Citizen suggests pulling the Downtown Core out of the Mobility Hub Process

opinionandcommentBy Rory Nisan

September 10, 2017



Part of what makes Burlington arguably the best suburb in the GTA is that, almost anywhere in the city, you are no more than twenty minutes from the Escarpment or the lake. Nature is at your doorstep, as is the culture of the downtown mixed with the expansive views of the water.

As many readers know, a provincial mandate to increase the city’s population combined with the decision to not build north of the Dundas/407 barrier means that Burlington will be growing “up” rather than “out”.

One of the prime places to just enjoy the city is on the north side of Lakeshore looking out over ther lake. This could be a social spot in almost anyone of the prime tourist destinations in Europe or North America - buit it is right here in Burlington.

One of the prime places to just enjoy the city is on the north side of Lakeshore looking out over the lake. When the weather is right – seats are hard to get.

The city’s plans for this growth have focused on “mobility hubs” around our three GO Train stations and, more controversially, the downtown corridor. The latter was destined to be the toughest sell: the downtown is not a true hub of mobility in 2017. The truth is that the downtown is a place people want to live for the lake, the restaurants and night life and the culture, not because it is a starting point for transportation to other destinations. Unlike the other three, the downtown is, by its nature, a destination hub first, a transportation one second.

There is an agenda to grow in the downtown core, and while it may in fact be good for the city as a whole, a bit of cognitive dissonance is required to buy into the mobility hub rationale.

When I attended a meeting about this downtown mobility hub this past Thursday, it was not surprising that the Art Gallery of Burlington’s largest hall was filled with interested and sometimes concerned local downtown residents.

Presentations from consultants began shortly after 7 pm, and it wasn’t long before the anxiety of the audience became evident. They did not wait long before interrupting the consultants to ask questions. After responding to a few of them, the consultants understandably implored the audience to let them get through their slides before taking any more.

However, when they finished a few minutes later, they handed workbooks out to the audience and left the microphone, taking no questions in front of the audience. Instead, city staff were deployed to the tables to answer questions in a small group format.

This conveniently prevented the consultants or the city from having to answer questions in front of the packed hall. The city staff patiently and diligently listened to attendees, responding to concerns and asking them to make their views known through the workbooks.

Concept 1 full build out looking north

Resident suggest that if “residential condo towers dominate the downtown core, the beauty of the area will be lost and the development initiative will become counterproductive.

I’m not sure what the consultants’ roles were, other than to fend off potentially embarrassing questions. They presented from prepared remarks for about half an hour and then we didn’t see them again.

Their job was, as is often the case, more about “having a consultation” than actually consulting. While the efforts of the city’s employees to answer queries was welcomed, at some point the city’s leadership will have to stand up and take some heat from area residents. Otherwise, a sense that they were not heard will prevail, and the social licence required for such a large remaking of the downtown will not be given.

Most of the attention focused on the many maps provided, outlining different districts that were often non-contiguous. It became unwieldy trying to understand what the consequences would be at the street level. Still, there was a lot of thought put into the detailed maps and it works as a basis for further discussion.

Several residents wondered whether views of the lake would be further blocked by high rises. The answer: quite possibly. The Old Lakeshore Road Precinct is marked for mid- and high-rises up to 15 storeys.

Rahoons Persian Eatery at Village Square won Best Overall Award.

Rahoons Persian Eatery at Village Square has won awards for its menu and service. One of the city’s most under utilized locations.

As an uptown resident, I want to see the downtown to become an even better destination for all Burlington residents to enjoy. Having more people in the core, if done right, can lead to more thriving businesses and great energy. The downtown looks great on a sunny summer or fall weekend, but it’s a bit of a ghost town in the winter. I see the Village Square as a test of the vibrancy of the downtown. It is a beautiful business centre, reminiscent of the romantic squares of Europe but it has yet to become the thriving destination it deserves to be.

That being said, while adding residents to the core is important for business and culture, if residential condo towers dominate the downtown core, the beauty of the area will be lost and the development initiative will become counterproductive. This is a real risk — one need only look down the QEW to the cold condos along the lake in Toronto.

This would be exacerbated if the City is serious about making the downtown a commuter area — that will attract investors rather than residents and we then risk the high vacancy rates predominant in Vancouver.

