Mayor decides to try on transparency for size – it looked pretty good on him. He just might do that again.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.   April 8, 2013  It was a rambunctious meeting.  City Council was preparing to vote on a decision made in committee to approve the Ghent Avenue development that will have 58 townhouses going into a space that formerly had 8 houses on it. More than 100 well-developed trees would be cut down

It was controversial when it was discussed in the community; it was controversial when it was discussed at council committee and it was no less controversial last night – it still passed – but not before council went into one of its longest closed sessions.

Several of the houses that were bought up for the development that has 8 such homes being replaced by a townhouse project with 58 residences.

Council knew this was not going to be a popular decision.  At the committee level it had asked for a legal opinion on the chances of this matter being appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).  If Council decided to go against the Staff recommendation the city was certain the developer would take the matter to the OMB.  If Council approved the development the city felt the residents might appeal to the OMB.

Rambo Creek, which runs along the eastern edge of the properties assembled, was a point of considerable discussion as to how flooding would be controlled – the city was never quite on top of that issue either.

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Indian Point neighbourhood gets first of several close looks by planning department as city creeps toward a new Official Plan.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  April 3, 2013  –  The first hint that there were going to be neighbourhood character studies was when the Planning department held a very small workshop at the Performing Arts Centre where they gave three groups of people the same very large map and asked them to define the neighbourhoods on the map.

Each of the groups came up with vaguely similar boundaries but there really wasn’t much in the way of a clear expression of just what a neighbourhood was.  Little wonder: according to Alan Gummo, formerly with the planning department and now retired, the word neighbourhood doesn’t appear in the Official Plan, a document the city was setting out to review as required by provincial legislation.

The city’s Planner had decided the 2013 review would be much deeper than past reviews, doing so for a number of reasons.  Bruce Krushelnicki now had Provincial guidelines he had to adhere to and he had a much more robust Strategic Plan to adhere to as well.  That document was crystal clear in its viewpoint – there were to be “vibrant neighbourhoods” and while that concept has been used to slip through some pretty dodgy spending, there was no getting away from the fact that it was something that had to be dealt with.

If there are to be vibrant neighbourhoods the planners needed to know just where those neighbourhoods were located.

Fifteen acres, 30 homes, three streets are all part of the Indian Point enclave felt to be the oldest neighbourhood outside the Burlington core.

Krushelnicki explained to the residents from Indian Point Tuesday evening,  that Burlington was a core city that just added neighbourhoods as it evolved.  Indian Point was probably the very first neighbourhood that got described as an “enclave” with 30 properties that were made distinct by large lots bounded by a creek on the north and Lake Ontario on the south.

Aldershot evolved. Roseland came into being, Millcroft, the Orchard are a few of the others that followed.  The most recent is Alton Village that came about when the 407 was built which created a piece of land that was no longer north of the rural boundary.   Other than some housing to be included in the Tremaine Road/Dundas development in the eastern part of the city and the Eagle Heights development in the west, the city is pretty well-built out and  as Krushelnicki put it “we now have to better manage what we have.”

Anne McIlroy, standing, talks to Indian Point residents about their views and vision for the community that is part of an Official Plan review character study.

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Tear down city hall – and the Arts Centre while you’re at it? Who said Burlington was called Borington?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  March 4, 2013  This stuff is as dry as toast and watching paint dry is more exciting BUT, it is the stuff that is going to result in the foundation your city gets built on.

In Burlington, the Capital Budget is a ten-year rolling document.  They plan ten years out and advance the decisions  each year.  This year there are so many things in a state of flux that the city manager advised Council he will want to re-state the Capital Budget very soon.  The intention is to align the Capital Budget with the Strategic Plan.  Burlington now has a thoroughly thought out Strategic Plan that came out of more than five days of meetings spread out over a three-month time frame.  It was what council and staffs were able to do at the time – the city might be ready for a review of that plan – perhaps in the next term of council.

So- what is it that’s on the table from a Capital spending point of view for the city in 2013?

Well the Tyandaga Golf course is not seen as a revenue generator for the city and the land could, some think, be put to better use.  The city manager isn’t prepared to stake his reputation on these numbers but he thinks the club needs 23,000 new people every year to replace those that don’t return.  He adds to that,  the view of many golfers – that the club just doesn’t cut it as a fine place to play the game.

Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven argues that the place could be managed better and they could think in terms of recreational uses during the winter months – like allowing cross-country skiing and maybe even an outdoor skating rink.  So – what does one do with that land?  Just asking was what we thought we heard the city manager saying.

Will we see additions made to city hall or will the site be sold to a developer – or perhaps the building could be torn down and turned into a parking lot?

