Citizen group disagrees with Council decision.

October 4th, 2020
Last week Council endorsed the recommendations from the Planning department on the Scoped Review of the Downtown Core portion of the adopted but not approved Official Plan.
The endorsement goes to Council this week and, if approved, will be come part of the Official Plan that is currently in the process of being revised. It will be sent to the Regional government where it has to be approved.
Citizens created an organization they called We Love Burlington, (WLB).  That group released the following statement related to an article the Gazette wrote on the decision of Council to endorse what the planners had brought forward.
The WLB statement should be part of the public record.
  Taking a closer look graphic
Last December and January, WLB delegated before City Council opposing the direction proposed in the returned Official Plan for downtown development and the public waterfront. We were joined in our opposition by our colleague, Gary Scobie, long time civic activist and critic. Today we post a submission by two members of WLB and Gary on the virtually unchanged but ‘final’ direction for downtown and the waterfront. We continue to advocate for local voice and respectfully request that it be heard. If you agree, contact your Councillor and make your voice count. We strongly suggest looking carefully at the morass of documents and not simply the consultant’s Guidelines nor the summaries provided by the City or council members.
September 21, 2020
The following is the joint submission of Lynn Crosby and Blair Smith, two founding members of WeLoveBurlington, and Gary Scobie, long-time civic activist and advocate. We share a common passion for the City of Burlington and a common purpose in protecting its downtown and waterfront from inappropriate development and excessive intensification. We also have a compelling interest in preserving the integrity of local government – that level of governance closest to the citizen and most sensitive to local needs and voice. Indeed, WLB actually was created by the need to counter the provincial direction for amalgamation at the regional government level. The campaign, waged in concert by a number of ad hoc organizations, was ultimately successful and the threat of amalgamation in Halton removed.
Ironically, the government that WLB fought to preserve because of its perceived sympathy to the people’s will, then turned a virtual deaf ear to many of those citizens when it developed its revised plans for Burlington’s downtown. It would appear that proximity to the people is no guarantee of either the ability to hear their voice or follow their wishes.
On December 5th, 2019 and January 12th, 2020, we delegated before Council. On those occasions we questioned the timing and basic process of the course that brought forward the 243-page Integrated Control By-Law Land Use report and the highly interdependent 319-page Preliminary Preferred Concept Report. We challenged the timing, the conclusions and the basic sequencing of events. At that time, we urged Council to address the relocation of the Urban Growth Centre (UGC) and the mis-designation of the John Street bus station and the downtown as a Major Transit Station Area (MTSA). We argued that these actions must be a priority before any acceptable redesign of the downtown was possible. We asked for ‘no more tall buildings’. And we were not heard. Indeed, with our final delegations there was not one question posed. We raised inconvenient truths and there was no will to exchange ideas, no appetite to debate. We were politely but conclusively dismissed. We determined at that time that further delegation was pointless and the course for downtown irrevocably charted.
Today, however, we are making another statement in response to the latest documents, the Placemaking and Urban Design Guidelines and the Downtown Burlington Fiscal Impact Analysis and the latest, and apparently final, version of Report PL-16-20, Taking a Closer Look at the Downtown Recommended Modifications to the OP. We do this to bring orderly closure to our advocacy and, once again, echo the voice of Burlington citizens who deserve to be but have not been heard. Sadly, the situation remains almost exactly the same as it was nine months ago – all this time spent tinkering with the documents, but not substantially changing the position or the “vision.”
On page 8 of the Guidelines, for example, the two designations that enable both the Province and the development community to force high intensity massing of people and/or jobs in Burlington’s downtown remain unchanged and in force. We refer, of course, to the Urban Growth Centre (UGC) and the Major Transit Station Area (MTSA). COB recently announced that Council voted unanimously on August 24, 2020 to request removal of these designations, yet they remain the key component of the downtown OP, the Guidelines, all Schedules and the Fiscal Impact Analysis. Coupled with this is the fact that LPAT, the ‘new’ dispute forum, is a high-rise developer’s dream tribunal where height and massing in designated growth areas are not just supported but are actively encouraged.
The Urban Growth Centre (UGC) designation was first applied to our Downtown through the Places to Grow provincial legislation in 2005 and ratified by Burlington Council in fall 2006, just weeks before the City Election. It demanded a minimum 200 people/jobs per hectare over the area bounded by the Growth Centre and remains in place today.
The Major Transit Station Area designation arrived much later in the second decade of this century through the provincial agency, Metrolinx, based on the unsubstantiated claim that our Downtown Bus Terminal qualified as a Mobility Hub. The MTSA covers roughly the same area as the UGC and requires the same intensification minimums. Both designations support high intensity massing of people/jobs (and buildings) in the Downtown area and reinforce each other as provincial intensification tools. Moreover, both designations share three critical aspects detrimental to the popular “vision” of what constitutes “good planning” for Burlington’s downtown:

