City council votes 6-1 to sell lakefront property. Public may never know what the selling price will be.

October 16, 2013

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  There was a meeting of the Waterfront Access Protection Advisory Committee (WAPAC) in late 2012 , when Michael O’Sullivan passed around a news clipping that was more than 20  years old that told about the legacy project the Council of the day had approved for buildings that would soar more than twenty storeys into the sky less than 200 yards from the pier.  That project should see shovels in the ground early next year.  Most people in Burlington are going to be stunned when they see that building go up.

You wouldn’t know it – but this is public property and anyone can walk out to the end and look over the lake. City will now put signage indicating that the land is public. Great views.

It was that same committee, WAPAC, that Les Armstrong and a few others took on the task of walking from North Shore Blvd and King  Road in the west to Burloak in the east and looked at every Window on the Lake the city had in place.  The contents of that report were a bit of a shock.

In location after location this WAPAC sub-committee found there were situations where private individuals had access to the lake that was public but no one knew the property was owned by the city.  There were no signs telling the public that the property belonged to the city.  No one has ever explained why there was no signage telling people they could walk onto the property and enjoy the view.

The WAPAC report got passed along to the city and in time city hall produced a report that focused on what many saw as the most egregious example of public property being made to look like it was private and set out to be most uninviting to any public person in the area.

Those properties were at the foot of Market Street, at the foot of St. Paul Street and a stretch of land next to the lake that was between the two old road allowances.

This road allowance will be tidied up and turned into a window on the Lake. A bench will be put in along with a sign telling the public they can use the space.

The report wasn’t a particularly strong document but it did recommend that the city keep ownership of the property.  Things didn’t work out quite that way and many feel the city is much the poorer for the decision made last night to sell the property to the three private property owners whose homes abut the city owned land.

Nelson Park, a long neglected patch of land will get a significant upgrade. The land on the right hand side will be upgraded and allow the public to get to the edge of the water. City parks people were apparently not fully aware of how that land dipped down to the lake.

Many were stunned at how quickly the deal was done.  The public knew very little about the report and the city did very little to advise and inform people.  General manager Kim Phillips did admit that the city filed to meet its usually high standard of informing the public.  That “usually high standard” was a bit of a stretch.  One of the things former Mayor Cam Jackson did was commission the Shape Burlington report that clearly identified what they called an “information deficit” – and that deficit was clearly visible last night.

But he deal is done.  The city will now direct its staff to meet with the property owners and arrange the sale.  How much will the property be sold for?  You may never know.  The people on the buy side of this sale don’t want you to know and it appears as if the city is not going to tell you.

There is more to tell about a meeting at which 16 people delegated with 11 opposed to the sale of the property and four speaking in favour of a sale or a lease.

City council managed to forget about three or four solid city policies and forgot what they set out in their Strategic Plan less than three years ago.  Odd because the Mayor trots out portions of that Strategic Plan every opportunity he gets.

This bit of business was poorly handled by a city council that failed to live up to its core principles for reasons that are still not clear.

If you want to enjoy this view wander out to what is still public property and set yourself down and take in the sunrise or the sunset. Within six months this will become a private preserve. The land will be sold to three property owners whose land abuts proprty that is owned by the city and the province.

Burlington has a crest with the motto “Stand By”.  Council certainly ‘stood by’  the people who wanted to purchase the property.  As for the rest of the public – they get to see a Window on the Lake created with what Councillor Dennison proposed be minimalist – a bench and a sign.  Don’t want to really encourage people to use the space now do we?

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8 comments to City council votes 6-1 to sell lakefront property. Public may never know what the selling price will be.

  • Rob Narejko

    This sale doesn’t pass the smell test.

    Mississauga has great waterfront access with 6 large parks in a 4.5 km starting at Southdown Road over to Mississauga Road. Hamilton recently spent millions to give their citizens access to their waterfront.

    Only Burlington sells off existing City owned lands to private residents. A 200 yard park on the water is very valuable. If it wasn’t, the home owners wouldn’t want it.

    I did delegate to speak against the sale, but got tied up.

