City manager opens up his kimono and puts his cards on the table - the ADI development story is getting a little clearer

News 100 blueBy Staff

November 19, 2015


There has been considerable concern within the community about just where things stand with the ADI Development Group application to build a 26 storey residential building at the intersection of Martha Street and Lakeshore Road.

Tom Muir has been actively pursuing ward two Councillor Marianne Meed Ward for some answer – he wasn’t satisfied with the answers he was getting and the Gazette, as well as a number of other people, did not buy into what Meed Ward had to say about the application.

Adi fence marth lking south

The development site looking south from Martha Street.

Meed Ward advised the Gazette earlier this week that she had asked James Ridge, the city manager, to put together a document that explains the time line and where he believes the city stands as it prepares for the Ontario Municipal Board hearing.

Set out below is the time line Ridge provided.

Application is received September 5, 2014
Notice sign posted September 24, 2014
Public Circulation September 24, 2014 (comments requested by October 24, 2014)
Application deemed complete (i.e. “the clock starts”) September 25, 2014
Neighbourhood Meeting October 9, 2014
Technical Circulation October 17, 2014 (comments requested by November 19, 2014)
Comments from Departments and External Agencies are received October 21, 2014 – March 11, 2015
Staff request a Parking Justification / Reduction Study from the applicant November 28, 2014
Information Report is due to Manager December 8, 2014
Information Report is due to Director December 15, 2014
Information Report is due to GM December 18, 2014
Information Report is due to Clerks January 7, 2015
Statutory Public Meeting (D&I) January 19, 2015
Council Meeting January 26, 2015
Staff meet with applicants to discuss application February 9, 2015
Applicant provides Parking Justification / Reduction Study February 16, 2015
Recommendation Report is due to Manager March 2, 2015
Recommendation Report is due to Director March 9, 2015
Recommendation Report is due to GM March 13, 2015
Recommendation Report is due to Clerks March 18, 2015
Recommendation Report is publicly available online March 23, 2015
“Day 180” since the application has been filed March 24, 2015
Applicant provides notice to Clerks Dept that they are appealing the application March 26, 2015
Recommendation Report Meeting (D&I) March 30, 2015
Council Meeting April 20, 2015

Here are his un-edited comments:

ADI rendering second view from SW

Architects rendering of the structure the ADI Development Group wants to build at the intersection of Martha Street and Lakeshore Road.

One of the key concerns for some involves the mistaken belief that an OMB appeal is automatically triggered when the 180 day threshold is missed. This is not the case. The applicant chooses whether to trigger an appeal after 180 days. In other circumstances where our review has gone past the 180 days, the great majority of applicants do not to appeal. Moreover, an applicant can choose to appeal before the 180 day threshold if they do not like a Council position on their application.

There will be a separate briefing note on this issue released publicly very soon. However, simply stated, the city’s rights and ability to make our case to the OMB are not diminished after the 180 day period, nor are the appellant’s rights or abilities increased. Suggestions that the City’s appeal rights, or powers are somehow compromised by missing the 180 days are incorrect. Again, a more detailed explain of the relevant case law will follow.

Many applications reviewed by the City go past the 180 day threshold. The ADI application was not an isolated or rare event. The key reasons the City misses the 180 day threshold are:

1. The 180 day threshold is almost certainly not long enough given Burlington’s enhanced public consultation process. We have asked the Province for a longer timeframe, either for all municipalities, or municipalities like Burlington who have chosen to undertake greater consultation than required by the Planning Act.

2. Major revisions to a project, which are common, do not trigger a reset of the 180 day clock.

3. Perhaps most significantly, many of the external agencies that must provide comment before we can finalize a report, are delayed in getting their comments to the City. In every case there is a critical date at which point it becomes impossible to finalize a report in time to meet the 180 day threshold if external comment is still missing. These external bodies have very real and legitimate workload and priority-setting challenges of their own and often simply can’t turn around a response in a timeframe that would allow the City to meet the 180 day threshold.

Point 3 above was the key reason the ADI application went over 180 days. In order to have a report written and ready go to Committee and Council cycle for March (to have Council consider the recommendation within the 180 days), the report needed to be completed on February 2nd. But on that date we were missing two critical inputs:

• A key parking study from the applicant

• Comments from a key external partner (out of respect for the partner we would rather not name them).