The intensification applies over an area, not a building.

There is no maximum stated. Only a minimum is demanded, and municipalities are “encouraged” to go above the minimum.

There is no mention in the legislation of maximum building height – the sky is quite literally the limit.

So, the two most damaging factors remain unchanged and will be ‘in force’ and operative for the foreseeable future – at minimum, until the Regional Official Plan is revised and approved. This factor alone undermines the comforting assurances and lofty principles of the Guidelines. Indeed, the latter are almost a misdirection, intended to appease a skeptical and fatigued citizenry; false guarantees that intensification can be controlled and made amenable to the public will. But, as Guidelines, they exist simply to articulate what “should be” not what “must be” and they can be contravened by any number of higher policies and direction statements. For example, the “Core Commitment: Downtown Vision and Action Plan” (as amended) goes beyond and takes precedence over the “Placemaking and Urban Design Guidelines”.
In essence, the Guidelines are unenforceable, part of an array of reports and documentation that requires a very informed and patient reader to do all the necessary cross-referencing to determine the complete context. As with the past process of last December and January, the documents are too numerous, too dense, too intricate and too complex. They are not intended to easily inform.
Truly, the devil can be in the details. There are instances in which the Guidelines don’t match or conform to the main OP report. One of the best examples is Village Square. The Guidelines talk about 4 storeys “abutting Martha Street” but Village Square, as popularly known, does not extend to Martha Street.
The Guidelines state:
“1. The maximum height of developments abutting Martha Street shall be 4 storeys and/or shall provide a built form transition to Martha Street and north of Pine Street to maintain the existing low-rise character.”
2. Retail frontages should be designed to complement and reinforce the unique human scaled and historic character of the Village Square Precinct.
3. Retail provided at-grade along Pine Street will act as a transaction to the Village Square development and emphasize an intimate relationship with the public realm by providing a minimum setback of 4 metres from the curb.
4. Development should maintain and enhance views of the Village Square.”
The language is intended to give the impression that the low-rise nature of the area is being protected and preserved. However, when the map (notably, only included in the revised schedules and omitted from the Guidelines) is referenced, it is clear that the north portion of Village Square allows 11 storeys. Moreover, both the Report and the Guidelines are silent on the treatment of the Square’s interior. At best this is misleading; at worst, a deliberate omission. And this is characteristic of the Guidelines as a whole. They contain a treasure trove of vague, ambiguous, qualitative language that provides a sense of affirmation but does not allow for measurement or objective validation.
The Guidelines perpetuate a number of known problems and deficiencies already cited with the planning process and the downtown modifications made to the Official Plan. Most glaring, perhaps, is the fact that the Old Lakeshore Road precinct continues to be ignored. Why is this most critical of precincts, the gateway to the downtown, continually out of scope?
Why are the serious issues, constraints and challenges posed not openly addressed? Why reference it as one of the 10 precincts and note that the downtown is “on a beautiful waterfront setting”, then completely ignore what is required to protect the waterfront, enhance its accessibility to the public and maintain the existing views? Indeed, Burlington has had a very uneven record over the last 20 years in terms of preserving and protecting the natural asset of the waterfront. It sold valuable waterfront property to private owners, failed to extend the waterfront trail and allowed development interests to prevail over those of public access. These Guidelines and this Official Plan do little to reverse the mistakes of the past. World class cities provide strict and enforceable measures to ensure that their waterfronts are valued as irreplaceable jewels and true public assets. Burlington, by contrast, posits a “feel good” set of principles (pp 44/45) factored around the discretionary preservation of “views” and “access”.
The same principles with the same poor expectation of effective implementation are used to preserve sight lines to landmark buildings such as City Hall, Knox Presbyterian Church and Village Square. One can reasonably argue that the view of City Hall will be obstructed by the Twin Towers approved for the northeast and southeast corners of Brant and James. Knox is located in the Downtown East Precinct that allows tall buildings and is vulnerable to demolition. Village Square presents a series of already identified issues. In fact, we take serious issue with the whole Downtown East Precinct in which the “precedent” of existing tall buildings is used to justify an ongoing ‘tall building’ development pattern. Why is the “precedent” not anchored in the many one or two storey houses in the area? How does the allowance for 17 storeys on Elizabeth Street and 17 at the Lions Club Park conform to the existing adjacent neighbourhoods? How does it conform to that which the people have been asking and how is it feasible that that small area around tiny Martha Street and Lakeshore/James could possibly accommodate this many tall buildings and additional congestion? Where is the requirement that Carriage Gate finally, after more than a decade, build their promised parking garage and medical centre at the site of their 17-storey condo building atop a three storey “podium” (the much-touted retail portion on ground level still completely vacant) located in the East Precinct? Why is the consultant/staff recommending 22 storeys at the Carriage Gate property at Pearl and Lakeshore, beside the uniformly unwanted ADI property next door?