    Good for Meed-Ward to try to back-up the City’s Strategic Plan, which is ignored more often than it is supported. I wonder why we even have that plan.

    The plan is here:

  • resident

    Consideration of TAXES and PRICES

    Even if the city or the ajoining property owners (purchasers) do not release the amount of the three transactions, MPAC data will be available to everyone a year or so after the transaction. The current MPAC assessment of each existing property will increase by about the price of the sale plus $400,000. The $400,000 is an automatic addition to the MPAC assessment for waterfront property! I wonder if city council was swayed in their vote by the potential of a $1,200,000 increase in the tax base plus the value of the sale. As a further thought, are the sales conditional on all three taking place since the property owner in the middle does not have to purchase to get privacy since if the owner did not buy, the city land would be landlocked by the two side properties. A final question is whether the city will purchase (or have to purchase), the MNR property and then resell it to make the land legally private.

  • What a disappointing vote!

    Could anyone other than the 3 homeowners buy the land?

  • In Your Face

    This story is not over yet. What happens if there is no agreement on the sale price? Then what?

    However, ff there is an agreement between the city and three owners, it will also be very interesting to find out how the price is determined.

    Will the price be based on:
    1. Contributory value to the buyers’ properties?
    2. Nominal value as independent sites with little utility?
    3. Parkland value, which varies depending on situation?
    4. Highest and Best Use as independent viable parcels?
    5. Property Tax Assessment Value?
    6. Arbitrary Value as negotiated between the parties?

    Put these questions of sale price to the members of council and whoever gets it right, gets to stay, and whoever fails the test, goes straight to the employment office.

    It is so obvious that this council has not yet fully thought this through. The price paid will be revealed in one way or another. Somebody has to take on the responsibility of justifying the sale price. One may be able to obtain the information through the freedom of information path, or, through the land transfer tax office, or, through an internal source at city hall; Councillor Meed Ward will find out for sure, but, Goldring will likely threaten her with some sort of breach of privacy and confidentiality argument which will come through his favourite legal advisors.

    As a side note, Goldring publicly stated that when this area becomes redeveloped, the city will automatically be dedicated a 15m strip of land along the shoreline; what is this guy trying to spin here? Taylor stated that the parkette would attract police activity and teenagers; same as Sharman; who are these guys? Are they serious in their presentations? Are people actually listening to these clowns?

    These people are actually allowed to make decisions? Are they qualified? What happens to general manager Kim Phillips who claims not to have fulfilled the duties of her job? Does she still get full pay as a civil servant who is obligated to manage in a fully transparent and accountable manner? I would love to have read the transcript of her interview: “oh yes, and I will see to informing the public to the best of my abilities, as I am so qualified to do the general manager job, please hire me”; and then come out publicly and state the city once again has not delivered services to as high a standard as it should.

    Here’s a good one; the parks department does not know the limits of park properties, and according to Sharman, parks are lacking in maintenance; probably because the parks dept. can’t find the parks!

    Welcome to perpetual amateur hour at City Hall.

  • Having watched last night’s delegations and decision-making, I believe the Burlington Gazette needs to take a breath.

    City Council did not sell the community’s soul.

    You have, not for the first time, oversimplified a complicated situation and injected much personal opinion. With respect, both factors lead to somewhat unbalanced reporting.

    City Council admittedly came up with a compromise (which is, after all, the nature of politics and government). There was no perfect solution to appease all competing interests.

    To its credit, they also ended decades of indecision and neglect. Personally, I would have preferred Council look closer and work harder on the lease option (although it presented its own perils and hurdles too).

    City Council can now move forward and focus on other broader issues on its agenda, while hopefully learning much from this matter – including the communication issues, which the City acknowledged, and the continuing preservation/enhancement of our incredible waterfront, which everyone acknowledges.

    This was a highly unusual situation, involving more than your headline suggests.

    But that’s the nature of sound bites, and the business of the media.

    Editors note: We look for transparency. We have been told that the property owners have engaged legal counsel. Can Brian Heagle advise if either he or any member of his law firm is representing any of the property owners. If there is any spin in Mr. Heagle’s comments we would like to get that out real soon

    • My comments are a ‘no-spin zone’.