I want to be clear we are not criticizing either the applicant or external partner for these delays. In each case there were legitimate and real workload and timing issues for them.
In short, as of Feb 2, there was no possible way to complete a report in time to meet the 180 days.

James Ridge - looking right

James Ridge, city manager, former Military Police Officer: Is this a man you want to argue with?

It should be noted that Ridge was not the city manager when most of the above happened, but the problem is now on his desk.
We await with interest, the additional material that is being put together.

We hope as well that the city’s administration will look upon this as a teachable moment and make information public so that people are aware of what the issues are; what the problems are and have some sense as to what city hall is doing.

Ridge is new to the file – he probably deeply regrets that it is on his desk at all – hopefully he will instill in staff, and the communications department in particular, a different approach to the way the public is kept informed.

The Gazette has, since its beginning, said that “an informed public can make informed decisions.

Ridge adds the following information:

Application and approval process

ADI portion of the lot - hoarding

ADI Development Group wants to put a 26 storey tower on a .136 hectare parcel of land at 374 Martha Street. The zoning of the property allows four storeys in height with the potential to increase the height to eight storeys through a rezoning application.

In 2014, Adi Developments submitted an application to the City of Burlington for a 28-storey condo to be developed on a .136 hectare parcel of land at 374 Martha Street. The zoning of the property allows four storeys in height with the potential to increase the height to eight storeys through a rezoning application.

City of Burlington staff in March 2015 presented to the city’s Development and Infrastructure Committee a thorough report that looks at all facets of the Martha Street proposed development. City staff recommended that City Council reject the application, for reasons that include height, parking issues and traffic impact. Council voted unanimously to support the staff recommendation.

Requirements of the Planning Act
The city has 180 days, under the Planning Act, to respond to this type of development application before a developer can appeal its application for amendments to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). However, the City of Burlington does not believe that the 180-day time frame set out in the Act is sufficient, and we have communicated this to the province.

Burlington undertakes additional community consultation steps over and above the consultation that is required by the Act–steps that are not in place in many other cities. As a result, the 180-day threshold is often hard to reach. This was one of those circumstances.

As sometimes happens with complex reports requiring a high level of engagement with the community and government partners, this report went to City Council for endorsement in April 2015, after the 180-day period.

It should be emphasized that while exceeding the 180-day review timeframe was the ground for the OMB appeal in this case, Adi Developments still had the right to appeal the city’s decision if they disagreed with the City Council decision had it been made within the statutory time frame. I would add that in the great majority of other planning applications where the city’s review process has taken more than 180 days, applicants have chosen not to appeal to the OMB. The 180 threshold does not automatically trigger and OMB appeal, that decision is entirely up to the applicant. Even if the City Council decision happens after the 180 days, the city retains full right to make its case to the OMB.

Appeal to the OMB

A pre-hearing is scheduled for December 2015, and a full hearing is scheduled for March 2016. The city will continue to vigorously oppose the proposed development. The city has said publicly that an application for 28 storeys is well beyond what is appropriate in this location, for both height and density.

The city will provide all the information necessary to ensure we balance the development of our city with the preservation of our neighbhourhoods. We are committed to practicing planned, deliberate growth with community input.

ADI Nautique sign

ADI Development Group put up the sign without running it by the bylaw office – a complaint brought the matter to city hall who met with legal to determine if it was a sign, a fence or a hoarding – it was determined to be a sign and it had to be taken down. Civility does not seem to exist in the relationship between the developer and the city.

Signage at the Martha Street site
There have also been complaints about the signage at the 374 Martha Street site. The city has taken the appropriate enforcement actions to ensure that Adi Developments complies with the city’s signage bylaw, and removed the signage.

If you would like more information about the proposed Martha Street development, please visit this link for more information about the proposed development, reach me by phone at 905-335-7600, ext. 7608 or respond to me by email.

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11 comments to City manager opens up his kimono and puts his cards on the table – the ADI development story is getting a little clearer

  • Abbott

    I’m also Concerned that the city of Burlington has told province 180 days is not enough time. Half a year!! No matter what your opinion on development it’s better for all parties to have timely answers so everyone can move on. Lingering and dragging things on will only hurt the process. No developers, good or bad will want to work in our city and our citizens deserve to know what outcome to expect from applications without wating years.

  • Abbott

    Maybe not misconduct but pure administrative laziness and apathy. I think some of the city employees are extremely comfortable. It’s perhaps the same reason they could not churn out the official plan Revue in its slated year (this one!). They only had what, four years warning it needed to be done? They would never survive in the private sector. No one goes out of there leisirely way.