There is almost a complete lack of green space and amenities. The map in Schedule 3, Appendix D shows three green circles denoting “public parks” (viz. Ghent/Brant, No Frills parking lot and Martha near New Street). They are small, located in insignificant areas and appear as afterthoughts – not integral components of the plan. The City claims to want to create complete communities with all of the amenities, but this worthy goal appears to have been abandoned in the downtown. Indeed, there is no section in the Guidelines dealing with green spaces and parks. Instead of needed amenities, community hubs and actual parkland, we are presented with the concept of POPS (Privately Owned Publicly Accessible Spaces) as leisure and recreational areas for the thousands of people who will populate the new buildings. The POPS were featured in the Fall 2019/Winter 2020 presentations of the preferred concepts for downtown. They were not critically acclaimed then and deserve no better treatment now. In fact, little has changed with either the concepts or the consultant’s treatment of the design for downtown. So, for example, where is the recognition that the pandemic has dramatically changed our reality? In the Fiscal Impact Analysis:
Table 3-1 summarizes the residential growth projections for Downtown Burlington to 2031. It is anticipated that the within Downtown Burlington, the City’s population will grow by 2,787 population over the 2020-2031 forecast period. The population growth will be facilitated by the development of 1,720 additional high-density residential dwelling units. Consistent with the assumptions of the 2016 FIS, it is assumed that 75% of high-density residential development will be in the form of condominium development, with the remaining 25% comprising apartment developments.”
Remarkably, there is no updated view of the changes that COVID has made to our lives and the nature of our future living. Today, and for the foreseeable future, there is far less desire for condominium living and cloistered spaces. People want to distance and separate, want more open spaces and houses with traditional features and backyards. Accordingly, there should be fewer allowances for tall buildings and much better-defined planning for open spaces. Why is the consultant’s vision unchanged?
This speaks to our final major issue – the implicit cynicism of the consultation process and the lack of meaningful public engagement. Much has been made by the City and Council in ward newsletters and social media posts of the extensive outreach that has been undertaken. Citizens have been thanked for their time and effort reviewing an endless array of documents, helping to make the Official Plan and its policies a better, more inclusive work. However, nothing has materially changed. The preferred concepts, the vision and principles, the Official Plan itself with its myriad ancillary reports and the strategic documents ‘ad infinitum’ have not been varied or amended. The direction has not been moderated by either public comment and feedback or influenced by a differing public perception. The development scenario was essentially set during last Summer and Fall, when SGL Consulting was engaged under a directed tender to validate staff-defined outcomes. The necessary substantiating reports and studies were then concluded with predictable findings and the path forward unaltered from that framed and established at the very beginning.
Neither Council nor Planning staff should believe that a lack of new comments opposing much of these final documents means that the public now finds them acceptable. In the midst of a pandemic and at the end of a very long, quite protracted and overly tiresome process with too many documents, too many cross-references and too many versions, people are fatigued with the need for repetition; for saying repeatedly what they want and never being heard. We know that the council members are there to speak up on our behalf, convey our long-standing and unchanged positions, and to direct staff as they see fit. This is what the public expects and is counting on.
In summary, we’ve been here before – several times actually and nothing substantive has changed. It’s not that we expect that Council is under any obligation to passively comply simply because we attended and delegated. However, we did expect to be respected and to be heard. We represent a popular voice to which you have turned a deaf ear; worse, to which you have claimed an avid attention, then done nothing. We respectfully request that you provide for substantive amendments to the Official Plan, addressing the deficiencies noted in this submission and reflecting what the people of Burlington want for their downtown.
We understand that Council has worked with staff on modifications to produce a revised Official Plan for endorsement but we believe that it is seriously flawed. It leaves the waterfront vulnerable to development and permits a downtown in which tall buildings will dominate, with no real green space or public amenities. As we have said from the beginning, there is only one waterfront and one downtown – once gone there will be no bringing anything back and we urge the current Council, elected with such high popular expectation two years ago, to do everything needed to clearly ensure their permanent protection. Your legacy depends on it.