City Hall is getting a very close look.  The city currently rents space in the Simms building directly across the street from city hall and that lease is up in 2016.  Legal and Finance are in the Simms building and it is not uncommon to see staff walking across Elgin Street with their arms full of documents.  Some are advocating for putting additional space on top of what already exists at city hall, while others think selling the building and putting up a brand new city hall is the better direction to go in.

When the suggestion about doing something with the city hall was put out, Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven immediately suggested that Aldershot would be an ideal place for a stunning building.  Has he put a feeler out to the Paletta’s?

The sense was that if a new city hall were to be built it should be in the downtown core but no one identified what the boundaries of that core would be.  There is the space in the parking lot four between John and Elizabeth Streets that the city has been hankering to do something with for some time.

Here’s a WOW for you. Tear down the parking lot, put up a condo – then tear down city hall and build the parking lot on Brant at Elgin. Put commercial space at the ground level. Where would city hall go? Over on parking lot # 4 om John Street. – and while you’re at it put the Burlington Arts Centre in the same building as well. The capital budget meeting at which ideas like this got tossed around was quite the meeting. Is Burlington ready for this kind of growth?

Now try this idea on for size.  One of the city’s general managers asked: Why do I park my car in a building that is close to overlooking the lake.  The parking lot on Locust Street immediately south of the Performing Arts Centre is on pretty prime property.  What if that parking lot structure were torn down (yes it is fairly new) and the land sold to a developer for another condo much like the others spread out along Lakeshore Road?  Great views of the pier and Spencer Smith Park from that location.

Then tear down the city hall building and put the parking lot in that location.  What would the net cost be?   Councillor Dennison pointed out that what the city has spent in rent could have paid for an addition to city hall. The city needs more space for its staff who are currently in two buildings on opposite sides of  Elgin Street.

Whatever is built on that lot would be a multi storey building – think maybe 10 to 12 stories and could house the Burlington Art Centre collection on two – maybe three floors.  The ground floor would have all kinds of open space with the different guilds working away at their crafts that the public could look in on.  The world-class collection of Canadian ceramics could be on display and visible to the public.  They are currently in cardboard cartons in a storage vault.

The land the Burlington Art Centre is located on – Lakeshore Road across from Spencer’s on the Lake would be sold and have condo sites on it.  That BAC lot is very, very deep – something exceptional could be built on that property.

The Burlington Art Centre sits on some prime lakefront property.  The land is said to be worth $6 million and the Centre needs more space for its ceramics collection.  Maybe there is a better place for the BAC?  Perhaps in a new city hall built on parking lot #4 on John Street?

The BAC needs more than $4 million in upgrades to get their  structure and  HVAC up to scratch.  Some thought there was merit in selling the current BAC property, said to be worth $6 million for the land alone, and moving the Art Centre to a building that will go up on that parking lot everyone has eyes on but no one wants to invest in.

There were some pretty heavy ideas floating around. It got better.  The city manager has noticed that the Hydro property on Brant near Upper Middle Road is a large piece of land that, to use the language of planners, is under-utilized. It is much bigger than Hydro will ever use – there are ideas floating about as to how that property might be put to better use.

The city is about to take a closer look at what it wants to do with the Beachway part of the city.  The first steps in that process are finding an entrepreneur who wants to put something commercial in the old Pump House.  One young lady delegated to a council committee meeting and said she wanted to talk to the city about using the space to rent bicycles and paddle boats to people during the summer season.  If she adds a patio where Councillor Dennison could enjoy a glass of wine she’s got his vote.

The sign is the brightest thing about the shopping plaza.

The Skyway Arena in the east end has just a single ice pad which isn’t seen as very efficient. When this came up during the capital budget discussions the city manager asked how much tolerance the city had for risk and would Council give any thought to considering the idea of trying to make something out of a possible combination of the arena property, the library that is currently using rented space on Fairview and attempting to work out something with the owner of the Lakeshore Plaza that is in dismal shape?

No sooner were the words out of the mouth of the city manager and Councillor Sharman piped in with: “Consider it done and that resulted in a staff direction on which council can expect there to be a lot of push back from the residents of the community.

The Lakeshore Plaza is a bit of a dump with almost as many “For Rent” signs as there are actual occupants.  The Swiss Chalet is closed.  The theatre and bowling alley haven’t been used for years and the place has that sad, run down look about it.

A too small to be economically viable – the Skyway Arena is getting a close look from the ‘bean counters’ at city hall.  The city manager thinks there are some development opportunities.  The local community wants to be at the table if there are any deals made.  Could get interesting.