    • Tom Muir

      Abbott, note, if you haven’t already, that the Planning Director who was responsible for both these files is “retired”, and the General Manager responsible was passed over twice for City Manager, and is soon leaving the city to take up employment – with a long title – with Guelph.

      So, some kind of karma is at work, and maybe Council and the Mayor are doing something.They must be!

      Now we need to see some accountability at the Legals – my opinion, just sayin’.

  • John

    Mr. Ridge states
    “Requirements of the Planning Act
    The city has 180 days, under the Planning Act, to respond to this type of development application before a developer can appeal its application for amendments to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). However, the City of Burlington does not believe that the 180-day time frame set out in the Act is sufficient, and we have communicated this to the province.”

    The city missed the 180 days on the ADI Dundas/Sutton St. project, resulting in an OMB appeal.
    The city missed the 180 days on the ADI Martha/Lakeshore proposal, resulting in an OMB appeal.

    It’s clear the city knows what might happen if they fail to vote on an application within the 180 day timeline.
    Burlington, believing the planning act doesn’t provide sufficient time, is no reason for disregarding the legislation or not managing proposals to comply.

    Burlington currently has two additional ADI proposals, Thomas Alton Blvd. and Masonry Court. There is opportunity here for Mr. Ridge to manage these files and should they arise, avoid any timeframe issues.

    More importantly, our mayor and councilors are ultimately responsible to vote on these important decisions. Finding a way to make it happen is why they are there, when they don’t their accountable.

    • Tom Muir

      John, I have been a little slow to pick up on the other ADI application at Dundas/Sutton going to the OMB for the same failure to make the 180 days.

      Maybe you can ask for a timeline and explanation on that one too?

      Regarding accountability, the Councilors are dependent somewhat on staff information and warnings on critical issues. So the first line of responsibility and possible failure to perform lies with the management staff.

      They are first in line to be held accountable, I think. That is possible.

      There is really not the same kind of staff relations mechanisms in place possibility for Councilors, except for elections every 4 years.

      It is infamously known that governments are in fact not accountable.

      So how do you propose this accountability be manifest?

      There is not yet a city Code of Conduct. The Provincial Ombudsman kicks in Jan. 1, 2016, and that will be it as a mechanism of complaint.

      I don’t know about the Integrity Commissioner.

      Any other ideas?

      • John

        On the OMB site the ADI appeal is available along with the details of the hearing. The city and ADI reached a settlement prior to the hearing, OMB completed the hearing based on the settlement and resolved a third party interest.

        Accountability for this file depends on how you view the city structure, I can only give you my perspective.
        I see the municipal government in two distinct parts, administrative and political. The city manager responsible for one and the mayor and council for the other. The mayor and council are responsible for the policy, direction and financing of the city. In turn the city manager carries out their decisions utilizing the city staff.

        Accountability, for me, starts and ends with the mayor and council.

        In this case the mayor and council were acutely aware of the 180 days from there previous experience with ADI in 2014, on the Dundas/Sutton project. One councilor commented as early as Oct.9th 2014, this may well be the case on the Martha St. proposal. Knowing this, their direction to the city manager should have been unyielding if they wished to avoid a repeat of 2014.
        It may well be, as shown in the timeline, staff could have moved this along and shortened the process. The city manager was either not getting the pressure from council, or failed to see the importance of the timeline. In either event council were aware, and as far as I know, did nothing to insure the vote would take place on time.

        You should be encouraged by your efforts, they have started to change how the city views the timeline.
        At a recent committee meeting a councilor asked a representative of a developer if she knew the date the application was considered complete, when the 180 day clock started. MR. Ridge has provided a timeline (I agree it’s not much different from the Meed Ward version) and a promised brief of the case law.
        These are all signs of council and staff taking note of what has been said and providing a little accountability.

        Making our municipal government accountable is a slow often painful process. All I could suggest is continuing to ask the difficult questions, each time more citizens become aware and each time we get just a little more accountability. Changes will be subtle and their idea, that OK it’s the change that matters.
        There are several proposals underway, council has heard the concerns about the 180 day timeline, keeping on top of the process before it happens again will help in getting the vote on time.