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10 comments to Citizen group disagrees with Council decision

  • Penny Hersh

    David, We will have to agree to disagree yet again.

    “The actions taken over the past 20 months have all been about remediating the mess left behind by the former administration,” – Have you forgotten that our current mayor was part of the former administration.

    True Councillor Meed-Ward voted against the proposed plans, however, the outcome could have been much more favourable if she was able to collaborate with the other councillors.

    As you know a “lone wolf” can accomplish little.

    • david barker

      Sorry, Penny, your comment lacks logic. Meed-Ward’s positions were diametrically opposed to the other 6 members of the former council. How on earth do you foresee her having any leverage to sway their positions. That is just cloud cuckoo logic.

      She rightly stood by her beliefs, principles and the wishes of her constituents and so voted accordingly ! That is to be respected and admired.

      The Mayor is not, as you would have her be, just another wishy washy, bending in the wind, untrustworthy elected representative. She is a leader that has led this Council and the City, as she promised to do, on a path that highly expert professionals have advised is the best course to put the City in the best possible position to fight off the high rise developers. If the professional advice received turns out to be faulty or LPAT, under pressure from its controller (the Province), ignores the City’s soon to be regionally approved and Provincial policy compliant OP, then no matter what anyone might have done, we are sunk. But the Mayor and this Council will have done all they possibly could have done. At this time I choose to believe LPAT will have no choice but to respect the revised OP and so the City will be successful.

  • Penny Hersh

    David, the correct spelling of my last name is HERSH, for the record.

    You ask -@Peter Christie & @Penny Hirsh – Would you not agree that the Mayor has been one of if not the biggest proponent of saving the waterfront and the downtown?

    MY ANSWER IS NO. ( Talked the talk, but no success).

    The Mayor and some of the councillors used the “Saving the waterfront and the downtown” as a way to be elected. The new councillors would not have had the history and the information to know whether this was possible, however, our current mayor who sat on council for 8 years before becoming mayor was well aware of what was possible and what was not.

    Our mayor when campaigning for her first term as councillor used “Save our Waterfront” as her campaign slogan….and for full disclosure I bought into it. I don’t remember her coming forward, when the original developer of the Bridgewater Project went bankrupt , to argue about this being an opportunity to stop this development for a period of time. It was at this point in time that I realized that we thought differently about this project.

    If no developer could have been found to take on this project, the grandfathering to allow for this development to be built so close to the water would have lapsed. This would have meant that a new development application would have had to meet the current standards. Instead we have 3 buildings built too close to the water using 30 year old building standards. One issue being that there is only a 10 metre space between buildings, when it has been determined that 20-25 metres is required to avoid having a wind tunnel.

    Having an opportunity to change the course of this development, and not realizing it , opened the door to what is being called “Windows to the Lake”. In reality residents were sold a bill of goods to build along the lake.

    Yes, I will continue to give the history lesson, because it should not be forgotten.