We need a made-in-Burlington solution for the downtown and the first step would be more transparency from the City’s planners and leadership on its vision for the area and real consultation with decision-makers, not outside consultants.

The first step should be to pull the downtown core out of the Mobility Hub process in recognition that this area is unique from the real mobility hubs and needs special attention. We are not talking about building a mobility hub around the John Street Bus Terminal. We are talking about permanently altering the character of the downtown area. It’s time to get serious.

There was a time when LAkeshore was known as Water Street and traffic was a little slower. But Burlington isn't a sleepy little town anymore - traffic has toi be controlled.

There was a time when Lakeshore was known as Water Street and traffic was a little slower.

Rory Nisan is a long-time Burlington resident and Lester B. Pearson High School alumnus. He has been an active member of the Save Pearson community organization.


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7 comments to Citizen suggests pulling the Downtown Core out of the Mobility Hub Process

  • Jeremy Skinner

    Unfortunately, we are too late to influence much as it pertains to the downtown water-front properties because most of the developers have already obtained approved redevelopment plans. As such the downtown mobility plan is associated with yet to be proposed structures on the east side of Brandt north of Lakeshore to Fairview.

    We do have the opportunity to promote suggestions as to the building forms should be sculpted in terms of street set backs, step backs (sun/shadow angular planes) and the composition of podiums, mid-floor slabs etc.

    We should ensure that the impacts to surrounding residential neighbourhoods in terms of development transition guidelines are understood by the affected residents. Treed parks could be used to separate mid-rise and tall buildings from residential neighbourhoods.

    Last, we should ensure that the composition of residential accommodations satisfy the needs of our diverse citizenry and appropriately priced and configured to accommodate families with school-aged children (to attend downtown schools) and empty-nesters in addition to the default of well-heeled singles and couples without kids.

  • Judy

    Why can’t the cities affected by the “province’s mandate” to over crowd cities just stand up to Wynne and just say NO? We can figure out how to accomodate more business and people by ourselves! No to highrises. I loved Burlington the way it was!
    If city hall won’t listen to the residents they can be replaced.

  • Brian Paulson

    The Downtown Burlington Mobility Hub is a provincially designated Anchor Hub because it has the bus terminal within the Urban Growth Centre. The Burlington Go Hub is also a provincially designated Mobility Hub, due to the volume of GO transit at that station. Aldershot and Appleby GO hub were designated by the City.

    The Urban Growth Centre is what takes precedence for the amount of growth for downtown, where density of 200 people and jobs per Hectare is mandated through the Places to Grow Act.

    What is perplexing from the all the Downtown Mobility Hub reports and meetings is where is the discussion about it being a Mobility Hub? From my viewpoint, there is more talk about tall buildings and where should they go and not about what a mobility hub is and how it will benefit the community. Where is the tie-in with the Mobility portion? Read through the material and highlight Mobility or Transportation related words, then go back and highlight (in a different colour) Height, Density, Tall Building and the like and see where the emphasis appears to be.

    A Mobility Hub is to center around a major transit station, in this case it is the bus terminal that also promotes work/live environment in the immediate vicinity. The idea is to have a seamless integration of transit modes that reduce or shorten travel where the hierarchy of modes of transit is in this order;
    1) Walking,
    2) Cycling,
    3) Public Transit,
    4) Ride-share or Taxis
    5) Single-occupant vehicles
    The basic principle is to accommodate growth and promote walking, cycling and public transit while lessening the reliance on car use. It is about lessening the carbon footprint.

    To support this, the guidelines for mobility hub design indicate that the highest intensification of Retail, Office and Residential space should be in the primary and secondary zones, which is within, respectively, 250 metres and 500 metres of the transit station. The tertiary zone is within 800 metres of the station and is transition area to decrease the density towards the established neighbourhoods. The boundaries are to be reduced due to barriers (rail or hydro corridors) or increased to include civic or institutional areas at the fringes (hospitals or community centres). Beyond the tertiary zone is the catchment area where people come into the Mobility Hub to use services or transit options.

