario Land Tribunal that are funded by Burlington taxpayers because of council’s failure to make a decision.

The conversation regarding the Waterfront Hotel Study has changed and will include the applications for a 30- and 35-storey development. Has council’s three-year delay to restart the Waterfront Hotel Study resulted in a missed opportunity for the city and residents to influence the outcome?

    Editor’s comment: You can thank me later, Rick, for the boost to your readership