    • david barker

      My sincere apologies for mis-spelling your name. That was totally unintentional. I suffer from often having my name mis-spelt as Baker. I understand the frustration. So again, my sincere apologies.

      A proponent is defined as “a person who advocates a theory, proposal, or project”. Whether or not the proponent is successful in achieving the advocacy goals is irrelevant. The Mayor has been the biggest, loudest proponent for the protection of the character, appearance and nature of our downtown and waterfront.

      Did not the Mayor, then as ward 2 councilor not vote against the sale by the City of the lakefront lands between St Paul Street and Market Street? Was she not the only councilor to vote against the sale?

      You say “If no developer could have been found to take on this project, the grandfathering to allow for this development to be built so close to the water would have lapsed.”. Do you honestly believe that another development group was not going to come forward to take over the development of the prime development location in the City of Burlington; a development which had been granted extraordinary concessions by the prior Council. You think those concessions were going to be let to go to waste ? Of course someone would step up.

      The Mayor and her fellow councilors have taken many, many actions over the past 20 months in a carefully crafted course; a course recommended by top level professionals, with the goal of putting the City in the best possible position to protect the downtown and waterfront and defend the City’s view and the views of the majority of its residents when those views are challenged at LPAT.

      The actions taken over the past 20 months have all been about remediating the mess left behind by the former administration, and bringing our OP into compliance with the Region’s and the view of the Provincial government. Assuming the Region accepts our new OP, which as said would meet with the Province’s requirements and policies, one can only hope that will be recognized at LPAT.

      I believe we as residents must put our trust in this Council that it will do all possible to protect our downtown and waterfront.

  • david barker

    @Peter Christie. I suggest you don’t take everything you read here or elsewhere as gospel. With that in mind, why do you accept the commentary put forward by WLB as being valid and not the assurance of Council that the path it has taken will provide the City it’s best defence against the high rise developers?

    @Penny Hirsh. Thank you for the history lesson (again)

    @Peter Christie & @Penny Hirsh Would you not agree that the Mayor has been one of if not the biggest proponent of saving the waterfront and the downtown? Assuming you agree do you not think she has brought to bear on behalf of the City the best available resources to deliver and execute a plan that will have the best prospect of success in curbing the high rise developers. As I understand it it was not a simple issue of asking the Region/Province to de-designate the mobility hub, the urban growth centre and the MTSA. If it was that simple do you not think that course would have been done? It would seem that to achieve a revised OP, revised zoning bylaws etc that would upon attack at LPAT by developers a careful and specific course of action had to be employed where each step was carefully planned and needed to be executed in a specific sequence.

    The City received the go-ahead from the Province to de-designate the mobility hub. The other actions in amending the OP and the zoning bylaws have been carried out to carefully be compliant with both the Region’s OP and the Province’s growth requirements, whilst also defining building heights in various precincts. All done so as to place the City in the best possible position to rebuff developers at LPAT.

    LPAT is pretty much a quasi Provincial government agency. The City followed it’s very carefully planned process, one which resulted in it being able to demonstrate its OP, zoning bylaws etc are compliant with the Province’s requirements, so that it could respond at LPAT that it is fully in compliance with the Province in it’s City planning for both physical growth and population growth, and that the growth is to be directed to appropriate areas of the City.

    I suggest we listen to, rely upon and put our trust in those we elected to lead us through this mire, who themselves rely upon the expert professionals within the City’s planning department and the consultants expert in this specific field that were engaged, rather than those well intentioned but non-experts at WLB and ECoB


    WOW!! I am disappointed and saddened that there will be more tall tall buildings is such a small downtown and that the waterfront will not be saved!! How many other cities have such a beautiful waterfront and if they did, would do anything to save such a jewel?

    Is it time to vote for a new council yet? Boy, you WLB guys must be frustrated and so tired of not being heard by is 7 people?

    We appreciate all the time and effort you have put into this. Sorry it does not seem to help!!!

  • Penny Hersh

    I applaud the optimism that WLB and Gary Scobie continue to have.

    For at least the past 3 years ( before the last Municipal Election) ECoB has been advocating the un designation of the John Street Terminal and relocating the Downtown Urban Growth Centre. This fell on deaf ears.