    It appears that the models that have been presented in this latest and previous presentations do not follow the guidelines. In fact, one of the objectives in this Precinct (not Mobility Hub) presentation states; “Ensuring that the tallest developments are located in areas of the Downtown Mobility Hub which have the greatest pedestrian access to higher-order transit (Burlington GO);” The Upper Brant precinct is where the tallest buildings have been proposed, which is completely in the catchment area, by definition. The Ghent/Prospect area on Brant is somewhere around 1,300 to 1,500 metres from the centre of the downtown hu, whereas it is within 1,100 metres of the Burlington GO hub. Although part of the Urban Growth Centre, it should not be part of either Mobility Hub. Technically this area should be a considered as a traffic corridor. The statement used in the presentation promotes the use of Provincial transit but not Municipal Transit. It also fails to support the businesses in the downtown hub, which is part of the purpose of a mobility hub.

    The way that the Downtown Mobility Hub has been presented in its various incarnations is confusing to say the least. This latest version seems to support pushing people away from the downtown, furthering Burlington’s role as a slumber town. It seems to promote use of the GO system, encouraging people to sleep here, but work in Toronto and go to Toronto for Entertainment and shopping. It fails to encourage or enhance the what Downtown Burlington can offer in those terms.

    What is the Downtown Burlington Business Association’s view of all of this?

    Shouldn’t part of the study be about looking for ways to encourage GO users outside of Burlington to come to Burlington for its work, retail and entertainment instead of pushing Burlingtonians to seek work, retail and entertainment outside of the downtown?

  • Steve

    This is what we are doing. No we are not taking questions. Isn’t what we are doing wonderful? No we are not taking questions. Let us continue to tell you how wonderful it is. Ok bye now. Talk to to these other people.

    Glad I missed the meeting.

  • Ken

    I agree that the so called consultation process is really contrived and manipulated ordeal where staff fail to have a dialogue and instead direct discussion in manner that minimizes conflict. To the planning staff’s credit letting anarchy rein would achieve very little good as well.

    As far as kicking the downtown from the Mobility Hubs project this is a non-starter as the Province has designated downtown Burlington as a Urban Growth Centre(UGC). Thus the density of people and jobs per hectare is still 200.

    But Citizens I bring you good news! As of the September 8th Council Information package containing UGC Density Analysis staff have stated that downtown Burlington is at 157 people and jobs per hectare. We are at almost 80% with 17 years to meet our target. Approved development adds another 19 people and jobs per hectare.

    The real danger lies in figuring out how the intensification of the Burlington Go will impact downtown and the rest of Burlington. The Burlington Go Mobility Hub is practically vacant and could see 20,000 people and jobs. 40,000 people and jobs from Lakeshore to Plains centred around Brant? Forget about turning Burlington into Mississauga we need to worry the Planning Department doesn’t have designs on Manhattan.

    It’s a Clarion call for anyone in Burlington to tell their family, their friends or anyone that will listen that we need to replace Council, replace the City Manager and replace the Head of Planning…In that order.

  • Stephen White

    A great summary Rory with an interesting perspective and some useful insights. Thank you for your thoughtful analysis and opinions!

    I unfortunately couldn’t attend last week’s meeting, but it sounds like the City, the planners and the consultants were operating according to their usual game plan. The focus of this meeting, like earlier meetings, seems to be to sell residents on their preconceived grand design. By the design and facilitation process at the meetings the message they are communicating is: 1) intensification is wonderful; 2) we’ll take your comments under advisement; and 3) none of the feedback citizens offer anyway is worth a hill of beans because they already have the master plan developed.

    The Mayor, this Council, the Planning Department and the consultants truly need to shut up for once and listen….not just hear, LISTEN!! Residents I have spoken with do not want massive high rises and 20+ storey hotels obscuring views or access to the lake. They want viable retail establishments downtown a la Village Square with reasonable parking, ambience and appeal. They also want low to medium density residential development and not a mass of luxury million dollar condos filled with empty retail space on the main floor because merchants cannot afford the astronomical rents.

    The Planning Department should extend the consultation period one year. Let those who run for Council in 2018, including our Mayor, campaign on precisely what aspects of redevelopment and the Mobility Hubs projects they support and oppose. Ultimately, let the electorate have the final say on how, when and what form intensification will take, and then implement accordingly.

  • I'm alright now

    Here goes another round of “Three Card Monte.”
    Now you see’em,now you don’t.

    Sorry Rory, but if staff want a downtown mobility hub as though somehow that will make Burlington more liveable despite what residents think or believe, perhaps even prove to be true. Staff will prevail and have their way.