        The Council Code of Conduct is in fact just an update to the Council Code of Practice, reviewed and approved by this council in 2012.
        The current Council Code of Practice is a city policy that contains many of the issues , including the most contentious one, in the new draft of the Code of Conduct. Unfortunately the current one does not have a enforcement mechanism and councilors are ignoring it.
        Ironically, if council embraced the current Code of Practice, consensus on the new version would be a lot easier.

        I hold little hope for the ombudsman and the complaint mechanism.
        It appears the ombudsman reports any findings of misconduct to council, they would then determine the appropriate sanctions.
        If sanctions were determined at a council meeting, bet everything on the Gazette being there.

        • Tom Muir

          John, in fact we didn’t have real City Manager over much of the timeline for this ADI Martha project.

          We had a retired COA from Halton on rental, between Fielding, and now Ridge. I knew the man from Halton, and he was nice in my experience, but he was really just a caretaker to fill the gap.

          What you say about responsibility was just not on. The senior management staff, including him, did not learn from the 2014 experience with ADI.

          It was the same people, so what does that say? They didn’t know any better? This just makes the optics even worse.

          We will see what unfolds in the new year. Sometimes, you have to take whatever opportunities exist to make some noise.

          Any light is better than no light.

  • Tom Muir

    Other than a few more details and updates, and raising a few new questions, the information provided by Mr. Ridge is similar to that provided in the past by Ward 2 Councilor Meed Ward.

    In turn, most of the information would come from the Planning and Legal Dept. responsible for the file. Mr. Ridge wasn’t with the city significantly, and Marianne is, understandably, reliant on staff for this kind of information.

    The bottom line of both, however, is unfortunately the same.

    Meeting the 180 day timeline was not a priority of the Planning and Legal Dept. managers responsible for this file. It was not seen as a key issue, something that really mattered, so it wasn’t managed to any effect.

    Without apparently caring, they took the risk that ADI would not appeal on the “no decision” grounds, and lost, with the key consequence that the public meeting, delegations, Councilors’ debate and vote on the staff refusal recommendation report at Committee was cancelled, and Council lost control of the issue to the Legals and the OMB.

    The irony is that Mr. Ridge tells us that the enhanced public consultation is a key reason why the process takes so long and is a main contributor to not meeting deadlines – but now the politically relevant public consultation at Council was lost to the appeal. It turned out not to be “key”!

    The only other public consultation seen as “enhanced” was the neighborhood meeting held by the Councilor, early in the process, on October 9, just 2 weeks out. The Statutory meeting, held January 19, is required under the Planning Act, and is not “enhanced” by Burlington.

    In this meeting, the city presented a report of only 14 pages, containing information only and nothing of much importance. It spent considerable time in management, from December 8 to January 7.

    So again, the main staff recommendation report for refusal never made it to a formal public consultation meeting.

    The excuse that ADI could have appealed later is not a credible reason for giving them a free ride to the OMB by not caring about the deadline. The public consultation and Council legal votes are still lost, and we are in an appeal situation that could have been avoided, regardless of ADI rights.

    Instead of seeing the process timeline as something manageable, and malleable to the will and powers of the city, Mayor and Council, the managers, inexplicably, made the process path go lock-step with the predetermined regular Committee and Council meeting cycle. Instead of adaptive management, they took a rigid, inflexible approach that knowingly elapsed the 180 days.

    I find it incredible, that as early as late January, the decision had already been made to lock in this total inflexibility.

    Mr. Ridge says; “In short, as of Feb 2, there was no possible way to complete a report in time to meet the 180 days.”

    I don’t know who gave him this idea, but to say “no possible way”, when almost 2 months out from a deadline, is a fire-able offense in any intelligent management organization that I ever experienced. That’s what managers are supposed to do – effectively organize time and resources to get things done, and that includes meeting deadlines.

    This was an extraordinary application and warranted extraordinary management attention, but didn’t get it in the end, when it counted.

    The facts in evidence indicate there was enough time to meet this 180 day deadline. There is lots of room and slack in the timeline to get it done. It just needed management to expedite it.

    If the 180 day timeline had been a priority, then it could have been made in several ways within the powers of senior staff, the Mayor, and Council.

    An option that would reflect this priority, follows on the timeline starting on March 2. For certain, in the circumstances, there is no need to spend three weeks on 3 levels of management bureaucratic silo inertia.

    Effective and efficient management would have seen this as excessive, wasted, dead-time that could have been organized over one meeting and a week, and then to the Clerk to make the staff report public in a similar timely manner.

