Chief Planner Heather MacDonald resigns - will continue to serve with a lighter load

By Pepper Parr

January 12th, 2022


It has been some time since a Burlington city council came even close to bringing tears to the eyes of the Chief Planner.  They themselves found the occasion quite a bit more emotional than they expected.

Well into a long day when council covered a lot of important ground City Manager Tim Commisso announced that Executive Director Heather MacDonald would be resigning.  The evening would be her last to take part in a Community Planning Regulation and Mobility Standing Committee meeting.

Heather MacDonald

Heather joined the city shortly after the election of the current council and had to work with council members who knew next to nothing about the planning process and what was involved in a development application.

Heather became a den mother to the five new members and served as a solid source of new knowledge for Councillor Sharman who said he had learned more about planning from Heather than any other planner he had met.

The imposition of an Interim Control bylaw, something that members of council didn’t even know existed, brought development in large parts of the city to an immediate halt.  It was a bylaw that could not be appealed and gave the city some breathing room to find a way to manage the development applications that were being filed.

Heather brought her skills, experience and network to bear on the problems Burlington faced at a critical time.

Handling the changes that were made to the 2018 Official Plan and working with the Region to bring that Plan into compliance with the Regional Plan was an opportunity to refine the plan and align it with the aspirations of the new council.

Heather brought her skills, experience and network to bear on the problem and in the process was able to fine tune in some situations and in others bring in substantial changes to what the 2014-2018 council had passed.

The Urban Growth Centre got moved north creating a significantly different development environment and opened up the opportunity to create the environment needed to develop in and around the GO stations that have been given new community names:  Burlington Junction; Aldershot Corners and Appleby Gateway.   Get used to them – those areas that may well become new municipal wards as the city goes through this growth stage that stretches out to 2051.

The report was a beginning of a different look at the downtown.

Heather was given an authority few Chief Planners get – to sole source a consulting contract that had a cap of $600,000.

One of the things Heather did that will be a lasting legacy for the city is the number of new people she brought into the Planning department.

MacDonald hired and nurtured dozens of planners that will serve this city well going forward.

Some of the most impressive talent I have seen in 50 years of covering municipal governments now work for the city.  Heather went looking for people with the skills the city needed – and she found them.  This is not the place to name them – there are so many, I fear that I will miss naming some of them.

In the fullness of time their contributions to the city will become clearly evident. City Manager Commisso said he needed what Heather MacDonald brings to the table and has asked her to serve as executive lead on a project.  She will be available to staff for awhile yet.

For the immediate future there is a 15 month old grandchild who is about to get a lot more attention.


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