    In 2016 Metrolinx gave Municipalities who had not finalized a new Official Plan, the ability to un designate the John Street bus terminal as a major transit centre. The council at the time “did not think that this designation would be a problem” and did nothing. Goes to show what little understanding that council had with what was happening and how to protect the city of Burlington. The city had 1 year to do this.

    Once elected some members of the new council led residents to believe that the un designation would be a simple act of a vote at Council, and that moving the Downtown Urban Growth Centre would be more complicated. ECoB met with MPP McKenna prior to the 2018 election and asked for her to look into this, which she did and offered her help. The new Council chose not to.

    We were then told that nothing could be done until a New Official Plan was ratified by the Region. During this time developers have been submitting development applications for the downtown, and when the city fails to meet the deadline required by the Province they go to LPAT for non-decision.

    It is now too little too late.

  • david barker

    A few comments upon the statement provided by We Love Burlington.

    The authors of the statement say their views, suggestions etc “have fallen on deaf ears”. That suggests those at the City never considered what WLB was putting forward. I suggest WLB has no basis to know if their positions were considered, or to what extent they were considered. Just because they may not been accepted does not mean they were not considered. The “deaf ears” comment reminds me of union leaders complaining employers of not bargaining in good faith because the employer is not caving to the union’s demands. Just because WLE says something does not make it right or gospel. It’s just it’s view, a view !

    WLB is a wonderful advocacy group. It has Burlington’s best interests in mind based upon what it thinks those best interests are. It is however an unelected group, with a narrow constituency. It has the right to advocate it’s position to Council as do I or any other citizen. It should have no greater standing in doing so than any citizen.

    The Council is our elected local governmental body. The City employs many, many, professionals who we are led to believe know their stuff when it comes to planning. But to enhance the City’s position of knowledge for decision making and to be sure to set it’s decisions based upon what is practical & feasible in the context of being consistent and compliant with the regional official plan, and so acceptable to the Provincial govt; and to be defensible at LPAT, the City engages professional consultants to provide opinions. Those consultants are professionally qualified and have expertise in city planning. The City Council being our elected local government, we must rely upon it to do all possible due diligence to allow it to make what it believes are the best possible decisions in or interests on behalf of all residents and businesses within the city. Some decisions will meet with approval by Joe Citizen. Others Joe will disapprove of.

    I find it very, very hard to believe that Mayor Meed-Ward, the greatest advocate for, and defender of the character of Burlington’s downtown and it’s waterfront, and anti high rise crusader the city has, has not, in conjunction with her Council partners, city staff and outside consultants, arrived at a revised official plan that, in the context of being compliant with the regional plan and meeting with Provincial approval, will best protect that same downtown and waterfront.

    I must admit I got a bit lost and bored reading the catalogue of examples of concern put forward in the WLB statement. However, I question how this portion of its statement aligns with the recently passed OP amendment passed by Council

    Extract from WLB statement

    “The language is intended to give the impression that the low-rise nature of the area is being protected and preserved. However, when the map (notably, only included in the revised schedules and omitted from the Guidelines) is referenced, it is clear that the north portion of Village Square allows 11 storeys.”

    Verbiage of Amendment 3 passed by Council

    “Amend the height for blocks 1, 2, & 3 as identified on Image 3a (to the right) in the Village Square Precinct (Appendix 3, p.7 Schedule D-2: Maximum Building Heights) to up to 4 storeys, consistent with the balance of this precinct.3.”

    Just to reiterate, just because those at WLB, who position themselves as advocates for the residents of Burlington, take a position, does not make it my position or the position of any other resident of Burlington. It is entitled to advocate a position but it is not entitled to in any way suggest it speaks for any one other than maybe it’s membership, assuming it has canvassed that membership.

  • S.C. Gardner

    Maybe council feels this is the best alternative and represents what the majority of ALL Burlington residents want. Other solutions may result in even worse outcomes through appeal process. Some sort of change in inevitable.

  • WeLoveBurlington

    We thank the Editor for publishing the joint submission of Lynn Crosby, Blair Smith and Gary Scobie. We would like to note, however, that it is not a WLB submission but rather the view of the three individuals noted. It was part of the meeting package and thus part of the public record.