    This option would have the Mayor and Council alerted to the 180 day timeline looming, and he could use his powers to call a special meeting of D&I for sometime during the time from March 9 to March 13, or early in the week of March 16. The staff report would be made public in a timely manner to meet this timeline, and then available for discussion, delegations and legal vote at the special D&I meeting.

    Then, this D&I meeting outcome would feed into the already scheduled Council meeting of March 23, in time to meet the deadline.

    This option was possible if the 180 day timeline was a priority.

    There are other critical periods of time in the timeline that could also have been shortened and used more effectively. The Parking Justification/Reduction study, if “key” to missing the deadline as Mr. Ridge says, raises the question as to why it was not part of the reports needed to make the “Application Complete”? Who made this decision?

    In any case, it took an incredible 2 1/2 months to be done by the applicant and the timeline says it was received on February 16. It then took two weeks to get this included in the report to Manager date of March 2. It is interesting that the Parking section of the staff recommendation report is a little more than one-half a page in a 79 page report. Was this report really of “key” relevance?

    The processing of this Parking report could have been shortened to one week, and expedited by management so as to deliver a report to Manager about a week earlier. Again, effective management just gets it done.

    This would provide more time and flexibility for the option I outlined above that meets the deadline.

    Again, all this was possible if the 180 day timeline was a priority. The two rounds of possible public delegations and debate, and the required legal council votes of approval of the staff report at Committee and Council, could all be accommodated.

    As it happened, this timeline was not a priority, was not acted on in the sufficient time available to meet it, and was, therefore, deliberately allowed to elapse. Only excuses for this failure are offered, and from the same people who are responsible.

    Again, the overall point is that multiple options existed to meet the deadline but these were not implemented.

    In any case, this kind of decision should never be made without complete transparency because this kind of concession to development proposals is valuable and provides leverage. Why else except perceived benefit would ADI take advantage and appeal?

    It personifies the reasons that transparency laws and guidelines exist in the first place.

    This raises another question concerning transparency brought up by Mr. Ridges comments about missing “critical inputs” – ‘Comments from a key external partner (out of respect for the partner we would rather not name them).” What was so critical about these inputs that they were controlling of the timeline, and in missing the deadline, and who is the so important partner, are questions that demand answers if this is to be transparent.

    How could it be more important than the responsibility to get the public and city will carried out with priority?

    In the end, even this critical input – please tell us what it is – if it was the March 11 arrival, would not have prevented a flexible plan, that cared about meeting the deadline, from meeting the deadline.

    In politics, transparency is used as a means of holding public officials accountable and fighting corruption (from Wikipedia).

    It matters for many reasons, not the least is the integrity of the development planning and legal process.

    And now we are waiting for another note from Mr. Ridge telling us that the Legals say that all this doesn’t matter. Don’t worry, be happy.

    These are the same people who got us in this situation.

  • John

    Thank you Mr. Ridge:
    Your willingness to provide information and a timeline for a file you inherited reassures us the administrative side of the city is in good hands.
    Your information raises questions that have been asked and yet to be answered, perhaps the promised relevant case law will prove some further insight.

    “In short, as of Feb 2, there was no possible way to complete a report in time to meet the 180 days.”

    Staff managed to get the missing information and provide a comprehensive report into the hands of the director Mar 2nd or 9th, depending on the timeline I read. In any event this was a commendable effort given the very real time constraints.

    The question raised some time ago was, why it did not make it’s way to the Mar. 23 council meeting for a vote.
    It may have required meetings be to be called outside a published calendar however, given the seemingly advanced knowledge and time constraints of this file, committee can meet as required if it was necessary, clearing the way for council on the 23rd.

    This question was and is more appropriately asked of the political side of the city.
    My hope is they will provide information as willingly as Mr. Ridge.

  • Fred

    I’m satisfied with Ridge’s explanation. He has done a great job clearing up the information relating to this development. There is still a long road to haul concerning this matter. BTW, I was driving past the other ADI development at Hwy 5 and Dundas yesterday and seen workers taking down a similar huge sign.

    • Mike Ettlewood

      Agreed – although the 3 weeks to go from the Manager’s desk to that of the Clerk is a little heavy on the bureaucratic “shuffle”, particularly when Manager, Director and General Manager have conceivably been inputting or have been briefed throughout the drafting process. The fundamental question is why this quite reasonable explanation was not given at the outset? City Hall needs to clean up its communications process especially now that it’s crawling with ‘communications professionals’.