Developer tells city Council what his project is all about - council approves it on a 5-2 vote.

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

November 16th, 2017



We are at a point in Burlington when a developer can have tonnes of abuse heaped upon them when they bring forward a project that many do not like.

Developers have to work within a set of rules and it is the job of the Planning department to ensure that the rules are adhered to.

Carriage Gate team

The planning advisor, Robert Glover, the planning consultant, Ed Fothergill and the building executive Mark Bales before a public meeting at which the citizens got their first look at the 421 Brant project that has been approved by city council.

When all the studies have been completed, when the staff within the Planning department have had their internal discussions a report is written and sent to a city Council Standing committee where there is extensive debate – often lasting hours.

It is interesting to note that during the Standing Committee debate there was just the one public delegation.

One also has to note that at that particular Standing Committee, James Ridge, the city manager inserted himself into the debate with comments that are seldom heard from a city manager.  Planning issues are the domain of the Director of Planning.

There is a segment of the Burlington population that does not like what it sees happening to the downtown core of the city.

Developers bring a project to a city Planning department; a report is prepared by people with designations that qualify them to make planning decisions.

That report gets debated by a city council, the people the citizens of the city elect. The current city council was elected in 2010 and every one of them re-elected in 2014. That is the democratic process we have and depend on.

Nick Carna take a picture of with Mayrose planner on right

Nick Carnicelli, centre, takes photographs of a city planning department presentation of his 421 Brant Street development

There is nothing corrupt about city council, they are not “in the pockets of the developers”.

With very few exceptions every home in this city was built by a developer that had to get a project through the planning process and then approved by the city council that was fairly elected.

Why we feel we have to beat up on as developer who followed all the rules is difficult to understand.

Nick Carnicelli, president of Carriage Gate, was the last delegator at the city council meeting last Monday. Here is what he had to say:

We are very proud of our project and the design excellence that it brings to the Downtown. A new building that enhances the streetscape and pedestrian experience while at the same time building on and enhancing important elements in the Downtown is very exciting.

We have assembled a team, including many pre-eminent planning, design and technical professionals. With their assistance, we have ensured that our project is comprehensively planned to address all relevant planning issues – it may well be the most comprehensively planned application that the City has ever received and builds on and enhances the most significant elements of the Downtown.

Our application has been reviewed within an emerging statutory framework for the Downtown based on the City’s Strategic Plan and will bring not only much needed housing to the Downtown BUT also new contemporary and usable retail and office space

In response to a rigorous review and scrutiny of the application by the City of Burlington, the Region of Halton and several other commenting agencies, many significant revisions have been made, with special attention being given to how people and land uses relate and work together at ground level and City-building initiatives:

The magnitude of the overall development has been reduced by approximately 25%. This has been accomplished by a number of changes related to not only the height of the building but also the size of the floor plate of the tower, the amount of the site that could be developed at-grade and revisions to the design of the building.

The entire building is pulled back from the property lines on all three sides – both the podium and the top to establish view corridors that do not exist today to frame City Hall, Civic Square and the Cenotaph. This has resulted in the buildable area of the site being reduced by 20% yet opportunities are provided for enhanced street-scaping, patios, tree planting, street furniture, paving materials and lighting to reinforce how special this site really is.

The lower podium adjacent to Brant and James has been cut back to provide view corridors – The original view corridor at the corner of Brant and James was 5 X 5 metres. It has been expanded to 16 X 16 square metres. This increases the size of the view corridor by over 500%.

The expanded view corridor in conjunction with wider sidewalks has resulted in a reduction in the amount of retail space – 17% not 30% as inadvertently noted by City staff. The benefits of the widened sidewalks, enhanced street-scaping, the view corridors and the construction of new contemporary retail space far outweighs the benefits of retaining a notional amount of outdated, obsolete and undesirable retail space.

The top floors of the building are pulled back even further and the height has been reduced by over 12.5 m. – 4 storeys

Tower floorplate has been reduced from 800 sq. m. to conform to the City’s Tall Building Guidelines and provide a slender tower.