The Skyway Arena sits at the back of the plaza property – which is what got the city manager to thinking – what if the city made its property available to a developer and asked anyone interested to come up with some ideas.

Combining the Arena space and the Lakeshore Plaza properties would create a very enticing development opportunity.  The Skyway rink is currently a single pad which the city finds very expensive to maintain.  Two pads are much more economical.

Were a developer to come up with some housing ideas that would accommodate families – the city could create a community out there that would anchor the east end of the city, create a new community that would have access to the arena, that could be enlarged – add to that the immediate access to Burloak Park – and there would appear to be a win-win situation for everyone.

Save the Skyway arena didn’t lose any time getting the word out and making sure city hall knew who they were.  Is their Ward Council member aware of the group?

During the discussion Councillor Taylor, whose turf is in the north-west part of the city, piped in and suggested to his fellow council members that the community needed to be included in all this grand plan thinking.  That point seemed to have gotten lost.

It didn’t take long for the residents of the community to stand up on their hind legs and begin to bark.  Before you could say “Bob’s your uncle”, a group had a web site up with a headline saying  “Because Burlington City Hall doesn’t listen to its residents” .

So, while the capital budget itself is a pretty dry document consisting of how much gets spend on roads and then which roads, and then how many buses does the city buy and what size of bus – some of these decisions are for something that is going to happen eight years out.  Difficult to get people excited about what is going to get done that far out into the future.

What all this is leading to is a much more entrepreneurial look at the way the city develops its capital spending.  Those longer term spending decisions determine the shape of the community we get to live in.

Way back in 1985 city council approved a development on Lakeshore Road that is only now at the early stage of actual construction.  That decision approved a structure that will reach 22 storey’s into the sky line – something few people in this city fully appreciate.  Will it loom over everything or will it add to the skyline.  When the debates were taking place back in 1985 it was seen as a “landmark” building – will the community see it that way when it opens?

In her last delegation to city council the late Jane Irwin reminded them that many called the place BORINGTON.  That just might be about to change.

 

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Inspire the audience please – but don’t talk the Mayor into a new dream; he’s still working out the last one.

REVISED

We erroneously reported that the $50,000 cost of the Mayor’s One Dream event was paid for bu Emshih Developments.  The event was paid for by 12 organizations of which one was Emshih Developments whp donated $5000.  The Molinaro Group, another developer with projects before the city also donated $5000.

Our apologies to the Mayor for the mistake we made.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  February 27, 2013  We are back into Inspire mode with the Mayor announcing there will be a series of speakers during 2013.

This next speaker Dr. Pamela Blais to speak to us about  Perverse Cities: Hidden Subsidies, Wonky Policy and Urban Sprawl.

Blais  is a city planner and principal of Toronto-based Metropole Consultants. Her professional focus is in creating better cities by integrating planning, economic and environmental thinking in the analysis of urban issues, urban design and the development of innovative policy.  She is particularly interested in understanding key forces that drive urban development patterns, and how to shape urban form so as to maximize its ability to effectively meet current and future trends.  Her approach to urban development issues aims to be strategic and integrated.

Will we hear some really good ideas from Pamela Blais at the Mayor’s Inspire event?  In the past a number of his council members have been notably absent from these events.

In her twenty year career as an urban planning consultant, her work has included reurbanisation strategies and research; long-term regional growth planning; municipal economic development strategies; innovative land use policies for industrial areas; urban regeneration strategies; sustainable urban form, community design and infrastructure; and research on the impact of technology on urban form.

Blais has a Master of Science degree in Planning from the University of Toronto, and a Ph.D. in urban economic geography from the London School of Economics.  She is a Registered Professional Planner, and a member of the Canadian Institute of Planners.

Those are pretty good credentials.  Blais will be the eighth speaker in what is a very impressive series – the mayor is to be congratulated on this initiative.  By sponsoring these events he has upped the quality of debate and discussion in this city – something that was badly needed.

There is a concern however.  When the Mayor Goldring brought in Lance Secretan that encounter resulted in what was at first called a Defining the Dream initiative that then got renamed to: One Dream – which appears to have died – at last we’ve not heard anything since the Mayor announced he would be getting back to the community late in January.

The initiative appears to have died after some $50,000 was spent pulling together some 30 people who weren’t able to get past square one.

All that full day event saw was our MPP, Jane McKenna going after the editor of the Burlington Post for the way she handled news items.  Had former Mayor Walter Mulkewich not been in the room and managed to get a grip on the way things were going the meeting might well have melted down.