      While I appreciate your interest in our law firm, the comments set out herein reflect my personal views and have no other or improper purpose.
      Editors note: Our question was: does the firm in which Heagle is a partner representing any of the three property owners. It was a pretty simple Yes or No question – the lack of an answer suggests Heagle just might have a client with a thick wallet.

      • In Your Face

        Heagle is unable to provide a yes or no answer. He is a hard core Liberal who went to the PC side to get elected. He will likely stay PC for the short term before going back to Liberal, because of another “complex” matter dealing with cancelled gas plants; watch his participation though in the city election action coming soon.

        This conflicted lawyer not only has a political identity crisis, but, wants to suppress objective and investigative journalism on important matters in this community; he basically wants to keep the common folk in the dark and under thought control.

        Sadly, this is just another example of what appears to be a disoriented participant in the incestuous world of the Sharman, Taylor, Goldring political circle running afoul of TRANSPARENCY and ACCOUNTABILITY obligations in this city.

        This “citizen of the year” clearly demonstrates by his actions, that he is conflicted in more ways than one. Next election, vote for Brian Heagle, assistant spin doctor, and chief of censorship on all city matters.

    • In Your Face

      Let’s see if we can assist Mr. Heagle in his emotional cry out for balanced reporting. (note: Mr. Heagle is a private citizen, who is also a local lawyer, and has a history of participating in the local political scene; funny how he may know some of the complex details of this file, while other private citizens must sit idly by and respect this “insider’s” commentary).

      First, the key players:

      Sharman and Taylor; both have come on record in an overtly deliberate and misleading manner, diverting attention partly by polluting factual evidence with derogatory comments against young people, and feeding their clear misunderstandings of property rights issues, and what the city can and cannot do under such circumstances to the rest of the common folk to eat. The temporary cloak of confidentiality will erode as this matter evolves, and these two will be exposed in contempt of their duties as civil servants. Term limit time.

      Goldring is a bit of a walking/talking paradox. During last night’s comedy show in council, Goldring states the city will get 15m of shoreline dedicated when this area becomes redeveloped. This guy doesn’t know just what kind of political suicide he is facing. Goldring has the elements of being a good mayor, with a good mentor; currently this gentle group hugger is somewhat confused and has become intoxicated with consensus building and inspirational speakers.

      Dennison; this guy has had enough and probably cares little except for his severance issue; good luck Mr. Dennison and hope you show the city that you can sever your lakeshore property and exercise your property rights, even if it takes an OMB flavour; these are your rights, go take them.

      Craven; this councillor is probably the most busy, productive, well meaning politician in the GTA; even though he may resist the idea, he and Meed-Ward can make a great team and benefit this city; you two need to make up.

      Lancaster who? She did not notice for 5 years that the airport lands were being hyper filled, but, managed to move a shed (old train station/ fire wood) a few metres to where it was to rot in peace; she needs a nap.

      These people voted for this issue which resulted in a brand new city scandal yet to excitingly unfold.


      Kim Phillips; looking for work; check her resume; civil servant expert in transparency and accountability; able to manage one complex file at any one time; specialty in apologizing and continuing on as if nothing happened.

      Mr. Heagle; past citizen of the year, ready to take on the press. Mr. Heagle struggles with conflicting himself in public, but, loves to hear his opinions heard, and one day will show everyone just how smart he is when his conflicts will muzzle his empty responses; he has been careful so far; watch what he says next.

      Current Status: It has become apparent the above players wish to protect the common people from “complex” matters such as this. But, the common people will not be suppressed from their rights to exercise developing their own independent opinions on how matters should be managed in this city, by some arrogant and incompetent civil servants who need a course in TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY.

      Meed-Ward may just take the throne from Goldring by default at the very least, in part thanks to her persistent efforts at better distilling facts in an arguably more objective fashion and in her ability to speak truths of the coherent variety, as opposed to the fantasy that continues to spill out of Sharman, Taylor, and Goldring, or, is it Curly, Larry, and Mo?

      Nyuck Nyuck Nyuck