The area of the proposed tower is well over 25% smaller than those that exist at adjacent buildings. In comparison, 478 Pearl Street built over 40 years ago is an 18 storey building with a floorplate of over 960 sq.
n. This is the equivalent of a 23 storey building built to current standards.

Nick Carnacelli

Nick Carnicelli

We are proposing to contribute to the easterly expansion Civic Square which has been presented as a significant City-building initiative.

Opportunities for public art are provided.

All of these changes recognize the importance of this site and its role within the evolving urban fabric of the Downtown. The City has never seen anything like this!

What Carnicelli didn’t say was that Carriage Gate began assembling property for this project ten years ago and that they at one point took a proposal to the Planning that met the 12 storey limit many people want.

It was a pretty plain looking building that used every possible foot of the property – not much in the way of a street-scape – but it met the rules.

The developer and the Planning department worked together to come up with the structure that met the new tall building guide lines that were new and the developer revised the proposal.

City council decided it was what the city needed and with two exceptions, the Mayor and the ward Councillor , voted for it.

Why are we beating up the developer?


Related news story:

Planning consultant explains the kind of growth Brant Street could see – become the spine of the city.

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5 comments to Developer tells city Council what his project is all about – council approves it on a 5-2 vote.

  • Philip W

    Take a look at who made campaign contributions to the “fairly elected” Council. Count how many developers are listed amongst the individual and corporate backers. Then realize 1/3 of Burlington citizens who can vote, did so.

    You can see why there is a perception that Burlington is for sale and Council are not listening to their constituents when unpopular decisions that contavene the Official Plan and draft precinct plan are made without a clear rationale statement made by the 5 who thought it a good deal for the city.

    We’ll see where this heads next (OMB) and who is here a year from now to make decisions on behalf of all of us.

  • craig gardner

    I had thought in the past a number of council decisions were taken to OMB by developers and developers always won because council voted against what city staff recommeded? I do think councillors need to get a pulse of what the majority of constituents want and determine if that matches the more vocal constituents. I am expecting then that from what previous letter writer stated the bike lane on new will not be going away as it seems a lot of folks want it to.

    • William

      Council rarely votes against planning staff recommendations. One of those moments was the Adi’s Alton development, with council only voted against it because the public rallied to challenge them.

      Mary Lou Tanner and her planning team had courted Adi to come in with a bigger proposal, willing to support it if it followed their newly approved Tall Building guidelines. It was these guidelines and not public input, zoning or the official plan that drove their recommendation.

      It’s at the OMB and the city is certain to lose because of the planning department’s actions that weakened the city’s hand.

      Staff should not be deciding the city’s fate as it did in Alton. Our destiny should rest in the hands of the community through the hard work of achieving consensus.

  • William

    I don’t blame developers for asking for the moon. They’re in business to make a profit – let’s not pretend they’re doing it for altruistic or community-building reasons.

    The people who should have the community’s back are the people at city hall – council, the city manager and the planning department. Their role is to help foster community consensus on the aspirations of the city, reflecting the values of its citizens. The role of staff in particular is to then find solutions to achieve these aspirations.

    That’s doesn’t happen in Burlington. Staff see its role as determining Burlington’s destiny. They only engage the public so as to educate us, then ignore our feedback, especially if its contrary to their agenda.

    As a thought project, can anyone name one time in the last 5 years when staff fundamentally altered their plans on a substantive initiative, after receiving public input?

    Council sees its role as rubber-stamping what staff put in front of them. Let’s put aside the city’s Strategic Plan which is far too vague to provide meaningful direction; and has low ambition for the city (“a city that grows” is 100% certain).

    Council does not have a high regard for the people who vote for them. To quote the one and only Rick Craven, “We can’t govern properly if we are constantly pandering to the disappointed, the angry, the worried, those with political aspirations and the columnists.”

    I don’t blame the developers. The fault lies with city hall who have tuned out its citizenry in pursuit of their own ambitions.

    • Phillip

      William, a very thoughtful piece that accurately summarizes the problem that we have here in Burlington with development and public engagement.