The Mayor put out a bit of a report and said there would be more in January – so far not a word.  We now learn that more than $57, 500 was spent on this event – with a portion of that amount coming from two developers ($5,000 each) with major interests in the city.  Not a healthy place for any politician to be – especially the mayor, who by the way had not publicly announced where the funding came from.

Hopefully we will hear a solid presentation on some of the follies that get attached to development charges and approaches municipalities take to taxing their residents.  Hopefully Blais will inspire the audience and get the Mayor and his council thinking about new approaches to how we manage the growth of a city that is at a crucial point in its growth.  Please – no more cock-a-mammy ideas Your Worship.

 

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A planning tool that forgets people are part of the planning process. Section 37 – a missed opportunity.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINTON, ON May 28, 2011 – Burlington is one of a few cities that makes use of Section 37 of the Planning Act. Ottawa, Toronto and Markham use the provision which can be a very useful planning tool. In Burlington we are fortunate to have a planner who wrote the definitive text on the Ontario Municipal Board and a man who has served as a member of that Board. The significance of this is that most matters that go to the OMB are related to planning matters and to have a planner who knows the ins and outs of the OMB as well as the intent of the Board gives Burlington an intellectual advantage.

The way Section 37 of the Planning Act is implemented just might get a re-working in Burlington if Council members follow up on their comments.

The way Section 37 of the Planning Act is implemented just might get a re-working in Burlington if Council members follow up on their comments.

Section 37 of the Planning Act relates to situations where an Official Plan calls for a certain type of development. It could be single detached housing, row housing organized as a condominium or a high rise, inevitably the issue become one of density. How many units can you put in a piece of property ? The municipality’s Official Plan (OP) will set out what the density can be and the zoning on the piece of property will set out what kind of building can be built on the site.

There are occasions where a developer will approach a municipality with a proposal that exceeds what is set out in the OP, but after discussions with the Planning Department, agreement is reached that the proposal is “good planning” and meets both the immediate and long term needs of the city.

We had two instances of just that happening in Burlington very recently and both created significant opposition within their communities. One was a condominium development south of the Queensway and the other was the apartment/condominium development at Brock and Elgin. In both instances the city approved an amendment to the Official Plan to permit the development

Burlington is faced with a provincial requirement that we grow our population. The province tells us that is what we have to do and that is what we do. The provincial Places to Grow legislation requires Burlington to grow its population by 20,000 people over the next 20 years – that’s 1,000 new housing units every year.

Because the city no longer has very much “green space” to build large projects on they have to resort to intensification.

Developers see opportunities to take land that is being under utilized and they begin to assemble properties until they have an area large enough for the plans they have in mind.

In the Queensway area this resulted in a developer purchasing six properties that consisted of half an acre each. These lots were created at the end of WW II and known as Veterans Land Act properties. Once the land was assembled the developer asked for permission to build a 74 unit complex on the property and the local community was up in arms. That development eventually got cut back to 58 units but is still a significant bit of intensification – going from six homes to 58 on the same pieces of land.

In the Brock Elgin area the developer did an assembly and came to the city with a proposal to increase the density permitted in the Official Plan from 7 to 14 storeys. The community was aghast and argued against the development at two public meetings and a third meeting at a Council Committee and finally at a Council meeting. They were beaten back at every meeting.

In this instance the developer made a Section 37 proposal in which the city determines how much the value of the land the development is being built on is going to increase due to the development.

Note that the unit of measure here is the increase in ‘value of the land’ not the revenue and potential profit the developer expects to see. The city gets an appraisal of what the land was worth before the development and what the land will be worth after the development and then asks the developer to contribute half of the increase in value back to the city as community benefits.

In the Brock Elgin development the increase in the value of the land was deemed to be $1 million and the developer agreed to pay for community improvements worth $500,000.

This is seen as a way for a city to share in the gain that a developer earns when asking for and getting an amendment to an Official Plan. Sounds fair and is seen as a sound planning practice.

Where people in Burlington get really wound up is how the community benefits are determined. The Planning department does all that thinking – with not a peep from the community. Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward thinks this is wrong and fought vigorously to have the community involved in determining what the benefits should be.

She came close to getting her Council colleagues to look at what was being proposed then, to the surprise of just about everyone, they learned that if Council wanted to make any changes to the community benefits the matter had to be sent back to Committee.

Several Councillors believed that the amendment to the Official Plan and the applicable by law could be approved and the specific make up of the community benefits looked at later – wasn’t possible. The two had to be approved at the same time.

Section 37 of the Planning Act is a very sound and accepted planning tool. What Burlington hasn’t done is bring the community in on the process and get their input before deciding what to do.

Councillors Sharman and Taylor have said they want to see the community benefits issue handled much differently. We will be watching.

 

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